Akron launched a new website this week that the city hopes will be both easier to use and more secure.
The site, still accessible at www.akronohio.gov/, went live Tuesday night and is the result of a project that began five years ago.
“Our previous site was lacking in areas,” Mayor Don Plusquellic said Wednesday at a press conference to showcase the new site. “We knew we needed a revamp.”
The website features a banner across the top that says, “Welcome to the city of Akron, Ohio” and shows scrolling photos, including an Akron Aeros baseball game and a concert at Lock 3. The site is divided into categories — residents, businesses, government, visitors and online services — and clicking on each of them bring up a unique list of links specific to the topic. A click on “contact us” brings up a new city services directory listed alphabetically.
Plusquellic said work on the site began in 2009, but got put on the back burner when the recession hit, ushering in a difficult time for the city that included layoffs, buyouts and other cutbacks.
Akron contracted with Hitchcock, Fleming & Associates Inc., an Akron-based marketing firm, to help design the site along with city employees and EYEMG, an Akron design firm that specializes in technology, to provide its content-management system.
The content management system will enable the city to easily maintain and add to the website, Plusquellic said.
Akron spent about $100,000 on the site updates, a figure that doesn’t include all of the time city employees put into the effort, said Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson.
Hitchcock-Fleming & Associates (hfa) donated 50 percent of its cost of developing the site, which equated to about $40,000, said Keith Busch, hfa’s vice president of client development.
Rick Schmahl, the city’s chief information officer, said the goal with the new site was for people to get where they needed to in three clicks. He said 70 city employees have been trained to add content to the site so that it doesn’t have “stale information.”
Plusquellic said the website is a work in progress and he wants improvements to continue, such as making sure that people can find information on the site using terms that they are familiar with rather than the terms the city uses.
An example he gave was how citizens might say “trash” or “garbage” while the city might classify this as “sanitation.”
In designing Akron’s new website, Busch said hfa looked at the websites of other cities, as well as other sites that have “best-in-class standards.”
Schmahl said the updated site should make it more secure to hacking attacks like the one in mid-May by a Turkish group who posted a political message and put the personal information of as many as 30,000 residents on a public site. The city offered free credit freezes, although no one has come forward to say they were victims of identity theft.
Schmahl said the content on the new site is on servers with EYEMG, which will maintain them. He said the city still will host Web applications on the site, such as the electronic income tax filing system, and will be testing to make sure this data remains secure.
“There are less data-base-driven applications — less for people to target,” he said.
Some information still hasn’t been put back on the website since the hacking. Schmahl said a function that will allow people to give tips to the police will soon be back up. The city’s press releases from the last two years are on the site, but historical releases still need to be added.
By January, Schmahl said, people will be able to electronically file their income tax returns on the site. He said a feature also will be added that will allow people to submit service requests online rather than calling the 311 line, such as to ask for a bulk trash pickup.
Plusquellic said hacking has become a hot topic among city leaders nationwide, and Akron is taking part in the conversation.
He said he attended a recent homeland security conference on cyber protection and Schmahl will go to a follow-up event on this topic in October.
“In our opinion, nothing on the Internet is 100 percent guaranteed to be safe,” Plusquellic said.
He quoted an United Kingdom official he spoke with who said, “If a human being designs it, some human being can get around it.”
“We will try to stay on top of this,” the mayor said. “It is an ongoing battle.”