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Denver is looking to improve the way messaging and services are provided to residents across its city government website.

“While we've made a lot of great inroads over the last several years when it comes to online services, more than half of the calls coming into our 311 contact center are really residents who can't find what they're looking to accomplish on Denvergov.org, so they get frustrated and kind of give up the effort and then just revert back to 311,” Jenny Schiavone, the chief marketing officer for Denver’s Technology Services, said in an interview with Colorado Politics.

To lessen those calls and help free up resources, Schiavone’s team is pushing forward a five-year, $1.9M contract with OpenCities, Inc., a Microsoft partner whose parent company is based in Australia. The contract will be voted on by the Denver City Council later this month.

During the last year the city's technology experts spent researching software products that could help meet Denver's needs, they say OpenCities rose to the top, rendering the need for an RFP process moot.

One reason, Schiavone said, is that the platform itself is specifically built for the way that local governments function. In addition to the platform, OpenCities also offers a partnership and consulting service to help the city continue tailoring its online experience without having to invest in custom software.

“We believe OpenCities as a company, with their specific focus in this local government space and the ways that they're continuing to grow their functionality ... is what makes them the right choice for us, because their number one client is government and meeting that resident-experience need that is really unique to governments.”

They also bring a specific technology piece, she said, which is compatible with a software the city uses for permitting and business licensing.

"That was a really unique thing that only they have [that works] with something that we've already made a huge investment in in the city," she said.

Schiavone said her team also looked to the numerous case studies of other cities using the technology, including Austin, Miami, Grand Rapids and even Lakewood.

Multiple council members told Colorado Politics they still had questions about the contract and would need those answered before deciding how to vote.

Councilman Chris Hinds said Wednesday he has several hesitations, including the fact that the city is spending nearly $2 million on a new digital platform, despite it having migrated to a new content management system in 2015.

“That’s concerning to me that we’re spending money, millions of dollars, and continuing to pick vendors,” he said in a phone interview.

Schiavone said the new contract will actually save the city money compared to the cost of using its current CMS, Adobe Experience Manager, whose licensing structure is more expensive. That system also has required annual upgrade and maintenance fees every year, which were not only costly, but meant that most city staffers were locked out from accessing the backend of the website for weeks .

“OpenCities takes that off the table,” she said, and “it’s something that makes it a lot easier on the folks on the backend within the city who are managing websites for their agency or their program.”

If approved, OpenCities will be used by 25 departments and agencies, and roughly 70 city staffers will use the software to manage messaging and services to Denver residents.

Hinds, along with Councilwoman Jamie Torres, also stressed the importance of ensuring the website was ADA accessible, which Shiavone said was the other “huge thing” that OpenCities offers.

“OpenCities brings to the table the highest level of ADA accessibility,” she said. “They’re also incredibly mobile, responsive on every device, which really is an equity issue for us when we’re thinking about how our residents are consuming the services in Denver that might be on a computer, tablet, cell phone, and a platform like OpenCities reduces the friction that we see when it comes to mobile responsiveness.

“It really does become a more transparent, equitable experience for a lot more of our residents,” Schiavone said.

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