County portal builds on Net success

Building on its successes of creating a high-speed, fiber-optic network and providing free Internet access to its cities, townships and villages, Oakland County, Mich., today launched a new enterprise portal that promises to be more citizen-centric.

Officials said the portal (www.co.oakland.mi.us) eventually will have a common look and feel for the county's 75 agencies, and that site navigation will be easier. Users also will be able to search content by subject, services or departments, they said, adding that county employees also will be able to update information daily.

"We had been developing the Web [site] in an ad hoc way," said Phil Bertolini, the county's information technology director. "All agencies looked a little different [and] some had different logos on their Web pages."

The project began more than a year ago, when the county hired a firm to determine the county's needs. The company conducted about 120 interviews from the public and private sectors and among county agencies. That effort resulted in a strategic direction for the Web site, Bertolini said.

Last spring, the county board of commissioners lent its support to the initiative through a $980,000 appropriation, he said. Interwoven Inc., an enterprise content management firm, was picked to build the portal following a competitive bidding process.

Jim Taylor, the county's technical services chief, said Oakland County also looked at 50 to 60 sites nationally and internationally and gauged their strengths and weaknesses.

He said a top priority was for agency employees to be able to manage content without having to go through the IT department. Because many of the workers aren't Web-savvy, he said the technology and software had to be user-friendly.

County employees, while having to be more diligent about keeping Web content current, ultimately will benefit by having to handle fewer calls from the public, he said. And with information updated frequently, the public is more apt to revisit the portal, Bertolini said.

The agreement with Interwoven will enable the county to share the content management technology with its cities, townships and villages at no cost to them, he said. The technology also would be extended to the county's Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System, the information-sharing network of a consortium of law enforcement agencies in southeast Michigan, so it can provide public information quickly.

The county also plans to integrate the content management software with its PeopleSoft Inc. financials and human resources system. That way, the county's intranet has a similar look and feel to the portal and employees can get updated news and information about payroll and personnel matters.

The county's philosophy, Bertolini said, is "build it once, pay for it once, and everybody benefits."

Early last year — after building a countywide, fiber-optic network — the county offered its 61 cities, villages and townships free Internet service and free e-mail accounts. About half the municipalities use the service.

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