Cathie Anderson

Sacramento firm bets $1 million that its wizard will lure special districts online

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The team at midtown’s Digital Deployment didn’t have to ask their banker for a loan when they presented their latest product idea, said chief executive Mac Clemmens. Instead, Five Star Bank offered the company a $900,000 loan because its folks were so excited about the concept.

Clemmens and his team have developed a wizard that allows special districts – the government agencies that manage fire, water, sewer and lots of other services – to create and manage their own websites.

To understand why this is such a lucrative market, just listen to Clemmens: “There are 2,000 independent special districts in California alone, and they all sit on billions of dollars of ratepayer money, and yet less than half of them have websites. It’s a strange thing. They’re not really communicating with their customers.”

While the districts may collect quite a bit of money, many of them are run by only a handful of people, Clemmens said, and they don’t have the technical skills to be updating a website. Plus, he said, transparency laws put added pressure on district employees.

“If they have websites, then they have to follow the additional provisions of the Brown Act. For instance, they have to post their agendas a certain amount of time ahead of any meetings. … If they have websites, then transparency becomes even harder. It’s difficult for them to stay compliant amid changes in new laws.”

So, for the past year, Clemmens and his team worked closely with the California Special Districts Association to create a wizard called Streamline, which uses a process that is very similar to the way that Intuit’s TurboTax works for taxpayers. Streamline will make its official debut in January, but Digital Deployment already is adding districts onto the platform.

District employees answer simple questions, and the software automatically puts the necessary information in just the right place. They choose a design template for their Web pages. The program gives them a variety of stock photo images they can use, or they can upload photos of their own. If they don’t have a website domain, Clemmens and his staff have purchased “specialdistrict.org.” That ending will automatically attach to their district’s nickname to create a new Web domain for them.

Special Districts Association CEO Neil McCormick said Streamline allows the staffs of special districts to be more transparent with information, posting budgets and sharing annual reports, without being experts at website development.

“If they know Microsoft Word,” he said, “they can manage the back end really easily and navigate and add things, so they can get it up quickly.”

Candi Bingham, general manager of River Pines Public Utility District in the foothills, was one of Streamline’s beta testers, and she has been a customer for several months now. Her district had a website, she said, but every time she wanted to make a change, she had to submit a ticket to the vendor and hope the change would be positioned properly. With Streamline, she said, she can do it all herself.

“I like to update daily, regularly. I mean, things come up really quick and I want to just go and make that change instantly, and I can do that with Streamline,” Bingham said. “I don’t have time to learn how to use the website, and Streamline is very easy and user-friendly.”

Districts will pay only $50 a month for this and any technical support they need, Clemmens said. There is no upfront charge. The payoff for all of Digital Deployment’s work will come when hundreds of special districts sign onto the service. Clemmens estimates the revenue potential in California alone could be hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.

Clemmens company also has been developing and managing custom websites for organizations such as the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the California Hospital Association, WEAVE, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the Sacramento Area Sewer District and 200 other customers for about 11 years now.

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