Utah.gov has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top state government sites on the web. Below you'll find an interview with Sarah Watts, Director of Operations and Marketing for Utah Interactive.
- Utah.gov is an incredibly innovative web portal; what has been your role in its development?
The State of Utah has formed a working partnership with Utah Interactive to create Utah.gov. Utah Interactive is a private partner dedicated to providing award winning websites and applications from which both the Utah State Government and the citizens of Utah benefit.
- Can you give me some background on the history of Utah’s web portal and the state's e-government initiatives?
Utah’s digital government initiatives are grounded in a vision outlined by Governor Michael Leavitt in 1993 to create an electronic highway where government would provide services and information to citizens. Access was created in 1995 to begin provisioning and coordinating the development of online services. In 1996, Utah was ranked second in the first Best of the Web competition for state governments. The Utah.gov portal was later named #1 in 2003 and 2007. Utah continued to add online interactive services and had more than 830 services by 2008.
In August 2008, the state of Utah became the first state to implement a statewide 4-day workweek, based on its ability to provide so many services on a 24/7 basis. Also, Utah was named the best-managed state in the nation by Governing Magazine and the highest-ranked digital state by e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government.
In 2010, Utah.gov offers 1159 services online that allow the 2.7 million citizens of Utah to connect with their government at any time. Utah’s online services have a high degree of utilization by its citizens; in many cases the service is now available ONLY online, producing a very high level of efficiency. Utah.gov has won dozens of awards, including another Best of the Web in 2009 and being named an official honoree of the 2010 Webby Awards.
- What are the overarching objectives of Utah’s technology strategy?
Utah.gov is consistently working to keep at the forefront of eGovernment trends and technology. Our goal is to win public affection and keep public interest in the site and its online services by continually staying ahead of the curve and offering more services online for the businesses and citizens of Utah.
- 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 Utah.gov?
The marketing team at Utah.gov is constantly seeking to improve adoption of our online services and provide the citizens of Utah with the information necessary to successfully conduct business online with their government. Utah has a large population of citizens who are very technology savvy, and Utah.gov needed to be able to cater to those citizens. Social Media has been a big marketing push over the past two years with the new site redesign in 2009. We currently utilize Facebook, twitter, Flickr etc. to push the Utah.gov site and to market to the citizens of Utah.
- What has the response been from Utah citizens?
The sheer magnitude of the Utah.gov portal makes carrying out an enterprise-wide evaluation difficult. However, thanks to our customer service experts at Utah.gov that log all of our calls, chats and emails, as well as our custom feedback tools, we are able to quickly monitor the impact (positive/negative) a customer experiences when using an online service. In doing so, it has made the positive impact that our online services have on Utah citizens and businesses more visible. We can see exactly what user’s issues are, solve problems, and read positive customer feedback. Our goal is for each online service to measure at 95% (or higher) of citizens finding the service “very easy” to use. If a service slips below 95%, the reasons why customers might be having difficulty are researched, and changes are made to the service. We consistently receive ratings of 95% or higher, and the user feedback speaks for itself.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
The most-used feature on the site is the Utah.gov search feature, which allows citizens to explore over 50,000 government forms in one easy search on the home page. The unique Utah.gov search was reorganized to offer results for all categories of government, including: services, entire site, agencies, and forms with a single search. To get results for the various categories, a user can simply tab through the options. This change was entirely driven based on watching user interaction with the previous search feature.
Some of the more popular online services for citizens are purchasing hunting and fishing licenses, vehicle registration renewal, and driver license renewal.
- In developing the site, what were the biggest hurdles that had to be overcome?
With all of the major updates we were making to the site, including the many new web 2.0 capabilities, making the site accessible for people without flash, or for those with mobile phones, proved to be a challenge. In order to accommodate the different capabilities of each user’s device, Utah.gov implemented browser detection, which picks up the user’s specific connection and serves up the most applicable version of the site for the user. The user is completely unaware that the view they might be seeing isn’t the same as the view of someone who possibly does have flash.
Another hurdle involved was being able to implement a Geo-IP Location Aware service, and tag all of the data that we had with the services and location. Geo-IP (Internet Protocol) technology reads a visitor’s IP address in order to display content and information that is relevant to the user’s physical location. This service enables the user to see public meetings and service notices in their area as well as view maps showing where their local parks, libraries and schools are situated. Utah is the first state to develop and provide this technology to citizens on their website. This project required countless hours of labor to gather and tag all the data that was necessary to provide this service.
- Utah.gov’s online chat service is a pretty unique feature for a state government website. How many people are utilizing the service, and who manages it (third-party, etc.)?
The chat service is a feature that allows citizens to chat live with a customer service representative to solve issues, provide help and answer any question a user may have about our online services. The customer service team addresses these questions, and the expert in the area aids the user in a simple solution with the support of the team. On average, the customer service team receives over 2,100 chats per month. The service is provided by employees of the Utah Department of Technology Services in cooperation with Utah Interactive, a private company. This public/private partnership between the State of Utah and Utah Interactive ensures the continued improvement of Utah.gov.
- Do you feel that leveraging social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has allowed you to connect more directly with the citizens of Utah? If so, in what ways?
Utah has seen its citizens become more involved and informed through the help of Utah.gov and the connect.utah.gov social media portal:
Over 39,000 citizens are getting Twitter updates via state government Twitter accounts and hundreds of Utah’s citizens Tweet daily about information on Utah.gov.
The use of Utah's online portal, Utah.gov and associated online services is increasing:
The effective use of social media helped Utah achieve an average monthly unique visitor rate of over 1 million visitors in 2009, more than double the average for the primary domains of the surrounding states of Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and Idaho. While many portals in comparably sized states have seen declines in unique visitor numbers, Utah is again averaging over a million unique visitors in the first three months of 2010. The measurable impact of Utah's social media approach has also helped boost online service utilization in 2009 during which time the portal processed over 11 million financial transactions (a record). In 2009, more than 6.4 million job referrals were also done online.
Various government sponsored social media sites have been consolidated:
- 185 Utah Twitter accounts aggregated
- 31 Utah related blogs aggregated
- Over 173 Facebook accounts aggregated
- Are any new and exciting features or services in the works? How else do you see the website changing over the next year?
Yes, we are constantly road mapping features into the incremental updates of Utah.gov. We do plan to add several innovative features over the next year, but we prefer to keep the ideas confidential until their implementation is complete.