As more governments recognize the power of cloud-based software to drive efficiency and streamline workflows, citizens are also seeing the positive effects of modern technology used in the public sector. Processes and systems that once relied upon manual procedures and sluggish paperwork are now being simplified and centralized, thanks to cloud technology developed specifically for governments. One example of this is OpenGov’s Permitting and Licensing solution, ViewPoint Cloud, which has transformed the way public sector agencies route, approve and issue permits to constituents.
We sat down for a webinar with two government representatives who are seeing the benefits of OpenGov’s Permitting to hear their perspective on the current state of permitting in their departments, what it used to be, and where it is headed in the future. Hosted by Carl Anderson, Senior Municipal Relationship Manager with OpenGov, the webinar featured Bharat Gami, Chief Building Official with the City of Stamford, CT, and Dan Ralley, Assistant City Manager for the City of Upper Arlington, OH.
Gami and Ralley shared personal experiences from their respective cities, detailing the challenges of their permitting process before implementing OpenGov and how the Permitting solution has positively impacted their organization.
Both speakers related the pains of manual permitting procedures relying on hard-copy forms and outdated practices. This dependence upon manual processes was a running theme shared between Gami and Ralley’s testimonies. Consequently, Stamford and Upper Arlington suffered from drawbacks such as:
Inter-organizational data and information siloing
Procedures based on paper applications and sluggish technology
Office admins continually bogged down with phone calls from the general public requesting permit application status updates
Lack of visibility and communication between departments involved in the approval process
With all of these issues ailing the city’s permitting process, Gami and Ralley looked for a better way to alleviate these strains that caused headaches for both citizens and government workers alike.
A Clear Solution
In their quest to find a complete end-to-end permitting solution, Gami and Ralley agreed that all the road signs consistently pointed toward OpenGov’s cloud-based Permitting software. The solution’s approachable interface and ease-of-use were clear indicators that this would be an improvement over the old manual paper-based processes that plagued the cities.
After implementing OpenGov’s Permitting, Gami and Ralley recognized obvious process efficiencies spreading throughout their respective organizations. These efficiencies included:
Visibility into the permitting process that never existed before, from both the perspective of citizens and government departments.
Dramatic time savings
Consolidated, simple and user-friendly interface requiring limited (if any) training
Clean and straightforward permit form creation
This level of approachability allowed Stamford and Upper Arlington to take one step closer to bridging the gap between citizens and government.
For more information on how OpenGov’s Permitting solution can bring efficiencies and process improvements to your government, and to hear the full discussion above, view the on-demand webinar.
If your community is looking for a high-impact way to reduce constituents’ carbon footprint and paper consumption caused by frequent travel to local government offices, paperless permitting is the answer.
We refer to government technology that is outdated, cumbersome, and no longer serving the needs of local government users as “Dino-software.”
The name may be fun, but the consequences to local communities are nothing to joke about. Use the resource below to spot the five warning signs that it might be time to upgrade your government technology partners.
Thanks to technology, modern life is becoming increasingly efficient. Companies like ParkMobile provide apps for parking to help you avoid waiting in a queue (or worse, paying with actual coins). Shopping services like AmazonFresh will deliver household items to your door on a predetermined schedule. And now, ViewPoint Cloud has even improved local government services by bringing the entire permitting experience online with customizable automation software.
But as with any new technology, it’s crucial to understand how adoption comes into play. Technology can’t work unless people first understand it, and then utilize it. That’s why we’re sharing strategies from two different cities using technology help kiosks inside of city hall to increase constituent adoption of ViewPoint Cloud’s permitting automation technology.
What Is a Technology Help Kiosk?
A technology help kiosk can be a simple computer, laptop, or table designated solely for constituents to use online city services.
By design, kiosks are inexpensive and instructive, offering an astoundingly practical solution for time-strapped teams (which is to say, all teams in local government). They can be self-service, but more often are utilized as a way to guide customers through certain transactions or processes.
