MANHATTAN, Kan. – (March 19, 2013) For Terry Bishirjian, when the city of Norfolk, Va.’s, new website launched in early March, it was the culmination of 17 years of hard work and tireless advocacy, and a perfect end cap at the dusk of her local government career.
When Bishirjian reflects on everything that has fallen into place since Norfolk won CivicPlus’ Extreme Website Makeover contest a little more than a year ago, she can’t help but think of the new city website (www.norfolk.gov) as “my little miracle.”
“CivicPlus was the actor that empowered the last two years of my career and allowed me to achieve what I wanted to achieve before my career was up,” Bishirjian said, “and I consider that an act of God.
“The new website, we’re thrilled with it. We feel like we’ve reached the 21st century, and now, we’re prepared to keep moving forward, and CivicPlus has allowed us to make that huge leap.”
Bishirjian is set to retire April 1, 2013, from her role as the Assistant Director for Information Integration for the city, focusing on social media and new communications technology. But before her current role, she served as the city’s senior communications executive for 15 years, and for 15 years, she advocated, pleaded for, and championed the need for the city to update its web presence with a more user-friendly design, navigation, and content management system, but to no avail.
Simply put, the city couldn’t make the investment.
“It had been a source of concern of mine for many years that we (the city) never could seem to get around to doing the work that we needed to do to get the city a web content management system, and eventually social media and mobile apps,” Bishirjian said. “The city of Norfolk, for many years, has been the most fiscally stressed city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. … Norfolk has never been given anything. It is a very blue-collar, hard-working city, and anything it has ever achieved, it’s been done by hard work, persistence and good planning.
“When faced with the need to modernize our website and our communication capabilities, we were hitting a brick wall.”
When Bishirjian made the move to the Information Technology department two years ago after the department lost its director and deputy director, Bishirjian – then the senior-most IT official – again started exploring new website options.
Then, in December 2011, Bishirjian and the IT department met with CivicPlus, the leading provider of government websites and community engagement software. CivicPlus had always been on the city’s radar, but with funding concerns still swirling, the chances that the city could make a move were seen as slim at best.
It was then that Bishirjian learned of CivicPlus’ annual Extreme Website Makeover contest. And without a director to lead the department, Bishirjian entered the city of Norfolk in the contest.
“That day was a miracle,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my, this could really happen. This could be the way this actually happens.’”
The rest, as they say, is history. Norfolk was selected as one of nine EWM winners from across the United States and Canada, meaning the cash-strapped city would now get the initial development for a custom-built CivicPlus website – complete with CivicPlus Government Content Management System (GCMS™) – for free. The city added additional services to the project, but the cost-savings were significant in more ways than just dollars.
“Winning the contest was a great inspiration,” Bishirjian said. “The contest gave us an opportunity to share with CivicPlus our aspirations for making the leap forward into the 21st century of communication with our residents.
“We knew that this was going to give us an extremely special partnership with CivicPlus going forward.”
After months of development and consultation, the new site has launched to the public with rave reviews. A newspaper story said the site “aims to be more service-oriented.” One local blogger even called the new site “a visual feast” and “a potpourri of purpose.”
Jodi Dunkel, a programmer analyst for the city, cited features like CivicPlus’ recently upgraded search functionality and the calendar module, as well as the new design and navigation of the site, as some of the most popular improvements made.
And for city staff, the change was extraordinary.
Dunkel, after going through training with CivicPlus’ consultants, was in charge of training the city staff on the new system.
Prior to the CivicPlus-built site, the city’s departmental “page masters” had to contact a member of the web team with requests for updates or changes to the website. With CivicPlus’ GCMS™, the immediate improvement is that all staff with permissions can make updates and changes on their own.
Now, staff members are creating their own pages and calendar entries, posting bids, creating and posting council items with the Agenda Center module, and even creating online forms on the fly using the Forms Center module.
“Sometimes staff can be the toughest critics and most resistant to change,” Dunkel said. “Most people would tell you they were pleased by the ease-of-use and the increased responsibility and accountability it gave them. With the system being easy to use, there was not a large intimidation factor.”
And now, with Bishirjian less than two weeks away from retirement, she sees the website’s launch as the perfect culmination to her time with the city of Norfolk. She’ll still stay connected to local government in retirement, as she is the president of the City/County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA) this year.
But she’ll step away from her time with the city knowing Norfolk has the foundation for its future digital communications in place, which was her goal all along.
“Like I said, CivicPlus is my little miracle,” Bishirjian said. “Personally, for me, this was a dream come true. And the great thing is that now, everyone – the city of Norfolk and CivicPlus – through this partnership, stays on a trajectory of growth. We’re just so happy this has happened.”
Based in Manhattan, Kan., CivicPlus has designed more than 1,300 local government websites serving over 50 million citizens throughout North America. A recipient of the Center for Digital Government’s Best Fit Integrator Award for delivering extraordinary digital solutions to public IT projects, CivicPlus transforms municipal websites into powerful two-way communication platforms that let citizens talk to and participate in local government. Find out where your community falls on the digital community engagement scale developed by CivicPlus eGov experts. In 2013, CivicPlus will invest nearly $2.5 million in products, research and development. The innovative CivicPlus Government Content Management System (GCMS™) now offers more than 60 applications including Citizen Request Tracker, MuniMobile, Facebook and economic development tools. Founded in 2001, CivicPlus was selected by Inc. Magazine as “One of the Fastest-Growing Privately Held Companies in the U.S.” in 2011 and 2012. For more information visit www.civicplus.com.