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Denton County, Texas, Is Big on the Value of Advanced Networking

The county is taking advantage of networking technology to increase efficiency and provide superior service to its citizens.

Background
Neighbor to Dallas-Fort Worth and home to two thriving universities, Denton County, Texas, is the ninth largest among the state's 254 counties and has enjoyed a healthy growth rate for the past three decades. Wanting to continue to attract and retain businesses and citizens, Denton County needs to offer top-quality government services. Today, that means meeting the demand for efficient and convenient government services in ways only the Internet can make possible.


Sandy Jacobs, one of Denton County's five Commissioners Court leaders, says the demand for Internet-based government services is high, as is the county's commitment to using new technology to improve communication and efficiency throughout county operations. "When evaluating the desirability of an area for a home or business, people tend to have three main concerns: whether there are quality schools, whether the government has a good bond rating, and what kinds of conveniences local government offers. Those conveniences now include technology-based services," Jacobs says.




Challenge
In the mid-1990s, the county established its first information services (IS) department, a countywide network infrastructure, and its first presence on the Web. Choosing the proven leader in networking, Denton County created an infrastructure using Cisco routers and platforms, installed T1 lines for the Internet, and introduced an internal Web server. Those improvements had a huge impact on internal operations, speeding up the flow of information and making collaboration easier through file and printer sharing and e-mail. In 1996, Denton County launched its first online service on its extensive–but previously static–Web site. That service, judicial records searches, has proven immensely popular with attorneys, bail bond companies, and the general public.


With the county population and constituent enthusiasm for e-government services growing–but county budgets remaining finite–the Denton County IS department had to come up with ways to simultaneously save money and innovate. "We had a network that worked well with data," says Kevin Carr, director of Denton County's IS department. "But in order to move to the next level of internal productivity and e-government services for citizens, we needed an even more robust network that would enable voice and video applications, and technology that would give us unprecedented flexibility in Web communications and allow for e-commerce transactions."


Carr and his team saw strong potential for increased efficiency and savings through unified Web-based communications, video conferencing capabilities, and wireless applications, which would have an impact on judicial and health department activities as well as general internal communications. The county has numerous buildings, with government services and activities taking place in each one, and a workforce that needs to be able to communicate easily from various county locations. Denton County once again turned to Cisco to help formulate a technology plan for moving forward with a fully integrated, upgraded, and even more accessible network responsive to the county's multifaceted needs.




Solution
Denton County installed a multiservice platform consisting of Cisco routers and gigabit-scalable switches to achieve faster performance and lay the foundation for a converged network that would integrate data, voice, and video. The county also switched to Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, with most employees using a Cisco IP phone and major facilities outfitted with Cisco IP conference stations. A Cisco IP/TV server was installed to enhance Web site offerings for constituents and county business partners, and electronic fax delivery and unified communications were made possible by combining Cisco Unity 3.1 with RightFax. Having unified communications means Denton County employees can send and receive faxes via e-mail, listen and respond to e-mail over the telephone, and check voice mail using the e-mail system, resulting in increased productivity and better communications.


To allow for extended network connectivity for mobile users, as well as communication with city, other county, and state networks, Denton County uses Cisco virtual private networks (VPNs), protected by Cisco firewalls. Cisco Aironet wireless bridges and access points are being tested in the county's 106-year-old courthouse so that department employees can use their laptops for network access in the courtroom. Wireless bridges are also the focus of an innovative plan to deploy mobile medical clinics to places in the county that are too small to warrant their own full-time medical offices but are still in need of health services.


Results
All of the county's 38 buildings and 1,300 employees are now connected to the county's network, a scalable, reliable infrastructure supporting Internet access and the county's Web site, e-mail, fax, and file storage. Staff productivity and accuracy have increased due to unified Web communications, and back-end processes have been streamlined using Web-based applications, such as e-procurement procedures for ordering office supplies. Added e-business services on the county's Web site–available at all hours, every day of the week–offer further convenience to citizens. Among other services, the site offers:

  • Online bids and requests for proposals
  • Property and judicial records searches
  • Online tax statement reviews
  • Driver's license renewals
  • Job searches
  • Criminal and parole notices


Online forms are being added regularly, and e-commerce transactions using proprietary software are in the works. Carr envisions court fines and fees being payable online, which could result in huge monetary and labor savings.


One of the county's most recent innovations was to deploy Cisco IP/TV to broadcast Denton County's weekly Commissioners Court meetings live. County employees can watch the meetings on their desktops without interfering with network performance, while the public can watch from their home or work computers. "With Cisco's help, Denton County has become a leader among counties in Texas with our Internet site and computer automation," Carr says.


Denton County has realized enormous savings–approximately $200,000 per year–by using Cisco IP telephony. "Previously, the county had 30 separate voice mail systems and six different area codes," says Brian King, assistant director of Denton County Information Services. "Now we have one voice mail system and a countywide directory and dialing plan that allows four-digit dialing between all county offices." The county tallies savings in long-distance calls, reduced and simplified maintenance costs, elimination of telephone cabling costs to new facilities, and a simplified process for employee location changes.


Video conferencing capability is improving efficiency for several departments that operate in more than one location, including the IS and health departments and the cooperative extension service. "In the future, we may see judges conducting arraignments remotely by video," Carr says. "That kind of arrangement is possible with our new Cisco network."


Cisco Aironet wireless local-area network solutions, which offer scalable, centralized, key-encrypted security, simplified installation, and cost-effective operation, are ideal for providing network access to older buildings–such as historically significant and protected courthouses–and mobile offices, such as medical clinic vehicles. Using Cisco wireless solutions, Denton County's health services department will be able to connect its mobile personnel with doctors in other locations for video conferencing and provide immediate and seamless access to the health department's records and databases on the network. A wireless-enabled mobile clinic is less expensive than hiring a doctor to perform routine care in remote areas.




Next Steps
The budgetary and political success of recent Internet and technology initiatives keeps Denton County's information services team looking ahead. One area Carr is considering for even greater internal efficiency is wireless IP phones that work with Cisco Call Manager. If wireless access points were everywhere, county employees would each need only one phone and one phone number–a wireless IP phone that would be usable at any location. The county IS and facilities departments are planning on using a new work-order system accessible on wireless personal digital assistants. The correctional medical department is interested in using wireless applications for recording medical notes and connecting with medical databases. All of these future solutions would make county operations smoother, faster, and more accurate. The county is also reviewing advanced security systems, such as Cisco Intrusion Detection System solutions, as well as workforce optimization applications, such as PeopleSoft solutions.


What Cisco Offers
Cisco can assist governments of any size in creating technology strategies to improve internal operations and constituent-facing Internet services, based on their particular budgets and timetables. As a planning resource, Cisco offers the Cisco Internet Business Roadmap, a tool that can quickly guide public and private sector organizations toward the e-business and technology solutions that are best for them. Distinguished by years of technology expertise, experience in different industries, and effective partnerships, Cisco is well positioned to advise governments and other entities about best practices to meet their networking and e-business needs.


Further Reading


Denton County Snapshot

  • Ninth largest of Texas's 254 counties in 2000
  • 466,240 residents in 2001
  • Part of Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area
  • Home to the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University
  • County responsibilities include setting annual property tax rates; overseeing roads and bridges; supervising the county courthouse, budgets, and purchasing; and calling bond elections

Networking Solutions
Use these links to access technical information about the solutions discussed here: