Evanston to spend $55,000 on redesigning, cloud hosting of website

Rishika Dugyala, Assistant City Editor

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Evanston is paying a third-party vendor approximately $55,000 to overhaul the city’s website, implementing new features like mobile adaptability, increased security and cloud-based hosting.

On Monday, City Council unanimously approved a two-year deal with Vision Internet with the option of a third and fourth year extension. City staff hope to complete the project within the next six months and are currently working with the vendor to execute a contract, Luke Stowe, the city’s digital services manager, told The Daily.

“Some folks thought part of the package was simply design services,” Stowe said. “But it’s really a whole lot more than that. It’s hosting, it’s security, it’s content strategy, it’s migration services, it’s the actual software content management system, or CMS, solutions.”

Even in light of the current state budget crisis, Stowe said the city found it was necessary to ensure it was in full compliance with modern accessibility standards, one of the standards being having a mobile-friendly website.

The city’s current web statistics show that 60 percent of its users access the website through desktops or laptops and 40 percent through mobile or tablets, but Stowe said he expects the percentages to roughly flip once the new mobile responsive website is launched.

In addition, many communities have experienced hacking attacks. Although the attacks have not been the fault of the residents, the city is emphasizing increased security in the new website plans, Stowe said. Stowe said the project is not a response to specific hacking incidents in Evanston, but to a heightened threat for government agencies in general.  

Due to mobile adaptability and security concerns, the current website, which was designed in 2010 at a cost of $20,000, has outlived its usefulness as it can no longer be used to effectively communicate with residents, director of administrative services Erika Storlie said at the City Council meeting.

Hosting the new website in the cloud creates more reliability than hosting in-house could, Storlie said. If the city chose to host in-house, it would need a new software tool to input, store and serve up the website’s data or content, leading to an additional fee, she added.

“Back in 2010, we hired someone to build a custom theme for the city of Evanston, so that was the main cost of that,” Stowe said. “The site was hosted in-house with the IT staff, so it was a slightly less expensive option, but it was also more time intensive. Now, we’re spending a little more, but we’re also freeing up staff to focus on other digital initiatives.”

Stowe said government agencies have generally been moving away from being a data center or web host. There has been a push over the past several years for these agencies to shift their data and web services to the cloud by leveraging a third-party vendor, such as Vision Internet, in order to be more cost-efficient, time-efficient and secure, he said.

Still, at the City Council meeting aldermen expressed some concerns.

“The part that jumped out for me is the fact that we’re paying to have our website designed,” Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said. “I was just trying to figure out why we’re spending so much money. I’ve received a couple of phone calls and at least two emails from residents saying that this cost is very expensive and the concern that no one vocally has put in a bid for it.”

Storlie told council members that staff did prefer to work with a local vendor and contacted four Evanston-based vendors as well as 16 Chicago-area vendors, but many of the bids they then received were over $100,000 with the highest reaching $300,000.

Storlie said in order to be “prudent with taxpayer dollars,” staff went ahead with Vision Internet’s more than $50,000 bid.

“Also, the benefit of working with a third party like Vision Internet, they’re constantly improving their software and we’re getting ongoing maintenance and upgrades,” Stowe said. “They work with over 700 different government agencies, so they’ve kind of seen it all and been getting great feedback.”

Email: rishikadugyala2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @rdugyala822