James City County Starts Fresh with CivicPlus County Website Design
When James City County, VA says that it’s the “Birthplace of America,” it’s no marketing spin. James City County is where the legendary explorer, John Smith, landed and set up the British colony of Jamestown. The history of John Smith, his encounter with Pocahontas, and the indelible mark they made on the early formation of a new, young nation, is woven into the collective history shared by all Americans, and it all took place right in James City County—truly the Birthplace of America.
Not only did James City County welcome the first settlers who would call America home, but it is also where the nation’s very first form of government was established. What is today James City County was formally created in 1634 as James City Shire by order of King Charles I. It is one of only five original shires of Virginia to exist today in essentially the same political form. James City County was also named the capital of the colonies in 1699 and served for a period as the capital of the state of Virginia.
For a community and a municipality steeped with such rich history, and that serves such an important role in the annals of American history, its leaders and residents are proud to call James City County their home. While history will always serve as an important foundation for the modern James City County, its leaders are focused on offering residents the modern conveniences and newest technologies available across the county. That’s why, when it came time to migrate to an innovative civic website content management system (CMS), for its county website design, the County chose to partner with CivicPlus®, the integrated technology platform for local government.
According to Chris Coleman, James City County Web Interaction Designer, before transitioning to CivicPlus, the County utilized a website platform that was difficult to manage and keep updated.
“Our previous website was custom built on a Dreamweaver template,” said Coleman. “Before migrating to CivicPlus, we had well over 15,000 pages and over 500,000 unique images and documents integrated into the website, though the majority didn’t link to any live content anymore. It was time for a change.”
Having decided to migrate from its previous, outdated website to the CivicEngage® CMS from CivicPlus, Coleman focused on designing a new website from end-to-end that would allow the County to reestablish its digital presence.
Throughout the redesign process, the James City County web team focused on ensuring the new website would prominently display the information and functionality that were most valuable to its residents.
“At the time, I had recently begun working for James City County, so I was relatively new myself,” said Coleman. “I put myself in the shoes of our citizens and focused on thinking through the content organization process not based on how it had been done before, but based on what our citizens wanted and needed.”
To help inform the team’s content, navigation, and organization decisions, Coleman met with all the County’s departments to discuss the essential services that each provides to residents.
Coleman explained, “The goal of the meetings was to focus, not on everything that a department does, but the reasons that citizens contact that office. Those interactions and service needs then shaped the content on each department’s page.”
A Fresh Look at an Established Community
When it came time to make decisions regarding the design elements of the new website, the County’s goal was to re-envision its brand.
“We decided it was time to start fresh,” said Coleman. “During the design process, our CivicPlus project management team asked us questions about the colors and logo we were currently using. We explained to them that we really didn’t want to carry anything over from the old website. We wanted the new website to reflect the newest perspective of our county.”
To inspire a website design that would reflect the history and unique culture of James City County, CivicPlus website designers were provided with information about the County’s history and some historical photos as reference. What the design team came back with, was a fresh, modern design that paid tribute to the county’s vital history.
Another important area of focus for James City County’s website redesign was in implementing a website that would be mobile responsive.
“Our old website was not fully mobile responsive, though some parts had limited mobile functionality,” said Coleman. “We knew our citizens’ use of mobile devices was rising. In fact, it had doubled every year since 2011. In 2015 when we were looking to launch the new website, we knew how important it was to have a mobile-optimized website. At that time, around 50 percent of our website visits were coming from a mobile device, so building a website that was responsive was one of our top considerations.”
Training for Long-Term Success
Before launching its new CivicEngage website, the James City County web team met with one of CivicPlus’ trainers to ensure they not only were prepared for launch day but for successful long-term use of the CMS.
“I was trained along with our other website administrator and our County trainer who helps train all internal staff on our IT solutions,” said Coleman. “We wanted to make sure that our County trainer, in particular, had a full understanding of the CMS so that she could then hold specialized training for each department based on just those features the department would be utilizing.”
James City County launched its new CivicEngage website in 2016. Since its launch not only have citizens benefitted from a more user-friendly and up-to-date digital tool, the County’s staff are able to use its new citizen self-service features to work more efficiently.
“Before we launched our CivicEngage website, if a staff member wanted to update something on the old website, they would have to send an email to the county’s webmaster. Now, each department has the ability to update and manage their content themselves, which makes sense, since they are the knowledge masters for their department. It’s more efficient for our web administration team as well. Our departments like having the ability to control their content, but our web administration team can still review the content and make sure it meets accessibility standards, that it looks good on mobile, and provide that extra level of review and support.”
Positive ROI on Self-Service Features
According to Coleman, some of the greatest conveniences for citizens, and greatest cost savings to the County have been found through the use of the CMS’ integrated self-service features.
“From a cost savings perspective and in terms of convenience for our citizens, the Bid Postings feature has been one of the most impactful elements for us,” said Coleman. “We used to have to mail businesses bid packets for RFPs. Now, we’ve moved the whole process online. The fact that we no longer have to print and mail heavy bid packets has saved the county thousands of dollars.”
Coleman adds that the CivicEngage Form Center feature has also allowed James City County to digitize and streamline several important service processes.
“We’ve tried to rid our website of PDFs as much as possible,” said Coleman. “All the online forms we have set up so far have been used by our citizens a lot. We calculated that last year, we received 23 forms per day via Form Center submissions. That is equivalent to 23 fewer phone calls, or 23 fewer people standing in line at our offices. We’re seeing shorter lines now, and we’re taking fewer phone calls, which means we have more time to help more people.”
An Award-Winning County Website
Not only has the new James City County website been recognized as a success by County staff and residents, but it has also been recognized in several digital website award competitions.
“We have won awards that span three recognition categories,” said Coleman. “Communications, which includes the overall website design, government website transparency and accessibility, and technical innovation and functionality. Since we launched our CivicEngage website, we have won eleven total awards across those categories, including a Governor’s Technology Award for Best Citizen Portal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was presented by the Governor during a state-wide technology symposium in September. The awards have helped to serve as a proof of concept for us. We wanted to reassure our staff that we made the right decisions, and we wanted to show our citizens that we made a solid investment in a high-quality website.”
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