State Government Modernizes Portal, Drives Internet Usage with Improved Online Services
West Virginia’s state government wanted to make better use of the Internet to provide timely information and e-government services to its citizens. However, the state’s Web site offered minimal resources and did not reflect well on a government intent on raising Internet usage and education levels across West Virginia. West Virginia became the first state in the nation to migrate its Web site (www.wv.gov ) to Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, increasing content by 547 percent to drive a 24 percent increase in site traffic. It also launched the award-winning West Virginia Education portal ( www.education.wv.gov ), which is the first of its kind in the United States. As other state agency Web sites migrate to the Microsoft solution and use new Web content management tools, business owners can publish content in minutes instead of waiting days or weeks for internal developers to do it.
Located entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range, West Virginia is home to approximately two million people. The state government is centered in Charleston, the capital and largest city of the state. The state of West Virginia employs more than 45,000 people, including higher education, to administer government business and provide services to its citizens. However, when the government evaluated the effectiveness of its Web site as a vehicle to provide services and to disseminate information to its citizens, it saw that there was room for improvement. Although it was the official government Web site in a state that ranks 45th out of 50 states in broadband Internet coverage, it had not evolved beyond a static site that functioned as a basic directory to a few of the more frequently-visited government agencies.
“We wanted to stop wasting money on duplicate efforts and reduce the cost of managing a heterogeneous Web platform.”
Kyle Schafer Chief Technology Officer, State of West Virginia
Realizing the important influence that the Internet has on the economy and education, Governor Joe Manchin III launched a plan to implement broadband across the state. A key part of that plan was to modernize the state Web site to a full portal, a step the governor hoped would encourage more citizens to sign up for Internet access. At the same time, the Governor created the West Virginia Jobs Cabinet to encourage job creation and improve education for all citizens. Part of the Cabinet’s plan called for the creation of a single online portal to give citizens one place to find information about all levels of educational programs in the state.
Minimal Online Services
While these two broad initiatives formed the basis for the state’s IT department to reevaluate its online presence, there were other reasons. “We had hundreds of small agency Web sites with no common naming structure, so it was difficult for our citizens to find them,” says Kyle Schafer, Chief Technology Officer at the State of West Virginia. “And when they did find what they wanted, they had very little opportunity for conducting business online, instead of waiting in a lineup at an agency office.”
Nonstandardized Web Sites
The state’s agency Web sites had evolved in isolation. This meant that the state was paying for deploying different Web technologies from different vendors with varying levels of sophistication. The Web sites had no consistent deployment methodologies, design standards, or security policies. “We wanted to stop wasting money on duplicate efforts and reduce the cost of managing a heterogeneous Web platform,” says Schafer. “It was time to introduce an enterprisewide approach to standardizing and managing our online presence for all our agencies.”
Poor Content Management
Managing Web content for all agencies and the state portal was a manual process that required a state programmer or an agency Web master to write code and migrate the changes to the Web. “We were using outdated and legacy technologies for our portal. The development time to turn around a simple Web page took days and in some cases weeks to complete,” says Schafer. “As the most important government communication vehicle, it was unacceptable that we couldn’t get crucial information out on the portal for our citizens in a timely fashion.”
Similar issues existed among the agencies, many of whom relied on a Web master to publish content. There was no standard for how each agency generated and published content, except that it was all out of the hands of the business owners.
The IT department at the state of West Virginia began evaluating enterprise-class software to use as the foundation for its Web sites, including the proposed new education portal and the redesign of the existing state Web site. The state put together a committee of leaders from different agencies to draw up a request for proposal (RFP). Key criteria for the new solution included scalability, flexibility, ease of use, integrated content management, and workflow capabilities.
“We were looking for an enterprise-scale foundational portal platform for the state of West Virginia’s entire Web presence,” says Schafer. “It was an ambitious project, but we were determined to bring our Web sites into the twenty-first century to deliver better e-government services and more current, relevant information to our citizens.”
The state of West Virginia chose NIC, after completing an open and competitive request for proposal, to develop, host, and manage the State e-Government Modernization Project based on its unique experience and qualifications having performed similar work for more than 16 years in 20 other states. NIC established a wholly-owned subsidiary, West Virginia Interactive, based out of Charleston, West Virginia to be the dedicated team for the project. NIC recommended that West Virginia standardize on Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007.
“We find that Office SharePoint Server 2007 sells itself. For the state of West Virginia, it provides a great framework to administer multiple Web sites with drastically different requirements from all of the different agency sites within one infrastructure,” says Peter Fairhurst, General Manager, West Virginia Interactive. “All the features and functionality are there in one product to develop and deploy sites quickly and it’s easy for state employees to use and manage their Web site from anywhere they are connected to the Internet. We are also impressed with how scalable the SharePoint technology is, which will allow us to easily add additional servers as the service expands over time.”
