Maine.gov has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top state government sites on the web. Below you'll find an interview with Kelly Hokkanen, General Manager of Maine.gov (a service of InforME).
- Maine.gov is a top-notch web portal; what has been your role in its development?
Maine Information Network (MIN) is the private company contracted as the State of Maine’s e-government provider since 1999. In addition to developing and operating Maine.gov, we build interactive online services and web sites for Maine state and local government, and provide associated hosting, marketing, and customer service.
- Can you provide some of the history of Maine's web portal?
The state of Maine established the Information Resource of Maine (InforME) through legislation in 1998, creating a self-funded public-private partnership for e-government. NIC, the parent company of Maine Information Network, was awarded the initial InforME contract in 1999, and again in 2008 after a competitive procurement process. Over the last eleven years, the state’s e-government initiative has led to an award-winning Maine.gov portal, more than 450 interactive online services, standardization of state government websites, and a focus on ease of use and accessibility. Maine.gov has been recognized by the Center for Digital Government as one of the top four state government portals each year since 2000.
- What are the overarching objectives of Maine's current e-government initiatives?
E-government provides the opportunity to transform public interaction with government. Government information is available online 24/7, bringing convenience to the public, streamlining government transactions, and saving time and money for both government and the public. In challenging economic conditions, it is a priority to deliver public services in a way that is more efficient for everyone. E-government is not about simply moving a paper process online – it often leads to changing the business process and providing new or better services that weren’t possible on paper. Other priorities of Maine.gov include promoting e-democracy (citizen engagement in the political process), providing one-stop services that combine information from multiple agencies for easier citizen access, and keeping up with rapidly changing technology through innovative services.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by Maine.gov, both on- and off-line?
Marketing is an important aspect of our role with Maine.gov. In order to achieve the benefits for government and citizens that e-government promises, we regularly measure online service usage and work with our state agency partners to increase public awareness and create incentives for online transactions. One of the most effective ways to encourage usage of an online service is to analyze the user group(s) and ensure that the service meets their needs and removes the hassle factors associated with traditional methods. Marketing strategies range from press releases and social media to working with user/industry associations, opt-in email reminders, and targeted mailings.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Maine's e-government services?
We monitor citizen feedback regularly through online feedback and periodic surveys, and we incorporate this information in our enhancements. In fall 2009, Maine.gov conducted an online survey of more than 5,200 residents and businesses. This study provided insights into user satisfaction with existing services, interest in new features and services, and the role of demographic factors such as age group. We found particularly high satisfaction among the business users of Maine.gov, but all groups indicated a strong demand for more online government services. Younger users expressed more interest in mobile services and social media, while citizens in their 30s-50s were most likely to request e-democracy services such as online broadcasts of meetings and online tracking of legislation.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
This varies seasonally, but the Maine.gov Agency Directory is always one of the most visited pages, as well as News and the site search. Some of the most popular online services include hunting and fishing licenses, vehicle registration, traffic ticket payments, and free services such as foliage reports, lottery numbers and unclaimed property search.
- Maine.gov’s online chat service would seem to be a very useful feature for a state government website. How many people are utilizing the service, and who manages it (i.e. a third-party)?
Maine.gov has offered Live Help, a real-time online chat service, since 2004. The service is operated by our customer support staff, and receives about 400-500 requests per year. We are in the process of expanding Live Help by promoting it as a standard part of our online service screens.
- In what ways has social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, etc.) allowed you connect more directly and personally with the citizens of Maine?
Maine.gov established a Facebook presence in 2009 and now has over 1,200 fans and receives 3,000 visits monthly. We also offer Twitter streams for news and alerts; the Maine.gov citizen alert twitter stream has 3,000 followers. This year we created a “Connect” page on Maine.gov to provide a centralized directory of Maine’s state government social media options. We use Facebook and Twitter to post news, announce new services, and push information to users in a more timely way than other media allow – for example, we can post quick, simple updates on a daily basis such as reminders of renewal deadlines or safety tips for weather conditions. This information not only reaches our “fans” but is available for those users to share with their friends and colleagues via social media.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Maine's web portal?
The future looks exciting for e-government. I expect continued expansion of online service offerings and usage, with an increase in cross-agency integrated “one-stop” services. The lines between agency services will blur as e-government pushes the focus toward the public user experience. For example, we’re excited about the Maine.gov DataShare service that provides a free catalog of downloadable data from multiple agencies, and the Maine.gov Media Gallery where the public can find recorded and live audio and video from state agencies.
In addition, mobile technology is becoming increasingly important and citizens will expect mobile access to government services. This summer, Maine.gov released a new smartphone mobile portal and we’re in the process of rolling out a new standardized design for state agency websites that includes device-detection and a mobile friendly style.
- What else that you would like to tell us about Maine.gov?
We are fortunate to have a terrific framework for e-government in Maine, through the InforME legislation and the InforME oversight board, combined with the vision and leadership of current and former officials in state government. Maine.gov has always placed a priority on ease of use and accessibility over flash and glitz. We know that most people don’t visit government websites for entertainment – they are there to complete a task or find information. Maine.gov is designed to make this as easy as possible, and to provide innovative features that enhance the way government serves the public.