Just a few months ago, my team and I were introduced to Kirsten Wyatt, Executive Director of ELGL. After a few emails back and forth, we knew the ELGL community was one ViewPoint had to be a part of. In no time, we found ourselves sharing content with each others’ subscribers and even planning a joint podcast featuring Dan Ralley of Upper Arlington, OH (another conference attendee!) on Customer Service & ePermitting.
For the third installment of our Year of the Citizen webinar series, we sat down with National Research Center Founder & CEO Thomas Miller. Having worked in and with local governments for over 35 years, and co-authored two books on the topic, Miller is a citizen survey expert. In this webinar he shares insights into designing and conducting surveys, as well as how to use data to catalyze actionable change in local governments.
Last month, Dan Ralley, Assitant City Manager in Upper Arlington, Ohio and our very own Carl Anderson spoke on ELGL’s GovLov Podcast to talk about best practices for successful ePermitting partnerships.
Some of the key takeaways from Upper Arlington’s selection process:
Last month we sat down with Riverside, California’s Chief Innovation Officer Lea Deesing and Director of Community & Economic Development Rafael Guzman to talk about their strides in customer-facing technology. With an innovative ‘ecosystem’ of online services, Riverside, CA is a nationwide leader in providing customer-centric tools and platforms for their residents and visitors. Having spent many years working in smaller communities, Deesing and Guzman also share their insights for improving customer service and technological innovation without breaking the bank.
Last month, U.S. News & World Report released their newest project, the Best States Ranking 2017, grading all 50 U.S. states across 68 metrics in categories ranging from “healthcare” to “crime & corrections.”
As a federalist political system, the U.S. is an ongoing experiment in governance, with many states larger than entire countries. Report authors identified the shift in power from federal to state governments as a catalyst for focusing on individual state efficacy.
With the recent additions of Hamden and Windsor Locks, ViewPoint now provides online permitting, licensing, and code enforcement solutions for 35 Connecticut communities. ViewPoint’s widespread success in Connecticut dates back over a decade, after joining forces with the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG). After selecting ViewPoint for a state-funded regional technology initiative, CRCOG has helped close to 30 of ViewPoint’s 35 Connecticut communities improve their internal operations and modernize their citizen services.
As any modern software sales team will tell you, the process of buying and implementing new software solutions has changed drastically over the last two decades; the roles have almost completely reversed. In an oversaturated market, buyers hold all the chips, and it’s up to vendors to take a more creative, consultative approach by helping their prospects find the best solution for their needs—even when that solution isn’t the one they’re offering.
Given this environment, the biggest obstacles to purchasing and implementing new software oftentimes arise internally—difficulties aligning expectations, needs, and processes between different departmental stakeholders. Although company websites explain software features, functionality, and benefits, it can still be difficult to identify which one is the best fit for your departments and community members. All of these stakeholders have their own considerations, as well as existing processes, which have many times been in places for years or decades.
As a key decision-maker in this process, you are likely tasked with bringing together these voices and finding the solution that encompasses the most needs. No pressure, right? We want to help. Drawing on over two decades of experience helping local governments, our sales, customer support and success, and implementation teams put together the most common concerns communities face when considering, purchasing, and implementing new software. Use these examples and strategies to guide you through the process, and if you’re experiencing something different, reach out to our team with your questions. We’re here to help!
Problem 1: “I’m having trouble getting buy-in from all the departments.”
What’s really the problem here? There are many stakeholders involved in the process of identifying and selecting new software. There’s also uncertainty about how day-to-day operations will change, potentially causing stress and resistance when trying to get all parties on board. Without having concrete examples in front of them, staff members may find it difficult to justify taking the time to learn how a new system could improve their processes, and in turn, create a better citizen experience.
How to solve it. Identify all stakeholders, from the Mayor to the City Clerk, and get them involved in the decision-making process. What are their concerns? What potentially excites them about the change? One way to bring together these voices is to put together a short 5-10 question survey, and have everyone complete it on their own time. That way, you can address concerns up front, and get an at-a-glance picture of available resources and motivations. Bringing stakeholders to the decision-making table will make them more invested in the success of a new project.
As for providing solid, empirical evidence on how process improvements might look and feel, make a day of it. One ViewPoint community set aside an entire day to weigh the pros and cons of all potential software vendors in succession. Their staff was able to make a difficult and abstract decision more manageable by having a centralized discussion, rather than trying to round up disjointed impressions gathered over several days or weeks.
On a similar note, don’t discount a vendor’s flexibility in scheduling time for a presentation. If their sales team can’t make time to help you find the best solution, it’s probably a good indication of what their customer service would be like post-sale.