Schafer and his team readily agreed with Fairhurst. “We evaluated other technologies, but ultimately chose a Microsoft solution because of its ease of use, and we have more in-house experience working in that environment,” says Schafer. “With Office SharePoint Server 2007, we could see how easy it would be for anyone who knows Microsoft Office Word to update content on their Web site. We also liked the flexible workflows you can build within the SharePoint environment, which we can tailor to meet the needs of individual agencies.”
NIC began by getting the hosting infrastructure for the project in place and hiring the necessary staff to support the project. In February 2008, the team presented the designs to the Governor’s Office and Schafer for approval. Less than eight weeks later in May 2008, both the state portal and the education portal were launched.
Consolidating State Information, Online Resources
“For the state portal, we indexed every state government Web site that we could find, going through approximately 600 agency Web sites and all the forms, services, and information that we felt a citizen would be interested in,” explains Jason Johns, Director of Marketing and Portal Operations, West Virginia Interactive. “These were stored in a SharePoint resource list that managed the content needed by the site to make it more engaging, dynamic, and easy to search. We went through a similar process for the education portal, collating information about state educational programs. The end result is that both portals function as a one-stop-shop for consolidated information and services available to every West Virginian.”
|Using SharePoint technology for a portal framework allowed us to launch the West Virginia State Web site in less than eight weeks as opposed to several months. Peter Fairhurst General Manager, West Virginia Interactive|
By the end of the process, the team had migrated more than 10,000 different resources such as forms, documents, specific agency information pages, and links to online services \into the state’s Web portal. For site visitors, this represented an impressive 547 percent increase in new content. The new West Virginia Education Portal boasts more than 900 different resources.
The team from NIC used the SharePoint content query Web part, with filtering, extensively throughout both portals to pull data from the list and dynamically display it on designated pages. “By developing custom content types and lists, and using content query Web parts, we are able to manage thousands of links, documents, and pieces of information about West Virginia, state agencies, and counties and display them in various ways across the portals,” explains Johns. “Each page is made up of custom content query Web parts that pull related information from our comprehensive resource list.”
The team also used content query Web parts to generate RSS feeds throughout the state portal. Each topic and agency has its own RSS feed. Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer was essential for developing many of the custom solutions implemented for the portal, including County Information, Agency Directory, and Online Services.
“Using SharePoint technology for a portal framework allowed us to launch the West Virginia State Web site in less than eight weeks as opposed to several months,” says Fairhurst. “By using the SharePoint application programming interface, our development staff was able to develop custom Web parts that integrate seamlessly into the portal with greatly reduced time and effort.”
Introducing Web Content Management to the Agencies
Since the two main portals were launched, the team from NIC has achieved similar efficiencies implementing new Web sites for nine state agencies. They are also working with Schafer and his team to offer state agencies the ability to use Office SharePoint Server 2007 as a content management solution for their Web sites resulting in more than 20 Web site migration projects in development. NIC has developed a custom master page, base content types, and page layouts, and are providing training to content owners at each agency.
“Eventually, we want every agency working with the same technology to manage their Web sites, so we can create new Web sites and maintain existing content with a drastically faster time to market as well as reduce the overall costs associated with Web site projects,” says Schafer. “We have successfully migrated nine agencies and are working with another twenty-one agencies right now, helping business units to publish their own content, and to develop workflows for revisions and review if necessary.”
The state of West Virginia used a Microsoft-based enterprise portal and Web content management solution to achieve a dramatic shift in the level of sophistication and the value of its online presence. This inaugural deployment of a state government Web site on SharePoint technologies is garnering national attention as a modern, innovative, and easy-to-use portal that provides seamless access to all state government resources. As such, it’s a valuable new tool to support the Governor’s initiatives to drive Internet usage across West Virginia.
Since the site went live, usage has increased 24 percent compared to the same period last year, with an average of 242,745 unique visitors per month. People are staying longer on the site as well, with the average length of stay at 13 minutes, an increase of 20 percent over the last version.
Similarly, the West Virginia Education Portal is the nation’s first state educational portal that functions as an access point to all state education resources for any type of student. By providing rich informative content about the state’s many education opportunities and resources, it will play a key role in furthering the Governor’s initiatives to boost the level of education for all citizens. The portal has already won two awards from the Centers for Digital Government and Education for its innovative design, roles-based navigation, and comprehensive and diverse content: the 2008 Digital Government Achievement Award, “Best of the Web Special Award” and the 2008 Digital Education Achievement Award, “Community (Tighter Bonds).” Based on current population statistics and information regarding Internet access and education levels, the state of West Virginia predicts first-year site usage for the education portal will reach approximately 200,000 unique visits.
