The Firm List > The Firm List Spotlights > Civic Mind Media

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Civic Mind Media Spotlight on the Firms
FL: Right from the beginning, your site talks about "using" a website. You're broaching the topic of having a website just to have a website versus having a website that works for them. How important is this distinction to how your firm does business? Have you ever turned away a client because they couldn't come up with a real use for having a website?
CMM: This distinction is important to our overall philosophy of using the Internet as a tool to conduct business or government operations and services. Most local government agencies are still using their web sites to advertise their government to the world rather than servicing their constituents. They do this by posting a letter from the mayor, listing the biographies of department heads or showing pictures of their buildings and police cars.

Today, constituents have increased expectations of government online services and state and local government agencies are beginning to feel that demand. The average citizen expects to receive many of the same services at the city's web site as they receive at city hall. This means that building contractors want to apply for permits, citizens want to know if they can bring their dog to the park and voters want to know where they need to vote. Using a web site to service your customer base doesn't always mean complex online applications. It can be as simple as posting timely information that citizens or customers need.
FL: Content Management has continued to be a buzzword and it appears to be an important component of your firm's service offering. How vital is a content management system allowing firms to manage their own sites to your firm's overall success?
CMM: Content management has been the key to our success thus far and we expect it to continue into the future for our company. Governments are inherently information based. Therefore, the key to making a government web site useful to its citizens is that it provide timely information and services. Content management systems allow government employees to directly use the Internet as an everyday information and service delivery tool.

Regarding our firm's overall success - our ability to integrate content management throughout an organization's operation has been a key factor in our success. Static management of web sites through one or more "webmasters" means a web site will quickly become useless and unreliable for citizens. Civic Mind Media has implemented both off-the-shelf and custom content management systems with existing web sites enabling our clients to "use" their web sites as an integral part of their operation.
FL: Your firm places a distinct focus on governmental clients. This isn't usually a chosen focus (except perhaps in Capitals such as DC, Canberra, Ottawa, etc.) but rather just a proven client base. Why did Civic Mind Media choose to focus on governmental clients?
CMM: The web and software development industry has evolved beyond a purely technical approach. Today, a web development firm or project team must be competent and knowledgeable about the industry for which they are programming. It is no longer adequate to throw a programming team at a project without teaming them with people who understand the subject matter from the perspective of the user.

Civic Mind Media teams government strategists with user interface and programming specialists to create targeted applications for our clients. Our clients appreciate the fact that they are working with people who "speak their language" and understand their challenges.

Civic Mind Media knows government. Our staff has been working in public sector for over 30 years and our parent company has been in the local government consulting business since 1954.
FL: How important is it to bring local governments online?
CMM: Everyday it becomes more and more important for local governments to leverage the potential of the Internet. As people become more accustomed to the convenience the Internet provides they expect it in all aspects of their lives. Their government is no exception. People expect that city codes, permit forms, meeting agendas, utility billing information, etc. be accessible to them through the Internet. This applies equally, if not more so, to rural communities as it does to large municipalities. Typically, government agencies understand the traditional aspects of their operations and with Civic Mind Media's consultation they are envisioning the Internet's potential to contribute.
FL: Are there concrete ways that online government has changed the way our cities/towns are run?
CMM: Yes and no. In my opinion most government agency web sites are self-focused; publishing information about their bureaucratic responsibility rather than what citizens are actually looking for. Only when government recognizes its web presence as a central tool for delivery of citizen-centered government services and information, rather than just an add-on novelty, will eGovernment truly make a difference.
FL: You bring up the specialist vs. generalist debate. Why do you feel that specialization is better than the "jack-of-all-trades"? Might not specialization narrow the focus of your firm to the point where you no longer have the benefit of those other areas of experience & expertise?
CMM: In our case, specialization primarily refers to our team approach to project development. Successful development of online applications requires the tight integration of strategy, technology, and user experience design. That's why Civic Mind Media employs specialists in each of these core service areas and brings them together to form a comprehensive project team.

