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Mobile apps link residents, services

January 9, 2012

Conover’s newest tech upgrade puts a host of city services in the palm of your hand — for free.

The city launched its “Conover Mobile” application recently, giving cell phone and tablet users an all-access look at the city virtually anywhere.

The web portal has already won a state award.

Conover was notified in December it was a second quarterly winner of the Government Innovation Grant award, a program intended to reward technology-based innovation across governments through incentives.

The GIGa program, administered through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government, looks for governments engaged in innovative, repeatable endeavors that help improve citizen services by increasing efficiencies, effectiveness and possibly creating cost savings, according to GIGa’s website.

Conover’s web portal was designed with free software and costs citizens nothing to use, something its creators think helped the city achieve the award.

“We did this for free without any additional costs to the citizen or the city,” said Chris Niver, Conover’s director of Information Technology.

“The idea was, ‘how can we provide the citizens a better avenue to interact with the city?’”

The mobile web portal provides links to Conover’s community news, Facebook and Twitter feeds, city calendar and website, among other content. The mobile portal also gives users the ability to report a crime, request trash and debris removal, and call city hall.

“It provides an additional service and communication conduit for citizens to engage the city,” Niver said. “This puts everything right in the palm of their hand.”

For its award, Conover will receive a plaque to recognize the organization for its superlative technology investment, and they will be featured on the websites of NCLGISA and UNC School of Government's Center for Public Technology. The award also qualifies the city for a $10,000 grant that Conover will compete for at the end of this month.

Conover’s web portal is one of many mobile and online applications, portals and accessories local governments have launched recently to help citizens stay in touch.

Catawba County, for example, introduced its “My Catawba County” mobile application last year that provides links to job openings, traffic accidents and the county’s “Who’s in Jail” website. The site also gives links to the county’s social media pages.

Catawba County Public Information Officer Dave Hardin said the county’s website activity has increased since the app went live.

“I think it gets us into a new audience and that’s what’s most important about it,” Hardin said. “We’re getting our information out to a broader demographic.”

Hardin said the county is constantly looking for new, convenient ways to connect to area residents.

“Our technology department has done a fantastic job keeping us on or ahead of that curve,” he said.

The county also launched a TV show last year entitled “Catawba Communities,” which highlights different events, news and storylines in the county as well as in its municipalities of Maiden, Catawba, Claremont, Newton and Conover.

Those municipalities are also becoming more tech-savvy.

All of Catawba County’s major municipalities has a website that was recently upgraded or will be in future years.

Newton, for instance, has a new website that gives visitors access to web pages about the city’s history, special events, demographics, special forms and documents, city council agendas and minutes, public notices and contacts. The website has interactive videos and news stories about what’s going on in the city.

Newton Public Information Officer Gary Herman said the website re-design has drawn new visitors.

“We’ve seen a dramatic spike in visitors and even unique visitors, which speaks volumes about the content, the quality and how user-friendly our new website is,” Herman said. “It’s something we’re proud of.”

The city does not currently have a mobile web portal, but Herman said the applications are something the city is looking at for the future.

Citizens can still access any of the county or municipal websites on their smart phone or tablet, even without a mobile web portal. For a full list of county and municipal links, visit catawbacountync.gov/links.

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