The state of West Virginia is benefitting in many other ways from a standardized, enterprisewide portal infrastructure solution with integrated, user-friendly Web content management capabilities. The state is offering improved informational and e-government services to its citizens, reducing time to market for new Web sites, streamlining content management, saving money, and improving collaboration among its employees.
Providing Better Services to Citizens
The state Web portal represents the state of West Virginia’s single most important publication vehicle that keeps its citizens informed about the services and resources available to them. One of the most significant enhancements to the portal is the inclusion of 10,000 unique government links, documents, and facts. “The state portal provides easy access to all manner of information and direct access into the Web sites and content of 232 agencies, a 20 percent increase over the previous version,” says Schafer.
With the deployment of the Office SharePoint Server 2007 foundational infrastructure, the state is working with NIC to roll out more e-government services, more quickly than before. “We have a standardized template to follow, and the team from NIC has built the foundational pieces for a common way to log on and access online services across all sites. Now we will be able to make significant progress on this ongoing initiative,” says Schafer.
Both the state portal and the education portal offer significant enhancements to citizens’ online experience. Innovative roles-based navigation on the education portal simplifies how visitors find the information they need with a unique tabbed layout focusing on students, adult learners, workforce training, teachers, parents, and employers. Each section of the education portal provides a dashboard-style view of featured and popular information.
Today, the state of West Virginia portal is an example of accessible, expedient government information and services. “By taking advantage of the Office SharePoint Server 2007 Accessibility Kit, the West Virginia Interactive team ensured that all state Web content meets or exceeds Section 508 accessibility standards,” says Schafer.
With a standard look and feel among all the government and agency Web sites, citizens can seamlessly navigate among sites without having to learn new navigation.
Reducing Time to Market
Schafer is excited about the way the state of West Virginia is using the Microsoft solution to provide timely information to its citizens by reducing the time it takes to bring new Web sites online. “Just before we deployed the SharePoint portal solution, the Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council, www.pharmacycouncil.wv.gov , had approached our internal development staff to update their existing Web site to comply with new federal regulations about Medicaid, and they were told it would take six months and cost approximately $8,000,” says Schafer. “But with Office SharePoint Server 2007, it took NIC and the Council less than three weeks to redesign and deploy and brand new site and cost nothing. More importantly, they were able to comply with the federal deadline.
|One of our tasks is to disseminate important information about government initiatives on behalf of the state’s citizens. Our partnership with NIC combined with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 makes that easy. Kyle Schafer Chief Technology Officer, State of West Virginia|
“SharePoint technology also helped us deliver timely information to our citizens with a new Web site that the Governor had asked for to report on economic stimulus funds released to West Virginia,” Schafer continues. “It took only one week to put up a new Web site, www.recovery.wv.gov , that tells people about our recovery effort including different projects that stimulus dollars are going to fund. One of our tasks is to disseminate important information about government initiatives on behalf of the state’s citizens. Our partnership with NIC combined with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 makes that easy.”
Streamlining Content Management
Today, business owners at state government agencies are using SharePoint technologies to manage their own content. The solution is so flexible that different agencies can tailor workflows to meet their needs, with very little training.
“With the workflow capabilities within Office SharePoint Server 2007, business owners can create content and pass it on to designated people for review before posting it to the site,” says Fairhurst. “We have seen situations where business owners that had been waiting for third parties for three months in some cases to complete a requested content change are now doing it themselves in minutes.”
“SharePoint’s ease of use is a key benefit in helping us bring state agencies on board,” says Schafer. “For example, the folks in the Fire Marshall’s office are not technically savvy people, but now they are easily publishing the minutes of their public meetings within the 14-day deadline, and they are updating their site to stay current with changes legislated to the fire code.”
Now that the state has standardized on a single portal and content management platform it is no longer paying for internal development costs related to content management or for agencies to deploy different Web technologies from third-party vendors.
In the two years since the state of West Virginia deployed its SharePoint portal and content management solution, it has contributed, in part, to reducing its gross annual IT expenditures by 11 percent. With the new solution, state agencies that were paying third-party vendors for Web development and content management services can perform those tasks themselves, saving the state of West Virginia significant tangible budget dollars annually.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation is in the process of migrating its site to Office SharePoint Server 2007 and is already proving how it will streamline and improve collaboration among its 10 district offices to deliver real-time road condition bulletins to the public.
“Using Microsoft collaboration tools, the Department of Transportation will be able to publish critical road safety information in real time as opposed to the several hours it previously took to manually update the site,” says Schafer. “For the state of West Virginia, Office SharePoint Server 2007 represents a paradigm shift in the quality of the services and information we can provide to our citizens.”