Citizen service begins on the homepage

Municipalities and cities are confronted with an overwhelming amount of data every day. At the same time, they must live up to the mandate of offering the highest quality of service in the digital space as well. A wealth of relevant information such as community news, ordinances and legal texts must be prepared, organised and maintained in an easy-to-understand way. So while the efforts for digitization continue to progress, it is important for the municipal administration to accommodate the citizens with user-friendliness on their website as well.

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How innovative technologies simplify access to public information on the web

Whether the information and forms you are looking for can be found efficiently with the website’s search function has a direct influence on the quality of service in the eyes of citizens. Making data available in a user-friendly way is therefore one of the most important steps in digitization in the public sector. This article is intended to show how an on-site search on municipal websites can be optimally implemented and what advantages this brings – to citizens as well as to the administration.

Digitization as an opportunity for more service quality

Digitalisation offers an excellent opportunity to simplify access to public services. The best example of this is the success of the “Digital Office” app. More than one million Austrians are already using the application to take care of official business conveniently from their smartphones. “Signing official documents or submitting applications while sitting in a café without ever having to visit an office in person – this is a big step towards a more efficient and citizen-friendly administration,” says Christoph Wendl, CEO of Iphos IT Solutions GmbH. The Viennese company has developed the company’s internal search engine and on-site search searchit and has been working intensively on the requirements of the public sector for some time. Since the Corona year 2020, Iphos IT Solutions has been leading the campaign “Austria is looking! Digitization offensive for government organizations”.

Onsite search – search all information and forms of a website

When websites are put into operation, the importance of search is often not considered – but from a certain complexity and size of a website, the search functions installed by default reach their limits. One reason for this is that files are only searched for titles, but not for content and metadata. This is a gross disadvantage if official forms, legal texts and ordinances are named with abbreviations that are meaningless for laymen. For example, it sometimes happens that citizens rack their brains over an outdated version of a form, while the link to the current form is hidden in some subpage.
A key element of modern websites, especially for cities and towns, is an intuitive search function directly on the page. This so-called onsite search allows users to quickly find the information they need without having to navigate through countless menus. “Imagine being able to find everything from opening hours, events to specific legal details with a single click – that’s the on-site search,” explains Wendl.
The further development of public administration in the digital space serves above all to achieve better services for citizens. “Access to all the information they need, from municipal housing, health care, taxes to cultural events, should be easily and quickly accessible to everyone,” Wendl continued. “Our enterprise search software searchit is intended to contribute to such a citizen-oriented service with its convenient on-site search.”

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Search pictorial documents such as scans and images with one click

“Municipalities have to manage many different media: from images, databases, to newspaper articles and forms. In order to offer the most efficient search possible, searchit can be used to search almost any file format, even scanned documents and images,” explains Wendl. To this end, another innovative tool can be integrated into the digital toolbox of the public sector: OCR technology, short for ‘Optical Character Recognition’. This technique turns scanned documents and photos into searchable and readable text. “Even if you only have a document as a photo, our system can recognize the text in the image and make it searchable. This makes it much easier to search for specific information in a large number of documents.”

Multisite Search – Comprehensive search for all municipal services

Federal, state and local governments – in most countries, the public sector takes place at many levels – and this is reflected in the digital space. For citizens, it is not always clear to which institution and department they can turn with their concerns. In the worst case, a call ends up in a telephone chain, which ends in a dead end after several forwardings.
“Many municipalities offer a variety of websites – from social institutions to tourism associations,” says Wendl. “Ideally, a multisite search is used here: a kind of super search function that makes it possible to access information from different connected websites at the same time. In this way, a citizen could view both local ordinances and supra-regional laws with just one request.”

In order to establish such a link between offices at the state and local level, Iphos IT Solutions implemented searchit, a multisite search for the State Office for Broadband and Surveying in Bavaria, three years ago. The LDBV manages over 400 official websites in Bavaria with information such as legal texts. With searchit, citizens can also find relevant information from the main page of the Bavarian tax office on these websites of any municipal tax office – and vice versa.” Every month, around a quarter of a million search queries are carried out with searchit on the websites of the Bavarian offices and hundreds of thousands of files of various formats are searched using full-text searches.

Inclusivity through barrier-free presentation of results

Municipalities and cities have a special responsibility to make their information accessible and accessible. Wendl reports on how searchit addresses this crucial requirement in the public sector: “An important aspect of our work is to ensure that information is accessible to everyone, i.e. regardless of physical limitations. We rely on ‘ReadSpeaker’ for this. This software makes texts accessible through voice output. This means that people with visual impairments can also easily access information – simply by having the content read aloud.”

Administration in the digital space instead of in the waiting room

If questions can be answered without the need for a phone call or visit to the office, more resources are freed up for civil servants and employees. In times of a shortage of skilled workers in public spaces, this means less processing effort for employees and improved service quality for citizens – a win-win situation. Queues and waiting rooms are also relieved and processes can run faster and more transparently.

“We know about the organizational effort that content management represents on public space websites,” Wendl speaks from experience, “With the use of effective search, problems can be solved before they occur. From our project priorities, we are also aware of the special requirements for Internet security of the public sector and eliminate potential security gaps right from the start,” Wendl promises in conclusion.


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