Over the past few months I have interviewed a lot of "jack-of-all-tradesman." I've interviewed people who claim to be graphic designers, C++ programmers, business strategists, marketing consultants and etc. all rolled up in one person. These "one person armies" are not the people I am looking to put on our project teams. I look for individuals who are talented and passionate about one or two aspects of web application development, be it graphic design, web design, programming, information architecture, marketing, etc. A team of these individuals, each working competently on a particular aspect of the project can create incredible work very efficiently.
FL: Most firms have a few partner companies that they work with, but many do not overtly indicate this. Civic Mind Media comes right out and indicates the partners they work with and the roles they are asked to play. What is the value of using partners?
CMM: The value of partnerships to our firm is very important. It enables us to provide a full compliment of services without the risk of taking on too much. For example, we don't have enough demand for Java programming to hire a full staff of Java programmers. However, I have a partnership with a Java programming firm that steps in when we need them. In return we assist them with Interface design, web strategy and marketing.
FL: And what value is there in letting clients know you use partners?
CMM: We are very upfront with our clients regarding our partnerships. In many ways some web development firms have done our whole industry a disservice by concealing their partnerships. Nowhere is this truer than with reselling hosting. We have run into too many potential clients that can't get their code away from their current web developer because they don't give the client FTP access to the server. Civic Mind Media prefers to keep our clients based of the quality of our work and customer service rather than holding their code hostage.
FL: Civic Mind Media has offices in Washington, Idaho and Utah, which aren't exactly the new media hotbeds of the US.
CMM: I get this type of question all the time. Why Idaho, Washington and Utah? The best answer I can give you is that people live here because they want to. Not because they have to. The quality of life here draws a lot of exceptionally qualified professionals to the area. Our staff resumes include start-up companies Packet Engines, Medinex, Agency One Software, and Netivation as well as industry leaders Micron Technology, Entrasys Systems, Alcatel, IBM and Computer Associates.

What does "quality of life" mean here. It means that after work I am wakeboarding on what National Geographic called one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Coeur d'Alene. Or I am downhill skiing in world-class powder at Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho or Park City Utah. For the weekend I can be in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or Denver in less than an hour by air.

This is a great place to live. In fact, I grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I have lived in Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle and none compare to where I live today.
FL: How has your location shaped your firm's development? Has it affected your firm's style or technology?
CMM: Our company's location is also largely due to our parent corporation's office locations. By working closely with our parent organization Civic Mind Media has access to a wide-range of resources throughout the Northwest. I don't believe our location has really affected our style or technology. As I mentioned above we have access to excellent technology and by effectively using the Internet we have worked with clients as far away as Arizona and Massachusetts.
FL: Those web professionals located in the larger markets have seen quite a dramatic drop in the number of firms and positions available to them. While I imagine the number of firms and positions were never of the same magnitude in areas such as Utah and Idaho, how has the environment changed in the last year?
CMM: The environment for web developers in our market has changed quite a bit. We are finding a lot more competition in our niche markets than ever before. This competition includes small firms and freelancers desperately reaching for any job that might pay as well as multi-million dollar international firms competing with us for relatively small contracts (<$60,000).
FL: What is your forecast for the area in the years to come?
CMM: Washington, Idaho and Utah have already seen a large influx of high-technology professionals moving away from the tribulations of living in large crowded cities. I believe this trend will increase exponentially as people and businesses get more comfortable with doing business on the web and wireless communications. We also have a lot of businesses and firms looking to these states to start a west coast presence. The high quality of life and relatively lower cost of living is a big draw for Eastern businesses.
FL: I usually end up asking a firm how they came up with their name but in your case, it doesn't take too much guesswork. Again, why was this idea of government & civic participation so important to the founders of your firm?
CMM: When Civic Mind Media was in the concept stages many government web sites were being developed by web development firms that lacked government-experienced professionals. A common result of this approach was a web site that is merely marketing material (brochure ware) or an inappropriate application of a retail e-commerce web site model.

Civic Mind Media teams actual practicing industry relevant professionals with Internet technical experts to develop web strategies specific to the government and professional services vertical markets. Our founder and parent corporation, J-U-B ENGINEERS, Inc., has over 48 years of government consulting experience. Additionally, our association with J-U-B ENGINEERS gives us access to over 150 practicing industry relevant professionals that have consulted on hundreds of engineering, city planning, public relations, marketing and GIS projects through traditional means. By merging this traditional experience with the modern medium of the Internet Civic Mind Media is exceptionally qualified to assist government agencies in the development of Internet communication and service solutions specific to their needs.
(spotlight first ran March 2002)

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