Austintexas.gov was completely rebuilt in 2007. It unified a multitude of separate City sites on a single open source web platform. It also boasted a fully responsive design — exceptional among government websites at that time. The project came in under-budget, won a number of awards, and was recognized as a great success.
Once the site was launched, several City staff assumed maintenance of the technical infrastructure and site content. Basic updates were diligently installed and new pages and design elements were added by request. A decade later, the site is still standing, visited by over six thousand users a day. That said, it hasn’t seen any substantial improvements since its initial launch, and now lags behind user expectations — those of the public as well as City staff. Furthermore, during their 2017 spring retreat, Austin’s City Council cited the importance of creating government that works for everyone — and digital services are a fundamental part of that effort.
Acknowledging the need for an overhaul, we are reconsidering the Austintexas.gov in a holistic way. This means that we must not only identify how the site can best serve its users, but also how ensure we sustainably support them as their digital needs evolve.
“Tech Stack” to “Stack Pack”
In May, 2017, the City of Austin IT and Communications departments partnered with the Innovation Fellows and initiated the “Tech Stack” project to identify a new technology foundation for the City’s digital services.
Discovery began a combination of outreach to other government digital service teams and a series of interviews. We spoke with our internal technology decision makers and implementers to gain an understanding of their process and challenges they meet when delivering digital services.
Immediately, we realized that the City required far more than a prescribed technology foundation. We needed shared values and a roadmap for reaching our goals, a deep understanding of the workflows and roles we would need to support them, and an architectural strategy for the City’s technologies so that they can progress to leverage emergent technologies and meet new digital demands as they arise.
So in June, we made a strategic decision to break the project into a pack of three smaller focus areas:
Shared Values: Defining a set of collective values to guide our digital strategy and roadmap.
City Services Workflow: Designing, developing, and testing a new service-oriented web experience with and for residents and city employees.
Shared Microservice: Designing, developing, and testing a shared resident-facing service to learn what processes and tools will facilitate a microservice approach to the City’s technical architecture.