What a Digital City Hall Could Be.

Author:Goldsmith, Stephen

Redesigning a government website should be about more than attractiveness and easy navigation. It's a chance to reengineer underlying processes.

Anyone with a smartphone knows that even the coolest-looking app will go unused if it fails to meet the users needs. The same is true for a newly launched or redesigned government website: Attractiveness and basic functionality --new fonts, formatting and navigation tools--are necessary, but will fail to accomplish their purpose if they are not supported by addressing the underlying issues that can make accessing government services so cumbersome.

A focus on the needs of users that includes the reengineering of underlying systems has the potential to make a digital city hall more responsive while also better addressing the needs of underserved populations. Done well, such an approach would constitute a new way of operating altogether, not only on the Internet but in brick-and-mortar city halls as well.

The City of Indianapolis, Indiana, has embarked on such an undertaking in reengineering indy.gov, the city/county web portal that dates back to my time as mayor in the 1990s. In building the new my.indy.gov, Indianapolis is capitalizing on new possibilities that two decades of immense technological advances have provided.

I recently spoke to Ken Clark, the chief information officer of Indianapolis and Marion County, who is leading the my.indy.gov effort. "My pitch to the mayor was, rather than reshuffle the current site, let's redo the whole thing," Clark said. "Let's talk to citizens, non-profits, business groups and veterans' groups and see what services they need online."

As a result, Indianapolis's mortgage deduction application process was among the first manual services to be migrated to my.indy.gov. Not so long ago, the process of trying to get a deduction would have gone something like this: Review ordinance language to determine the deduction you might qualify for, download the appropriate PDF from indy.gov, fill it out and mail it in. That paper then would sit in a pile until a city/county employee could review it and, if necessary, mail back a request for additional information that might be required.

That process, according to Clark, took five to ten business days--if all went according to plan. The new website, with its mandate for complete vertical digital integration, reduces that timeline down to as little as 20 minutes.

The site now...

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