Connecting Digital Pipes with Zapier

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    Gregg Turnbull, Web Services Lead, Larimer County, CO / NAGW Board Member At Large

    Serving in the role of keeper of all things web for a city or county is akin to having multiple personalities, working together to complete a million piece puzzle – in front of thousands of people. We have been tasked with ensuring availability, usability, accessibility, searchability – ie., many, many -ilities. To meet these, web professionals often turn to third-party, cloud-hosted, vendors to keep up with technical demand, expand services and deliver content to citizens where they are online. Introducing cloud services provides quick wins but can lead to overhead, as there are now multiple tools to interface with and maintain. This is the sweet spot that Zapier steps in.

    Intro to Zapier

    Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect cloud applications to automate online tasks and workflows. You can connect, at present, 1500+ apps together to create a Zap – the name given to an individual workflow. It's easy to set up so you don't need to be a developer to build basic zaps, but there are opportunities to enhance workflows using code. The basic flow of a Zap is to monitor a trigger (or triggers), modify the data as needed, and finally carry out one or many actions with the data.

    Zapier workflow infographic

    Basic functions of Zapier Zap

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    Case Study - Larimer County Employee Notifications

    A few years back our team was presented with an interesting problem impacting the county. When a snowstorm hit that closed the County offices, or a holiday was on the calendar, we needed a simple way to inform employees (or remind them) to stay home. The existing system relied on email that used wireless carriers email services to route the messages. In other words, 970-555-5555, would become [email protected] (for Verizon). This worked but with one glaring shortcoming, with 2200 employees to notify, the full send process took roughly 2 hours - if other outgoing notifications were in the queue, it took longer. Decisions for shutting down county services occurred at 5:00 a.m., leaving plenty of time for our staff to brave the elements and abhorrent road conditions, hang up their coat, and then be informed that they should stay home - less than ideal.

    We turned to Zapier to automate sending these ‘Closed for Business’ messages directly to our employees using SMS services powered by Amazon(AWS). Since we were already setting up one action, we added a few more so that with one form, our communications staff can pass along the message to many channels with one click. Here is our updated process:

    Zapier flowchart infographic

    We use a Jotform form submit as the trigger, the data is then massaged to meet the needs of the different destinations, and, with one click, we notify Twitter followers, Facebook friends, send a campaign to Mailchimp newsletter subscribers, and, finally, notify our employees of the new update. What once took three hours, now takes roughly three minutes – even with the added outlets.

    You, keeper of the web,  are often asked to do more with less. Tools like Zapier help automate actions and free up time in your schedule. Precious time that can be used for more valuable endeavors, like to planning your trip to Utah to attend #NAGW2019 – can’t wait to see you there.

    Where To Begin In A Website Redesign Project

    NAGW Navigator: Volume 1 • Issue 4 • Summer 2018

    by Leslie Labrecque

    Redesigning your website can be a daunting project so where do you begin? Fortunately I managed several website redesign projects and I’m here with information you’ll need to have available before you start. Below are a few items that can help you steer your project in the right direction:

    1. Stakeholders: You will need to have key executives in your corner who can help you steer the project should it need help moving along. A suggested pairing of stakeholders would be your IT Director (to help on the technology side) and your Communications Director (to help on the content side). You should meet with your stakeholders monthly to keep them abreast of the project.
    2. Content Analysis Report: A content analysis report contains a listing of the content on your website. You can compare this list with website metrics to see how often the pages are being viewed. Use the content analysis report to rank your pages and try to clean house so you don’t migrate stuff you don't need to your new website.
    3. System Requirements: You need to define what your new website needs to be able to do from a technology perspective so you can pick a system that matches the requirements. It is also helpful to define the gaps with your existing system for comparison's sake. Use the system requirements to rank system demos when you reach that point.
    4. User Feedback: It is helpful to conduct preliminary research to understand what is working and what’s not working on your existing website. It is good to talk to both your external users as well as your fellow staff to understand what is required.
    5. Creative Brief: A creative brief is a document you can use to outline the purpose, requirements, expectations and goals for your website. This document is a great starting point for conversations with your graphic designer to convey the purpose of your website.


    Civic technology: How your City/County can use Amazon Alexa to engage audiences

    NAGW Navigator: Volume 1 • Issue 4 • Summer 2018

    by Jennifer Chapman

    The City of Johns Creek logo and an Amazon Alexa deviceFrom playing your favorite songs to providing step-by-step recipe instructions, Amazon Alexa performs a variety of functions for its users – but did you know it can be a transparency tool as well?

    The City of Johns Creek, Georgia, decided to leverage the virtual assistant technology to launch its own Amazon Alexa “skill” in an effort to enhance the accessibility of the City’s open data portal, the DataHub. The DataHub portal holds large amounts of City-generated data like code compliance information, building permits, fire and police data, and more.

    Johns Creek is the first City in the world to use open data with Amazon Alexa, which pulls info from the City website and DataHub to answer users’ questions.

    For example, Alexa users can request, “Alexa, ask the City of Johns Creek when the next City Council meeting is scheduled,” and the virtual assistant will reply with the meeting date, time and location.

    Amazon Alexa users can download the City of Johns Creek “skill,” which can answer questions about available jobs, the City event and meeting calendar, in addition to data-related questions.