Alameda County’s General Services Agency won kudos this month from the CompTIA Public Technology Institute for the redesign of GSA’s public-facing website. Recognized as a “Significant Achievement” in local government use of technology, the website launched in April 2021 to better serve the public with a fresh new face, user-friendly content and a clearer presentation of GSA’s role supporting the agencies and the residents of Alameda County.
Part of a website redesign that included both the public-facing website and the GSA intranet, the project began in October 2019, spearheaded by Dolly Bryan, Executive Program Coordinator at GSA, and Steve Marylander, former head of GSA’s Information Services & Technology. Bryan and Marylander had noticed that the GSA websites, launched over a decade earlier, were not serving either the public, the County or the agency well. With the support of former GSA Director Willie Hopkins, they decided to do something about it.
“We wanted the new site to be more modern, more user-friendly and more engaging with our vendor community,” Bryan explains. “Steve and I thought ‘We can do this together!’” Creative and logistical collaboration defined the project, which brought together:
- Dolly Bryan and Steve Marylander of GSA — Project initiation, management, coordination, agency participation and review
- Mike Dobbins, Director of Web Development at ITD — Facilitation for getting the redesigned site into the County’s technical environment and coordination of site development with vendors Peak Digital, LLC and Alambana
- Carrie DeLucchi and Peak Digital, a web design and development company for government agencies — Site discovery and research; strategy; site architecture; mobile and desktop design; content strategy, brand messaging and copywriting; QA testing and production
- Alambana, WordPress Developer — WordPress development and customization
Senior leadership and staff at GSA also played a vital role in communicating their departments’ value to the Peak Digital team, who translated their needs into engaging, user-friendly content and interaction design.
“A lot of the County’s websites are old and content gets bolted on over time,” explains Dobbins. “They aren’t mobile friendly or user friendly.” In addition to bringing GSA’s websites into the 21st century, the project’s goals were to make content easier to find and use and to showcase GSA as a cutting-edge and proactive agency dedicated to serving the County and the public.
“Government agencies often feel reluctant taking credit for the incredible work they do on behalf of the public,” says DeLucchi. “We conducted over 50 hours of interviews with GSA staff to determine site goals and recommendations. We really wanted to understand the target audience and then communicate the value and function of each department in a way that those audiences could understand.” Marylander adds, “A lot of other agencies didn’t really understand what GSA does. Now they get it.”
A website development on this scale, and with this many participants, is challenging, but the GSA web team ran into more than the usual share of bumps in the road when the COVID pandemic forced the County to shelter-in-place. Not only did all of the project meetings become virtual, but GSA’s key staff, including project managers Bryan and Marylander, were called away from their desks to serve onsite with the Emergency Operations Center’s emergency response team. Though the pandemic introduced scheduling delays, it confirmed the importance of the website project. According to Bryan: “When COVID happened, the website became more of a priority because it highlighted the ways in which we needed a central repository of information; a new website would make it easier for people to do their jobs.”
The new public-facing website, which launched in April 2021, has stirred a lot of excitement in the County and among the public. With a clean, easy-to-use interface, the site has inspired a big uptick in visitors. “People are going to our website more often and we’re seeing increased interest in our sustainability initiatives, jobs, projects and calls for proposals,” Bryan says. “Vendors are behaving differently, too. They used to call instead of finding information online. Now they go to the website first and, when they call, they’re more informed.”
Steve Marylander points out that “the website’s role in soliciting proposals from vendors is critical to the economic health of Alameda County. With the new website, it’s easier for people who want to do business with us to find opportunities. And that’s better for us because we get more competitive pricing and County tax dollars are being fed back to the community.” Marylander adds, “The new site has added a lot of value for County residents because it’s easy for them to see what projects are going on in their neighborhoods and understand how the construction GSA is doing is going to benefit them.”
As Bryan notes, the new website, like any website, is a work in progress. But Dobbins points out that a number of the technical achievements here represent firsts for the County. In addition to being mobile-responsive, accessible and easier for GSA staff to update, Dobbins notes that “the project is an unprecedented showcase of collaboration between departments and vendors and it brings new technological capabilities to our toolkit. The internal website is our first intranet site in the cloud. And it uses custom programming to leverage access to internal systems, like Sharepoint. That’s something no other website in the County has done before.”
Perhaps most importantly, the award-winning website has put a new public face on GSA: “It’s beautiful. It’s intuitive. It’s written in a very accessible way,” says Marylander. “It’s easy to use and it’s fun to poke around. There are lots of pictures of projects and people. Our website has humanized GSA. We’re the people behind the people. And now you can see the people.”
About CompTIA Public Technology Institute (PTI)
“Established in 1971 by several major national associations representing state and local governments, CompTIA PTI has been viewed as the focal point for thought leaders who have a passion for the furtherance and wise deployment of technology. CompTIA PTI actively supports local government officials through research, education, professional development, executive-level consulting services, and national recognition programs.” Visit www.pti.org