Ca.gov has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top state government sites on the web. Below you'll find an interview with Stacey Walker of the California Office of eServices.
- Ca.gov is an incredibly innovative web portal; what has been your role in it’s development?
Ca.gov is a service provided by the State of California Office of Technology Services (OTech). The Ca.gov portal serves as the front door to all state department websites, providing immediate access to major topic areas, news, online services, and millions of pages of web content. The web team at OTech is dedicated to growing the number of web-based services available on the portal and making sure that citizens and businesses can complete their tasks as quickly as possible without knowing which department to work with. The content and design of the portal is proudly maintained by the state of California employees at OTech.
- Can you give me some background on the history of California's web portal and the state's e-government initiatives?
Ca.gov has provided California citizens, businesses, and visitors with 24/7 access to state government information and services since 2001. The portal serves as the front door to all state department websites, providing immediate access to major topic areas, news, online services, and millions of pages of web content. Links to local help directories (e.g., 211, 311, 511) are provided on the homepage, along with live help, a survey, location-based search, and social media links and subscription feeds.
The portal undertook a major redesign effort in 2007, bringing hundreds of state departments into a common look-and-feel. This was a significant undertaking, given the size and complexity of the state government. WebTools.ca.gov was created to help state webmasters implement the accessible, Ca.gov-branded template. Having the template available in WebTools saved departments approximately $56 million dollars in implementation costs.
In June 2010, California launched a newly redesigned Ca.gov portal, with greatly enhanced search capabilities, to make services and information easier to find and use than ever before. The improved, interactive design includes an updated public data site with more than 100 million records available for custom mashup applications, a mobile site with more than 20 applications designed for smart phones, and searchable maps with data on thousands of office locations, parks, schools, universities, libraries, and more.
The homepage features quick and easy access to the site’s most essential features, including links to the state agency directory and online services. The accessible design is aimed at easing the burden of locating information on State government programs and services. Clicking on topical areas affords users with an innovative graphical overview of services and data available to them. Prominently displayed links to social media, RSS, video and other media-rich resources, allow visitors to connect to state government in ways with which they are familiar. Key features of the new portal include:
- Integration of location-based search technology to display relevant, local information, including libraries, schools, government offices, and online services,
- Innovative use of data-maps on the main landing pages to show users how the pages are all related to each other,
- Extensive use of custom search technologies aimed at providing a one-stop search for forms, online services, and other services,
- Searchable agency directory by keyword including the integration of social media websites for agencies,
- Redesigned Data.ca.gov portal, which offers up the State’s open data files to citizens and programmers to build mashups or download data for their own use,
- Expanded mobile web presence for iPhone and other mobile devices, including the addition of more than 20 new web-based mobile apps,
- Use of proxy detection technology to present the portal in the best way – Flash for those using a player, Flash-free for those who are not, and a mobile version for those using a smart phone; and
- Interactive features such as clickable and zoomable maps, innovative data maps, custom search integrated throughout the site.
Since 2007, California has received numerous awards and recognition.
- What are the overarching objectives of California's technology strategy?
California is in a stage of consolidation. Under the leadership of state CIO Teri Takai, the state has begun consolidation efforts designed to create greater efficiency, security, cost savings and improved management. With the size of California, this is no small undertaking, but already, significant data center floor space has occurred. Other areas and opportunities are to follow. Underlying all of California’s technology strategy is the goal of delivering constantly available, efficient, reliable and cost-effective services to the people of California.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies you’ve utilized to spread the word and draw attention to the information and services provided by Ca.gov both on- and off-line?
California launched its Golden Gateway awareness campaign this year to highlight the web portal and the many departments and agencies that provide information and services online to assist the public. Additionally, the state uses various social media networks to get the word out about Ca.gov services, including:
- 83 Twitter accounts, with total of 2.3 million followers,
- 40 YouTube channels, with a total of 11.1 million video views,
- 36 Facebook pages, with a total of 305,000 fans; and
- Nearly 100 RSS feeds and email subscription services.
