County to launch new website

Anoka County is about to embark on a project that will bring its website into the modern era.

On the recommendation of its finance and capital improvements committee, the Anoka County Board June 25 approved a contract with CivicPlus, Manhattan, Kan., for design management and hosting services for a new website.

The project comes in two phases. The first phase is the design and development of the new website, which carries a price tag of $130,950, and the second is for hosting and maintenance services, to cost $153,728 over five years.

According to Martha Weaver, county public information manager, the design and development costs will come from funds in the county’s 2013 capital improvement program previously approved by the board.

The hosting and maintenance services costs will be part of the county’s operating budget and will be budget neutral, based on current expenditures for hosting and maintaining the website, Weaver said.

Weaver hopes that work on the project can begin in two weeks, but negotiations still have to take place between the county’s purchasing department and the vendor to make sure the contract is in line with county policies before work on the major upgrade can start, she said.

“The county board has given the green light, and we are very excited,” Weaver said.

Everything will be different, she said.

Weaver likened the present website to an old metal filing cabinet where documents are stored and people have to dig around to try and find what they want.

According to information provided to the county board and the finance and capital improvements committee by Lindsey Felgate, purchasing manager, the website is currently built and managed with the same basic tools and techniques that were in place when the county went on the Web in 2001.

“Those tools and techniques are outdated and cause a number of problems,” Felgate wrote in the memo.

For example, all content changes must be done manually by the website coordinator or designated back-up, resulting in delays as well as limited and out-of-date content, she wrote.

In addition, content cannot be automatically managed to appear and disappear at designated times, meaning it appears late or continues on the website after it is no longer relevant, Felgate wrote.

According to Felgate, the county website, depending on the season, has upwards of 10,000 visits a day, making it the busiest county-owned “facility.”

But it is very hard to navigate right now and is not consumer-friendly, Weaver said.

“People have a hard time finding where to go to get the information they need,” she said.

The major upgrade will put the new county website on a par with the standards of the websites of other metro counties, like Washington and Dakota counties, according to Felgate.

In her memo to the county board, Felgate listed several factors in the decision to select CivicPlus as the vendor for the project:

• CivicPlus has the resources to not only build a modern, technically up-to-date website, but it will also consult with the county on the best ways to provide information and services to the public.

• It will assist the county in moving all current, valid content from the existing website to the new one, as well as offer advice on improving content and formatting.

• The new website will work on mobile devices, like cellphones and tablets, not just computers, and will also deliver apps that work on Apple and Android phones.

• CivicPlus also offers an application programming interface to the website, which will allow development of additional services and transactions to benefit the public.

According to Weaver, more people are using cellphones or tablets, not computers, to access websites, on their own time and that will be possible with the new website. People want the ability to go to a website at any time of the day, not just during normal working hours, which is why they use cellphones and tablets, Weaver said.

All the pages on the county’s new website will look different than they do now and people will find it much easier to access the information they are looking for on the site, she said.

“It will be much more customer-friendly,” Weaver said.

The county hopes to have the new website up and running by the spring of 2014, if not before, according to Weaver.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]