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Digital Expert's Panel: Continuous Evolution

by Kimberly Samuelson
Post Date:11/06/2017

Eric Von Schimmelmann, CIO of Carson City, is quite the change-agent. Luckily, he was able to take some time from replacing every application in the city to join us for this week’s Digital Expert’s Panel.

What was the catalyst for your site redesign?

The site was outdated and bland. When I assumed the CIO role, I started in tandem with several new board members. We all knew we needed a new “minty fresh” site. I took that on immediately as I had the project pre-approved. Board member buy-in was critical.

IT can offer a lot of value. When I moved to the CIO role, I was an advocate for IT to be more than keeping the lights on and the servers running. I knew that we needed to go forward and embrace change. I gave them a plan and costs. Our board didn’t even blink an eye. I made a lot of changes coming in and still continue to do so.

It sounds like you fit the change-agent CIO mold?

(Laughs) Over the next two years, the plan is to replace every application. Carson City functions as both a city and a county. I am replacing the core applications for our treasurer, clerk-recorder and assessor, right now. On top of that, I am replacing our entire ERP. We’ve been on that platform for 27 years. All those projects will take about two years.

I was told, “You need to make some big changes.” So, I said, “OK, here are some big changes.” 

Carson City organizes its departments differently than other municipalities, does this affect who has stewardship of the website?

In the city, there is no PIO. Once I launched the site, I hired an Information Management Officer. Some of her responsibilities include web design, social media, and public service manager. We can better support communications from the IT department than elsewhere in the city.

When you were planning your redesign, did you use the analytics from your old site?

Yes, I looked at them with Vision as part of the UX process. Together we made some joint decisions.

I had some additional goals for the website. The big push was transparency. We have a section on our navigation called Transparency. In parallel to launching the new site, we launched an open budget expenditure application right along with it. Since then we’ve launched other transparency offerings as well.

Did you get any pushback from the departments about the analytics results?

On our old site, it took forever to scroll to the bottom of the page. At the very bottom, there was a link to our storm water page. No one had ever clicked on it, so I removed it. Our storm water department division said it was a mandate from a grant. I asked to see the mandate in the grant paperwork. My suspicion was that there just needed to be a link from the storm water page, which we could bury in the public works division. I was right. Just because a department has a request, doesn’t mean it matches the analytics.

How did you determine the architecture of the home page?

It was a combination of analytics and personal interviews with the departments. For the most part, the two sources agreed. Our two areas of focus are the accessor’s office and job postings. One of the things we did under our transparency program, and at the request of our city manager, is put the twitter widget right at the bottom center of the homepage.

The scroll bar, I manage myself. And we replace material as we see fit. And the emergency notification banner is temporarily hijacked by events, like a bike race. It’s a way to get stuff immediately on the homepage.

How did you keep the stakeholders involved?

This is my second web page update with Vision. I created the first homepage iteration in ’92. We’ve gone through a lot of iterations. The previous site’s working committee was 30+ people, which was way too big.

For the current design, we created a small working committee of three. During the biweekly staff briefs, the department heads and elected officials were updated, showed the process and asked for feedback. I kept them pretty involved. When we were close to finalized, I gave all the department heads access to the beta site and asked for comment.

How do you manage the content strategy now?

The website is always evolving. We did have to migrate some content over. I held a two-day training, but it wasn’t terribly helpful. So, the aforementioned information management officer has been tasked to work with each department to rewrite their web page on the fly. She’s in the middle of the sheriff’s departments now, rebranding their pages. And the sheriff likes a specific green color, so we are going with it, but keeping the logo.

We’ve had a lot of turnover at the department-head-level. I showed the new staff where their content stagnated and offered our information management officer’s help. It enhanced our website. Having a person dedicated to content contribution has made massive improvements for us.

If another municipality asked you for advice about a redesign, what would you tell them?

Create a committee but keep it small. Use the committee as a filter to reach out internally and externally. Every department doesn’t need to be involved.

Make sure the departments know they need to update their pages. We had to go-live with old content. At the time, we didn’t have a dedicated person. If you can, dedicate someone full-time to the project.

Adhere to a timeline. I recommend backing into it. A lot of pre-work needs to happen, so I think it takes about a year for a complete redesign.

What will the site look like in five years?

Completely new! I don’t want the site ever to get static. I’d like a new look and feel in three years. I like to keep on the cutting edge of technology.

If you are looking for some advice on how to prepare and manage a redesign, check out this blog post.

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