- What has the response been from California's citizens?
Since launch of the new design, response from citizens has been overwhelmingly positive. Individuals are especially drawn to the beautiful California poppies and the imagery on the website. On a side note, the home page photos belong to a Flickr user, and California resident, Patrick Smith, who donated the use of his photos for this new design.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
The agency directory is one of the most frequently used services on the website. This feature was recently enhanced to become searchable – by keyword or acronym. Social media links like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr were added to the agency directory as well.
Online services are also a widely used feature, and this year they are now searchable. Search has been leveraged in many ways across the site, including location-based search to provide easy access to services near a user-entered zip code. Other new search features implemented this year include forms, agencies, and data.
- In developing the site, what were the biggest hurdles that needed to be overcome?
Ca.gov – as a government site – has an obligation to serve all Californians. The 2000 census indentified 6.2 million Californians with a disability. Our webmaster community has developed a special sensitivity to this and when it comes to balancing “glitzy” applications with accessible technology, California always chooses accessibility.
We had to balance this requirement with those who wanted a richer, visual experience. We decided to use Flash in our new design, and we kept this in mind – that we aren’t just about technology – we’re about providing better service to all Californians. We’ve made every attempt to create accessible Flash by embedding titles and descriptions, as well as provide a Flash-free version.
The other major hurdle was simply the resources needed to re-develop these core sites. At this time in California, resources are tight. We made use of our own talent with some last minute supplementing of resources through a short-term vendor contract. It was a challenge trying to maintain our regular daily work and complete this redesign effort by June first.
- Ca.gov’s online chat service would seem to be a pretty handy feature on a state government website. How many people are utilizing the service, and who manages it (i.e. a third-party)?
The live help/chat feature on Ca.gov began as a pilot project in 2008. The service is staffed by the Office of Technology Services’ State Information Agents, who also respond to the state’s 1-800 number and email requests. There are several staff who provide the service in the unit, however, the total chat time volume represents approximately 25% of a personnel year unit. The live chat software is provided by LivePerson.
- Do you feel that leveraging social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has allowed you connect more directly with the citizens of California? If so, in what ways?
Social media networks allow Ca.gov to connect with its citizens more than ever before. Ca.gov has morphed from a library where yesterday’s info was stored into a list, into a town square where citizens engage, hold conversations, explore topics, and get services.
We are constantly leveraging tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and recently Foursquare to engage citizens where they are. The Department of Motor Vehicles has been especially successful with their YouTube videos. They began releasing all the drivers training videos on YouTube when high school budgets got cut for drivers training. They have a huge number of video hits – more than any other state DMV channel. The Franchise Tax Board’s use of humor in their videos have been widely successful as well. Ca.gov harnesses the connected generation in many ways from using Twitter to tell citizens of the latest election results, budget updates, alerts, and other messages. The Governor is a big user of social media and regularly engages his 1.7 million Twitter followers.
- Where do you see e-government going in the next 2-3 years? Are there any new and exciting features or services already in the works?
Obviously, we are going to continue to expose data. This will encourage both internally and externally-developed mash-ups that will improve service and delivery of information to the public in a tangible way. We will also continue to grow our mobile web development efforts. Our goal is to develop an arsenal of mobile templates and instructional material that will enable all California organizations to instantly mobile-enable any application, existing or new, to increase service delivery. As devices proliferate and access to things like GPS are made available to web applications, more location-based services will become available. Last, we are looking at establishing an entirely new web infrastructure to enable future web development in ways that will make it easier to continue down the road we are traveling. Everything is geared towards delivering services and helping the state do more with what we have.
- Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us about Ca.gov or California's web initiatives?
Only that we constantly stay in touch with what is going on with web users and with where the web is going. As much as we can, we are trying to be agile, to keep our efforts relevant to our end users and the business needs of the State organizations that deliver services. That means being open to change, modifying our vision and sometimes changing course to stay the best.