Problem 2: “My community is already having trouble managing all of our requests, and this new system will only increase the amount of requests coming in.”
What’s really the problem here? This is a common concern among staff members when beginning the conversation about new software. While it’s true that once fully adopted, departments typically see an increase in requests, any software system worth your city’s investment will make processing these requests much easier. By centralizing information and removing the need to bounce physical documents between different departments, both the number of steps and time required to process requests are drastically reduced.
How to solve it. Bring up the issue with your sales representative. Given that this is such a frequent roadblock for those involved in the decision-making process, your rep will be more than happy to a) demonstrate how your workflow will improve within the software and b) provide real-life examples of other communities who were experiencing the same doubts, and were pleasantly surprised once they started analyzing results. Taking this evidence back to departments members who are doubting the process will help them realize their ability to improve operations. In comparison to the government software technology available 10 years ago, modern, cloud-based solutions offer the ability to facilitate greater efficiency at a lower cost, while achieving a higher level of citizen satisfaction—a win-win-win opportunity for forward-thinking municipalities.
Problem 3: “My department and I aren’t very tech savvy. We don’t want to lose control of our existing system by transitioning to a software solution.”
What’s really the problem here? Everybody, to some extent, fears change. People like what they know, and get comfortable with the way they operate. Any disruption to that can be perceived as threatening. A prime example is government reluctance to move from paper-based workflows to cloud computing solutions. Again, it’s important to remember that “not being tech savvy” and not wanting to “lose their existing systems” are distractions from the real problem—fear of change. Some staff members might resist new software because they don’t believe it will be able to replicate their current workflow—“the right way to do it” or “the way we’ve always done it”—in a digital format.
How to solve it. This is another concern that your sales rep should be well-prepared to handle. Have them demonstrate the flexibility and personalization of the software, and if possible, set up a pilot environment so staff members can play around with the interface. The ability to customize workflows will vary between different platforms, from very rigid to highly customizable—consider what makes most sense for your needs.
If breaking away from traditional processes is a major concern for you and your team, opting for a more malleable platform will be the best way for you to move forward with a given vendor. Using such a product allows your team to build their departments’ unique steps into the overall workflow, and alleviate any fears that moving to a software solution will severely disrupt their day-to-day work. Remember to keep team members informed of new changes as you move through the process. Change can be hard, but time, pilot environments, and the opportunity to discuss concerns will make the transition easier.
Problem 4: “Each department has it’s own process and no one is willing to change it.”
What’s really the problem here? It’s true. Each department does have it’s own processes, which can seem irreplaceable, having been honed for months or years. Whether these processes are the fastest, most efficient, and reliable way of getting things done is another topic entirely, and it’s the one that needs to be addressed when approaching this problem. However, department members may have been using the same systems for years, so relinquishing them can cause significant anxiety and frustration.
How to solve it. This is one of the most common frustrations for municipal departments implementing any new software, but solving the problem is actually quite easy. ViewPoint’s Client Success Manager, Valeria Amato, suggests scheduling a time for relevant departments (or department heads) to meet for a few hours as you lead the group in creating a process map.
First, ask each team member to write down every step of their portion of the workflow up until they hand it off to the next person.
Then write each individual step down on a separate post-it note and arrange them in order.
Finally, take each department’s bundle of post it notes and lay them out on a wall or a whiteboard from left to right (left being the beginning of the process, e.g. an applicant submitting a permit request and right being the end of the process, e.g. an applicant receiving their permit).
This gives all departments an opportunity to see an overview of internal processes, as well as identify inefficiencies, gaps, or redundancies. After this activity is completed, you can work together to create a process that makes more sense for everyone involved, and automate these new workflows in the software. Involving the entire team in this process is an integral piece to any successful software implementation.
Problem 5: “How will I show my team that the software is working and improving our processes?”
What’s really the problem here? Team members may have different metrics for evaluating the performance of new software. Keep in mind that some people may never be perfectly happy, but having measurable goals will help you and the rest of the team feel more confident in the value of the software.
How to solve it. Most modern software has reporting functionality. ViewPoint Cloud, for example, has robust analytics that allow customers to pull reports based on any field in their database. Pre-built reports will tell a high-level story of how many applications have been processed in a given time period, among other helpful metrics.
Even with these tools at your disposal, you still need to put in advance work to make sure you’re getting personalized value. Spend some time identifying how things have been done—how quickly, how many, and how often—so that you have a starting baseline. Then identify the most important metrics of success for each department (as well as the team as a whole). This pre-work doesn’t need to take long, but it will pay off when you start seeing the value of the software in numbers that are highly applicable to your team’s goals.