The concept isn’t new—they’ve been used in airports, grocery stores, and parking structures for decades. The application for providing access to new software to all constituents, however, is a genius example of how far dedicated public servants are willing to go to ensure everyone in their community has equal access to emerging technology.
Why Use of Kiosks is On the Rise in Local Government
For many communities considering bringing permitting processes online, one of the major hesitations in making the investment in ViewPoint Cloud is whether or not community members will understand how to use the public-facing storefronts to submit permit and license applications. Technology help kiosks offer the simplest path to adoption with two major benefits. First, they increase technology equity by assisting populations with limited access or comfort with technology. The City of Wooster, Ohio, for example, sits 50 miles south of Cleveland, just north of Holmes County, which contains “the second largest Amish community after Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” according to Tim Monea, Chief Building Official.
“There are a large number of Amish contractors using ViewPoint Cloud via the kiosk in our department lobby. Additionally, there are others who ask for assistance and want to use the kiosk,” Monea shares.
The Town of Bolton, Massachusetts, with a population size around 5,000, uses the kiosk similarly. “We offer our kiosk to any applicant who doesn’t have access to a computer, has travelled into Town Hall in pursuit of a permit, or is uncomfortable with technology,” explains Jenny Jacobsen, the Town’s Health and Permitting Assistant. “I can sit with applicants to help them get acclimated.”
Jacobsen is in charge of assisting community members with permit applications. She acts as the point-person for constituent questions for their specific project needs. Which brings us to the second major benefit of kiosks: they reduce staff time spent on troubleshooting, while increasing constituent satisfaction. “Constituent feedback has been very positive,” says Jacobsen. “The best part about our kiosk is that our door doesn’t become a dead end. You can still accomplish what you came in for in the first place.” Monea agrees that in Wooster, Ohio, “nearly all of our customers leave our lobby happy and appreciative of the personal assistance.”
“It is like training wheels. They’ll be riding on their own two wheels before they know it.”
Tips for Making the Most of Constituent Interactions at Kiosks
Before you rush off to implement a kiosk program, both Monea and Jacobsen shared a few pieces of sage advance to help ensure success.
Tip #1: Just because you have a kiosk, doesn’t mean constituent questions will stop.
Be sure to have a dedicated staff member who is comfortable with how the technology works and can patiently answer constituent questions and troubleshooting needs. In Wooster, OH, Monea attributes the success of the kiosk to having the right person in seat to walk constituents through the software and answer project-specific questions.
“The critical component is having someone assigned to assist customers who walk in and want to use the kiosk,” explains Monea. “We have an administrative assistant whose responsibility is assisting these customers with the kiosk, scanning submittal documents, as well as helping customers calling in with ViewPoint Cloud questions.”
“It’s not just the kiosk; it’s the person who is helping them use the kiosk to get their task completed. These two things go hand-in-glove.”
Tip #2: The goal of the kiosk should be to reduce usage over time, but don’t expect usage to stop completely.
The old managerial adage, “Make yourself obsolete,” applies here, meaning kiosks should empower individuals to utilize ViewPoint Cloud’s public-facing application portal on their own, once they become comfortable with the technology.
“While our in-person customers have dramatically declined, we have daily users on the lobby kiosk,” shares Monea. Jacobsen agrees. “While I hope it will enable everyone to become comfortable enough to apply from home, I remind them that they are always welcome to use the kiosk,” she affirms. “I have a few contractors who do come in regularly.”
Tip #3: Leverage kiosks to incentivize “going green” after making the commitment to fully digitize permitting.
Back in 2017, the City of Wooster, Ohio decided to eliminate all paper processes for permitting across their Building, Planning, and Zoning Departments. Today, they do not allow paper applications or construction documents to be accepted. “At the outset we were committed to putting all of our workflow processes in the cloud using ViewPoint,” explains Monea. This includes “all plan reviews, permitting and inspection questions, reports, and other related tasks.” Therefore, kiosks have been vital in making the leap to get all stakeholders on board.
