Biddeford's Website Gets an Overhaul

(from Maine Townsman, November 2004)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is a case study of Biddeford’s experiences implementing a GovOffice web site. MMA, through an agreement with the League of Minnesota Cities, GovOffice and their partners, makes available the website development and content management tool to our members at league prices. Biddeford was part of MMA’s pilot group which evaluated the GovOffice product. Information about the product and a pricelist are available on MMA’s site at http://www.memun.org/public/market/webcreator/GovOffice.htm

When Jerry Gerlach was hired as the City of Biddeford's IT Director, changing the way the city’s website operated was among his top priorities. Biddeford (pop. 21,000) had an old site that was static – there were no links, and according to Gerlach, the city needed a fresh, new start to building an exciting, dynamic site. He and other city officials began looking for ways to achieve this goal.

It was at a Maine Municipal Association conference that Biddeford’s (then) city manager, Bruce Benway, was encouraged by MMA staff to check out a booth introducing GovOffice, a website development and content management tool designed specifically for local governments. Developed and marketed through a partnership between MMA, Avenet, the ICMA (International City/County Management Association), the League of Minnesota Cities, and Microsoft, GovOffice technology empowers local governments to rapidly deploy and easily manage powerful, interactive web sites with special features to meet the unique needs of municipalities. When Benway and other city officials saw the capabilities of GovOffice, they decided it was a good route to explore for reworking Biddeford’s website.

At the time Biddeford became aware of GovOffice, the website development tool had just been launched and Biddeford, along with more than a dozen cities across the nation, signed on to be a “beta city” — a city that used GovOffice to build their website while also helping the tool’s creators perfect the system.

Biddeford’s finance department and city council eagerly approved the purchase of GovOffice after the “beta city” period ended, and Gerlach got to work coordinating training for employees on how to use the tool. Each department head within Biddeford has the responsibility of making sure changes are updated in their section of the website, though many different staff members make the actual changes.

“This tool is so easy to use; that’s one of the reasons why we decided to go with GovOffice. I always say, ‘if you can run Word, you can run GovOffice,’” Gerlach explained. “We held training sessions for employees when we first signed on, to alleviate some of the fear employees had, but after those sessions they were excited to go back and play with the site.”

When questions have arisen, Gerlach says that the customer service center is phenomenal. “I like how I get a person right away, there’s no voice automation to go through when calling customer service. It’s the top customer service center I’ve ever used. I wish every other product I’ve used had this helpful a staff.”

The ease-of-use of GovOffice is one of Gerlach’s main endorsements about the tool, and he also raved about the low cost. “One of the reasons we switched over to GovOffice was because of the cost compared to the program we were running. We were able to eliminate an expensive tool we were using because GovOffice had the feature we used included within its package,” said Gerlach. “It’s inexpensive and the quality of the tool is great.”

Some of the features of the GovOffice tool include interactive forms, polls, and bulk e-mail. Biddeford uses the bulk e-mail and online form functions of GovOffice frequently, mainly to notify residents of snow bans and public works projects, like road construction and street closings. Gerlach said, “The bulk e-mail tool is a fantastic way to get quick messages to several hundred people at once. The public works crews post messages to the bulk e-mail groups without having to disturb anyone else to do it for them. Plus, it’s a feature the citizens really like. They are able to find out about projects more conveniently than having to pick up the phone.”

Citizens and members of the business community in Biddeford, along with tourists to the area, can also frequent Biddeford’s website to gain knowledge about the city. Different sections of the website are devoted to specific populations, so navigation of the site is simple and information can be easily obtained. Currently, the site has much information geared toward the business community, and Gerlach said employees are constantly working on adding more fresh information for frequent visitors. “The economic development director has been feeding me information to put on our site, focusing on building sites, industrial parks, and why bringing your business to Biddeford is wise,” said Gerlach. “We’re just starting to move into the ‘fluff’ sections of building the site, adding photos mainly to attract tourists and promote the area’s beaches. In the future, my goal is to have the site condensed into two sections – one for businesses and one for residents and tourists.”

Gerlach is excited to move into the next phase of Biddeford’s website. Currently each department shares a standard request form online, but future plans include customizing each department’s section to include areas for comments and specific options.

Overall, Gerlach believes that the website has benefited the residents of Biddeford greatly because the city is able to provide them so much information. He explained that prior to GovOffice the city got about two hits on its site per year, simply because it was a static website. “Now that the site is dynamic and changing, we are able to get information from residents, as well as give them information.” Gerlach went on, “People are going to the website first and then calling the city if they can’t find what they’re looking for. In addition to information sharing, the website is helping to cut down on staff time used to answer mundane questions. And besides that, residents can access this information 24/7 rather than only during business hours.”

The convenience, low cost, and power of the GovOffice tool proves why it’s the nation’s leading Website solution for local governments, and in addition to Biddeford, there are more than 600 other communities in 41 states and in Canada that utilize GovOffice — 42 of which are located in Maine.

For more information about GovOffice or to try a 30-day free trial, call 1-877-564-4979 or visit www.govoffice.com.