Md. county portal streamlines customer service

Montgomery County, Md., is more than halfway through consolidating about 40 government Web sites into one official portal. But as it inches closer to completion, the project illustrates how difficult it is to overcome territoriality among some agencies.

The growing number of county Web sites had become confusing for the public and difficult to navigate, said Ivan Galic, chief of the Technical Services Department in the county’s Enterprise Applications Division. Since spring 2002, almost 60 percent of county departments have moved their sites to the Web portal address, www.montgomerycountymd.gov, which launched in November.

The remaining departments should be absorbed into the gateway site by year’s end, he said. “The challenge has been getting everyone to play the game. Each department wants their own unique identity,” Montgomery County spokesman Robb Todd said.

Despite some reluctance from agencies, the effort has yielded benefits. “The consolidated Web portal is not so much about taking costs out but driving up customer service,” Galic said.

The portal lets users conduct 20 transactions, such as buying bus and rail passes, paying parking tickets and reporting streetlight outages, and it has thousands of pages of information. The county annually collects $20 million each in online billing for property taxes and trash hauling, the two largest revenue generators on the site.

The portal consolidation gives a common look and feel to department sites, Galic said. It also promotes a single county brand, an important aspect for Montgomery County, which places its portal address on signs and buses and in TV advertisements.

Galic said several practices helped his department carry out the site consolidation:
  • Active participation by the county CIO, chief technology and chief administrative officers

  • Encouraging participation from department heads by forming a multidepartment work group to solicit their ideas for the portal

  • Feedback from constituents and inside government, including the county council

  • Conducting a “soft launch” before the official rollout to work out any glitches.

The bulk of the county’s cost for the portal went to five to seven county staff members working full time on the consolidation for a year. The county also bought a new server and spent less than $25,000 on outside software services, Galic said. The county has saved money by operating sites on fewer servers and by centralizing customer service.

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