More than a website: Sandy launches new digital platform
Jun 08, 2020 11:18AM
By Justin Adams
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
If you’ve visited the Sandy City website in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably noticed that it’s gotten a bit of a facelift. While the surface changes are noticeable, they’re actually nothing compared to the changes that have occurred below the surface, changes designed to make the city more efficient and residents’ lives more convenient.
It’s been a process nearly two years in the making, said city web developer Teako Warfield-Graham, who led the effort. She enlisted the help of CivicPlus, a company that specializes in website creation and management for local governments. The city wanted a new digital platform that was unlike any other, and as it happened, CivicPlus was already working on a new product that closely aligned with what Sandy was looking for. It was a perfect match, so Sandy became the “beta city” for the company’s newest approach to digital homes for municipal governments.
So what makes it different?
Traditionally, the content you see on a website is hosted on that website. This can create issues when you try to view the website’s content on anything other than a traditional computer. Because the way people consume information is changing so fast these days, it’s important to make sure that the city can get important information to residents no matter what platform they may be using, whether it’s a computer, a smartphone, an Apple Watch, a voice device like Amazon’s Alexa, or whatever other technologies may emerge in the future.
The key behind Sandy’s new approach is that the city’s content is no longer tied to a website. Instead, the content is housed independently, and the website is just one of many “clients” that draw from that content. Other clients can include apps for any of the technologies previously mentioned, or even things like digital displays found in city hall. City staff can add new content or change existing content, and those changes will be pushed through to all the clients simultaneously. And the whole system is designed with the flexibility to incorporate new clients when novel technologies go mainstream.
The new system is designed to make life much easier both for Sandy City employees and residents.
Previously, if an employee in the Parks and Recreation department wanted to post an update to their section of the Sandy City website, they had to submit a request to the city’s website service provider. Now, they’ll be able to go in and make those changes. Consequently, at least one employee from each of the city’s departments has been cross-trained in marketing and web-editing in recent months.
Another change made with the new website is an attempt to remove pages of redundant information. According to Warfield-Graham, government websites often have an unfortunate tendency to duplicate information in multiple places. Sometimes, that information will be updated on one page but not on others, leading to residents finding conflicting information on the same website.
Speaking of the user side of things, it should now be much easier for Sandy residents to find what they are looking for. Warfield-Graham said they thought about everything in the design process from the perspective of a user.
For example, the previous website organized information by department which meant that if a resident needed information about a certain concern, they would need to know which department was in charge of that particular thing. Unfortunately, the average resident probably doesn’t know all the differences between the Public Utilities department and the Public Works department, for example. This resulted in residents often navigating around the website hopelessly trying to find the information they were looking for. The new website decouples services from departments, so residents can more easily find what they’re looking for, even if they’re not an expert in governmental division of labor.
The website also includes machine learning capabilities that will cater the experience for each user. If one person primarily visits the site to look at Parks and Recreation information, then links to that information will be featured more prominently on the homepage for that specific user.
The incorporation of artificial intelligence into the website is part of a broader effort by the city administration to gather, analyze and make decisions based on data. “This new administration is very technology-focused,” Warfield-Graham said. “That’s been a big change for the city.”
The importance of a city having a dynamic online presence has been made all the more clear in recent months as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced government offices to close. A key feature of the new website is expanded capabilities for residents to make appointments or pay fees through online forms.
As many features and improvements exist in the current update website, Warfield-Graham said residents can expect even more in the coming months as the city finalizes some of the finishing touches. You can visit the city’s website at www.sandy.utah.gov.