Introducing Our Celebratory Blog Series: Showcasing the Remarkable Achievements of Maryland’s Award-Winning Counties!
Join us on an exciting journey as we embark on a special blog series dedicated to honoring the exceptional accomplishments of the counties that triumphed in the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2023 Achievement Awards. Each week, we will shine a well-deserved spotlight on a few remarkable counties, delving into their accomplishments, innovative initiatives, and the profound impact they have had on their communities. Let’s dive in!
Howard County receives 15 Information Technology Program Awards.
Each of these will be highlighted in a three-part article.
IT Service Catalog Redesign
After redesigning the County Executive website, the Department of Technology and Communication Systems (DTCS) team noticed major design flaws with the new Service Catalog. This tool allows constituents to review services and resources offered in Howard County. The original design overwhelmed users with excessive categories, a dense interface that was difficult to navigate without existing knowledge, and no intuitive path for users to follow through the catalog. This combination of issues made users jump through hoops to use one of the most important sections of the County site and made it difficult for departments to reach their intended audiences. As a result, service categories were heavily condensed, and the catalog interface was rebuilt into a system resembling a “wizard,” a frequently used tool designed to guide a user through a process. The new service catalog – officially launched on September 13, 2022 – now guides users at every step, allowing new and previous users to find what they need easily and presenting the wide range of County services in a friendly, easy-to-navigate framework.
Land Use 2019: A Spatial Odyssey
In 2019 Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning’s (DPZ) Research Division undertook a comprehensive upgrade of its Land Use database that converted a manual process to a user-friendly, dynamic, and largely automated system. The Land Use database incorporates a wealth of critical data, such as development plans and building permits, for monitoring and projecting growth, in addition to traditional land use activity information. Maintained at the parcel level since at least the 1970s, this extensive database heavily relied upon a cumbersome and tedious manual process to maintain before its upgrade. The upgrade allowed the County’s Land Use to reflect real-time development patterns and changes more rapidly and efficiently. This significantly enhanced the timeliness and accuracy of data critical to many of DPZ’s analytical efforts, including necessary support provided to other departments and regional development forecasting efforts.
Online Right-of-Way Utility Permitting
Typically, 900 Right-of-Way Utility Permits (RUP) Applications are processed annually. A RUP Permit Portal facilitates permit application via an online form that allows a single attachment of construction drawings. The RUP application and attachment are reviewed online; a dashboard relays real-time review status. Customers greatly appreciate the transparency, accessibility, and seeing the status of reviews. Permit applications are generated by any of the 14 dry utility companies that have executed Right-of-Way Agreements allowing the installation and maintenance of power and communication cables, pipes, wires, conduit, etc., in the County’s Right-of-Way. The most recent upgrade to the RUP Portal used Power BI Report Server Database to produce detailed monthly billings. The upgrade saves the Regulation Supervisor several hours each month. Contact information is documented in a single location by the Department of Public Works Engineering Bureau to create monthly billing letters distributed by the Finance Department. The Portal and billing upgrade serve our utility customers very effectively and efficiently. The Department of Technology and Communication Services creates and maintains the entire portal in-house. The time required by staff to intake, review, respond, issue permits, and generate monthly billing is greatly reduced, freeing engineering and financial staff to focus on reviews and field inspections.
Project 25 Radio Network Upgrade
The Howard County Radio Team completed an extensive overhaul of its radio system. It replaced its core and 911 radio console and Public Safety portable radio, re-engineered its radio site, and completed a cutover. In the impressive engineering phase, the team took a 15-channel trunked radio system to a 20-channel trunked radio system, adding 25% more capacity to the operations. They moved the network from a Microwave T-1 platform to a robust IP network on fiber. Fiber at each site with redundant fiber paths provided a quicker response to transmitting and receiving voice traffic. This also enhanced the reliability of system uptime and eliminated issues from weather conditions. Finally, the team brought new features online to improve the reliability for all users on Howard County’s P-25 radio network, such as system refresh to include software upgrades and firmware along all platforms, GPS to 911 CAD, over-the-air programming, Radio manager server to manage radio programming, Wave/Critical connect to allow users outside radio coverage area to communicate with 911, all radios in the network to APX series of radios, removal of older XTS and Spectra Plus radios.
Public Information Request Processing
The Howard County Department of Inspections, Licenses & Permits (DILP) responds to hundreds of information requests under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA). This process previously involved printing volumes of responsive documents from DILP’s database, scanning them, then submitting them to our Public Information Office (PIO). Per our records retention schedule, the printed documents must be maintained in storage boxes. This was very costly due to printing paper and supplies, wear and tear on equipment, storage space, and staff time. As of late 2022, this MPIA process is almost entirely processed and maintained electronically. Responsive documents are downloaded from our database and emailed directly to the PIO personnel to respond. The emails and the responsive records are then kept on a shared network drive and filed by address for ease of searching. This new electronic process significantly reduces the paper and storage space required to maintain the records for the specified retention schedule period. In addition, the availability of the information electronically can be easily searched should a question arise and allows for more efficient and practical responses if duplicate records are requested multiple times.
Together, let’s explore the remarkable stories behind these award-winning counties and draw inspiration from their passion, creativity, and commitment to making a positive difference. View all 2023 NACo Achievement Award winners through their interactive and searchable map. View our full series of 2023 Maryland Award Winners.