Problem 6: “We’ve spent all of this time setting up our solutions, and now we’re worried that our constituents aren’t going to use it.”
What’s really the problem here? When introducing new public-facing software to your community, citizen adaptation can be one of the biggest factors in a successful launch. Part of the issue here is that those who will be interfacing with your digital initiatives will have a wide range of potential uses. Contractors, for instance, come in many different forms; some are more tech savvy than others, and some have more capacity to learn how to use a new interface. As the team implementing new software, it’s your job to ensure constituents are on the same page. They are your customers, and as such, they deserve a user-friendly process.
How to solve it. The first step to getting constituents to use a new program is to ensure that you have a user-friendly, intuitive product. As the standards in the private sector increase, citizens expect better customer service from their governments. In order to keep up, forward-thinking municipalities are prioritizing customer-centric technology that’s easy to use internally and for the public.
With permitting software, for example, contractors are going to be the main user group. Most building department officials could easily identify “frequent flyers”—those contractors who are constantly in and out of City Hall. Why not hold a small focus group or send out a survey to understand their greatest pain points? Once you’ve set everything up, invite those contractors to come in and test-drive the software. To address ongoing concerns from new or less frequent users, consider offering a kiosk service, where someone in City Hall can speak with applicants, help them learn the new system and answer questions. Most importantly, forward-thinking municipalities remain in the mindset of continuously improving in order to provide high-quality citizen service.
As you can see, there are many important questions to consider when picking and implementing a new software solution. It’s important to remember that good communication and interdepartmental transparency are key in resolving each. You’ll be off to a great start by making sure you’ve outlined everyone’s visions and concerns, shared this information with your sales representative, and made sure to keep everyone involved at each step of the process. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to take on too much by yourself—government administration is a team sport after all, and the more you play together, the easier it becomes to do what you do best: providing your citizens with a level of government service that makes you proud.
You read that right – we’re a permitting solution referring to ePermitting as “low-hanging fruit”. Why? Because when it comes to high-impact, measurable, and scalable improvements to your municipality’s digital presence, ePermitting is like training wheels. Whether you’re a team of one managing countless moving parts, or a local government who hasn’t yet heavily invested in your online presence, it’s time to consider ePermitting. It’s time to consider giving a little, in return for a lot.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up to date in a world full of new technology, especially given the rapid advances in public sector applications. But technology is changing the way government works, from better customer-service to internet infrastructure to widespread collaboration on open source projects. That’s why we made this short guide for you (or someone you know) to brush up on IT concepts both old and new.
Leah and Brady were recent college graduates looking to live close to their families in Seattle without paying exorbitant rental prices. Calling on the craftsmanship of Leah’s father, the couple experimented with living in a tiny house and found it suited their lifestyle. Initially living on their parents’ properties in Seattle, they saved over $1,400 a month on rent. Now situated in the San Juan Islands, the couple feels they have more financial and freedom to pursue their businesses and personal goals.
Over a hundred years old and situated next to Ohio State University, the community of Upper Arlington, Ohio has seen recent rises in property values spurring new development, and in turn, permitting and licensing requests.
Joining the team a few years ago, Assistant City Manager Dan Ralley found himself overseeing the Community Development Department, responsible for handling the influx of permit requests. The department’s hardworking staff quickly made it clear they were unhappy with their old software system.
Despite the contemporary erosion of facts, it’s impossible to run large organizations – private or public – without credible observations about what’s happening and, separately, what’s working. Performance measurement helps with both and can be as deliberate as Baldridge Key Performance Indicators or as impromptu as “How’m I doing?” made famous by once-Mayor Ed Koch’s ad hoc surveys of random New Yorkers. Metrics of success, like compass readings, keep the ships of state on course and because the enterprise is public, make the captain and crew accountable.
In 2015 and 2017, the planning magazine Planetizenreleased reports overviewing the results of surveys benchmarking “the use of technology in city planning departments across the United States.” The data is meant help municipalities gauge the nationwide trends of their peers and plan for how new technology will affect planning departments in the upcoming years. This infographic highlights some of the major findings in the 2017 report (based on a 2016 survey) and how they compare to the 2015 report (based on a 2014 survey). See below for the full reports and more about the authors.
We live in an age of customer service. From your local grocery store to e-commerce giants like Zappos, today’s businesses are acutely concentrated on the ease and personalization of their customers’ experiences.
Having long been the norm in the private sector, this emphasis on customer-centric service is quickly becoming the new standard for local governments.