While the Town of Bolton, Massachusetts hasn’t fully eliminated paper applications, they now assess a fee for permit applications where filers insist on using paper forms. “Use of the kiosk is free,” Jacobsen shares, which incentivizes individuals to utilize ViewPoint Cloud’s public-facing application portal instead to save some money.
The new adaptation of technology help kiosks is perhaps one of the best examples out there to highlight the spirit and character of local government leaders. You care deeply about your constituents and seeing the communities you share grow and thrive. Ultimately, you are there to help. And this strategy allows you to help all constituents—business owners, developers, entrepreneurs, and others—approach permitting, licensing, and code enforcement applications with cheer.
Ready to transition to digital permitting? Ask us how.
Modern technology can transform the way you work in local government, saving time otherwise spent on manual, tedious tasks. Yet any new implementation project needs to be approached with the utmost scrutiny—especially when you consider that approximately 30% of projects are cancelled before they reach completion and another 50% exceed their initial project cost estimate, according to research conducted by The Standish Group.
Throughout our twenty-four years as a company, we’ve been involved in hundreds of procurement discussions from the vendor side. In that time, we’ve realized that the communities who ask us the 10 questions below often have the most success in implementing their new solution. Today, we’re passing that information along to you.
Establish How Customizable the Product Is to Your Specific Needs
1. How easy will it be to make additional updates to the configuration after initial set up?
Most solutions require some degree of preliminary setup. Once that initial newness wears off, be sure you understand whether your team will be able to adapt the solution to evolving needs. For example, do you need the vendor or IT staff to make simple updates to the environment (e.g. updating workflows and forms)?
You should also understand the level of access your internal users will have to dedicated support, in the form of consultants or online help, to answer questions. At ViewPoint Cloud, we have a full-time team dedicated to responding to user questions and requests. Our median response time is just 10 minutes.
2. What are some creative things that we can do with this technology that will make us stand out from neighboring municipalities?
Our workflow automation platform is best-known for streamlining permitting, licensing, code enforcement and inspections—but it also does a lot more than that. The cities and towns we work with consistently invent new and impressive uses like:
Adding tax checks to permitting workflows to make sure people can’t get permits until they pay back taxes
Creating smart projects that adapt permitting requirements based on an applicant’s specific project criteria
Developing in-depth FAQ sections to help applicants with their requests
Software tools need to be customizable in order to adapt and change with the evolving needs of your community. Make sure you have that flexibility early on.
Know What the Implementation Process Will Look Like—And How Involved Your Team Will Be
3. Does implementation cost extra?
Certain vendors look to keep costs low by selling their technology solution as a standalone item. They provide no insight on how to best use the tool, how to migrate your historical data into the new software, and they do not offer support for troubleshooting or Q&A. Alternatively, sometimes vendors will sneak in ‘hidden’ implementation or consulting fees after the initial contract is signed.
Our team believes that in order to make the most of your software investment, support is a necessary component of a successful project—not a nice-to-have extra. That’s why we work with communities to create a transparent, customized service plan tailored to support the duration of platform deployment.
4. Are there additional fees for onsite training or consulting time after a certain period?
Depending on the vendor, user training is sometimes included in the cost of the product. Others offer up-front training, but charge for additional engagements after the preliminary onboarding period. Be sure you’re clear on how your potential vendor operates and whether this will impact the overall investment.
5. Will we need to have a dedicated person or team available to ensure successful technology implementation?
In many cases, large-scale technology implementation projects fall to IT staff. If you work on a smaller team, or have a small IT department supporting a large organization, figure out who internally has the capacity to act as the point-person for your project. This individual (or committee) is an instrumental partner in supporting change management and translating priorities internally and externally.
Compare to Other Industry Players
6. How does the speed of development and roadmap of this product compare to industry standard?
Modern technology companies employ roadmaps to visually share their strategic plan and the features they plan to develop next. While this information isn’t always publicly available, it’s worth asking your potential civic technology partner what their product priorities are for the upcoming year. Depending on the vendor, you and your community may even have an opportunity to shape future development through user feedback and recommendations.
7. Are our values aligned with this partner?
A small, but growing cohort of modern technology companies now exist–all focused on bringing about positive change in local government through innovation. We consider ourselves a member of this camp, as we are dedicated to bringing local government leaders best-in-class solutions. It’s worth having the conversation with potential vendors to learn about their history, mission, and motivations for working with local government.
Ask for and Analyze the Results
8. What is this vendor’s track record with other municipalities?
Modern govtech companies will gladly provide you with case studies, impact numbers (including methodology), and success stories because they are proud of their work and the outcomes they were able to bring about.
9. How would similar communities describe working with you?
Don’t be afraid to request references when evaluating a new solution. You should speak to a variety of communities to see how the same solution worked in different ways. Speaking directly with users will help you determine whether the technology is a good fit.
10. What is key to a successful implementation and how do I measure that?
Ask your potential technology partner to share what’s needed before, during, and after implementation to ensure success. Are there specific data points that should be collected in advance to best allow you to demonstrate progress using your new solution? If so, ask them how similar communities have tackled this, along with their recommendations as to how you should get started too.
As we explored in our previous blog post, getting enough consensus and internal buy-in to even decide on a technology solution is a major achievement. But after going through all of this up-front effort, you owe it to yourself, your team, and your constituents to ask potential civic technology partners the key questions above.
Leadership expert and frequent TEDTalk presenter, Simon Sinek, has a lot to say about the idea of modern tribalism: forming a social network based on certain feelings such as trust, respect, and understanding. The modern tribe today, he contends, is most often a person’s place of work, where a shared set of values provides a “sense of purpose and cause.”
This past week, we saw a modern tribe in action as local government leaders from around the country gathered in Reno, NV for the Alliance for Innovation’s 25th Annual Transforming Local Government Conference (#TLG2019).
Among the many themes from TLG, the importance of peer support and learning, finding avenues for concrete action, and building an inclusive community stand out. Here are the key highlights.
TLG Attendees Support One Another—Across Different Cities and Sates
The warm, friendly atmosphere among local government attendees was immediately apparent at TLG. There were flurries of handshakes and hugs, inquiries about smart projects, legislation changes, and challenges—crossing the divide of different cities and departments.
One attendee described the feeling of relief this conference instills, being surrounded by a group of people who “just get it.” She spelled out the contrast between discussing day-to-day challenges with TLG’ers versus a close friend, or even a spouse. With TLG, she finds instant understanding, shared endeavors, and connections to return to for support when enacting change. Most of all, unlike general lamenting, the Alliance actually provides solutions to help communities address, implement, and improve the status quo.
The Future of Innovation Relies on Peer Learning
Joel Carnes, President and CEO of the Alliance for Innovation, encouraged attendees to utilize TLG as a connecting point for this tribe of innovators—a place where leaders are supported in their quest to achieve efficient government operations and elevate communities across the country. The Alliance’s forthcoming Innovation Leagues is a specific part of this vision, mapped out as a network of regional bodies comprised of city leaders, universities, technology companies, and other stakeholders who all have the shared goal of helping their region reach its full potential.
The Alliance facilitates peer-learning between members who want to address a certain issue and members who have already excelled in that area. To showcase how this works, The Alliance pre-selected teams from cities to present to their peers at TLG on how they achieved certain successes. Bloomington, MN, for example, shared how to work outside of the traditional org chart to strengthen workplace cohesion. Attendees raved about the presentation, filling the conference app with photos and highlights.
Private Sector Partners Should Want to Help You, Not Just Sell You
Back in 2016, the Alliance created their Corporate Partner program with the express intent of connecting local governments directly with the latest private sector technology and innovation companies committed to push meaningful member initiatives forward. At TLG, Corporate Partners contributed to the knowledge base with Learning Labs—hour-long sessions focused on municipal education and processes improvement.
We teamed up with NIC to share three innovations to eliminate pain points in technology procurement, helping navigate a necessary process many Alliance members find particularly frustrating. In addition to new procurement strategies, the session focused on shifting away from the traditional vendor/customer dynamic that is a one-time transaction. Instead, local government leaders should seek out value-based partnerships with modern companies dedicated to relationship building. This creates a feedback loop to continuously improve government services.
The TLG Conversation Continues Year-Round
Rounding out these pre-slated Learning Lab and peer support sessions, the Alliance also offered an additional “unConference” track where attendees got to brainstorm common areas they were keen to discuss and vote on their favorites. The top ten became dedicated breakout sessions throughout the conference. Topics spanned artificial intelligence & customer service, data dashboards & how to utilize them, infrastructure for aging populations, and project prioritization through the lens of equity.
After the conference, The Atlas, an online government marketplace and this year’s TLG Technology Partner, will enable these conversations to continue remotely— helping government leaders find best-fit technology solutions to help their communities thrive.
For the “doers” in local government, The Alliance for Innovation’s Annual TLG Conference provides a safe space to build an extension of their modern tribe. Leaders connect with other leaders from cities across the country and the knowledge transfer that occurs between sessions, learning labs, and conference networking provides a strong foundation for innovation between public and private sector partners. If #TLG2019 was any indication of the progress that can happen in just two days, we can’t wait to see how the TLG Tribe evolves throughout 2019 and into next year’s conference in Phoenix, AZ.
In honor of the new year, we wanted to reflect on some of the people, podcasts, and platforms, that we’ve learned from and been inspired by in 2018. ViewPoint works to carve out our own mission of digital transformation, but nothing exists in a vacuum, and we’re excited to be surrounded by so many other leaders in the realm of government innovation and technology.
So without furtheradieu, here are our 10 favorite voices powering government innovation (presented in no particular order):
Sharon Lee, Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) founding Executive Director, joined the National Association for County Community and Economic Development (NACCED) and ViewPoint Cloud to speak on tiny house villages as a crisis solution to homelessness.
Watch for a history and how to guide, sharing how Seattle developed its innovative Tiny House program to quickly and affordably provide shelter to people living on the streets, and how other communities could do the same. LIHI went from one village to ten in three years, learning valuable lessons in construction, management, and key partnership formation along the way.
With the rise of AirBnB and other online rental platforms, AirBnB regulation has become an evolving and complex area for local governments. While some may think it’s only an issue in larger cities or tourist destinations, there are over 2,700 U.S. cities and counties with more than 50 short-term rental (STR) listings.*
With the near universal presence of Airbnb, there’s no denying that short-term rentals have cemented their place in modern life. For some, hosting has become a necessary second source of income. For others, short-term rentals present a form of cultural currency for meeting new people or exploring a city. However, they also represent a modern regulatory challenge for local governments—how to regulate globalized, tech-based markets within their own jurisdictions.
Social media has long been an integral part of daily life. We have never been so easily connected as now, and the benefits span far beyond seeing your friends’ Christmas photos and not-so-funny memes. From marketing, to journalism, to fundraising, social media has revolutionized professional industries.
For local governments, it can hold even greater prizes. Social media is part of a foundation for a new type of democracy and community participation.
21st century technologies have brought customer service standards to unprecedented levels. With the advent of services like one-click ordering and instant customer support, modern consumers have come to expect an efficient, user-friendly shopping experience.
About Mariam Pallathucheril Mariam is a summer research fellow at CoProcure and a current MPA/MPP candidate at Columbia University (SIPA) and the Hertie School of Governance concentrating in Economic Policy and Technology. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Government from Georgetown University.
With rigid budgets and procurement processes, local governments sometimes have to wait years to upgrade their technology. Luckily, with a world of developers and creative ideas, there’s a whole market of free software tools at our fingertips. From designing more engaging social media posts to better intra-office communication, these easy-to-use tools can be integrated into your regular workflow without spending a dime. To help you do this, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 free tools your local government can use to start working more productively and creatively right now.