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.
As a modern, nimble company working to disrupt an entrenched govtech industry, we’re always looking to partner with local government innovators cultivating positive change in their communities.
We work to help cities and towns across the country modernize their tools, and in doing so improve the lives of their employees and constituents. Moving the wheels of large institutions is hard, so we are interested in the conditions that support proactive change.
How does innovation happen within a department or an organization? Across a region, society, or industry?
I was intrigued after recently learning about, author and management consultant, John Hagel’s idea that change happens at the edge. The underlying concept: mainstream anything becomes like a black hole. It consumes what gets close, absorbs all energy, and continues to grow larger.
The core is where the power has amassed, and it absorbs and conforms most of its surrounding environment.Diversity and innovation cannot thrive in this vacuum, and so existing processes, ideas, and power structures becomes increasingly entrenched.
“Because of the relationship between mass and gravity, this means [black holes] have an extremely powerful gravitational force. Virtually nothing can escape from them—under classical physics, even light is trapped by a black hole.” *
Not only do black holes absorb all surrounding energy, but they also cloud the ability to envision something new.
“This creates an observational problem when it comes to black holes — scientists can’t “see” them the way they can see stars and other objects in space.”
Over the last couple of decades, the rise of the internet and modern software have disrupted the “black holes” in most industries. With decentralized access to consumers and cheaper scalable platforms, new companies have quickly diversified competition and improved the quality of products and services for the benefit of consumers.
The Disruption Taking Place Within Govtech
Unfortunately, the public sector (particularly state and local government) has been one of the last areas to benefit from these gains.
Many of the large, entrenched companies that have dominated the govtech industry for the last several decades have become an increasingly large black hole. Despite providing subpar products and services at exorbitant prices, companies like Accela and Tyler Technologies have continued to own the market at the expense of cities and towns across the country.
Outdated procurement laws, originally designed to provide transparency and accountability around government spending, have not only hindered the growth of new players, but have also provided a continued advantage for the black hole (dinosaur companies that have mastered the art of navigating complex procurement processes).
Local Government Now Driving Change with Decisions
So how do leaders create change against the gravitational force of the black hole? How do local government innovators and leading govtech companies foster healthy competition that will develop products of the same caliber as consumer software?
Hagel argues that change happens at the edge, or in other words—change happens when leaders move away from the core. A small minority of leaders hit the core, and instead of being consumed, they will ricochet off into space to create their own satellite.
“Sometimes as matter is drawn toward a black hole, it ricochets off the event horizon and is hurled outward, rather than being tugged into the maw. Bright jets of material traveling at near-relativistic speeds are created. Although the black hole itself remains unseen, these powerful jets can be viewed from great distances.”
Safer from the gravitational pull of the black hole core and with clearer vision, these satellites are breeding grounds for innovation. And the successful ones will start amassing energy from the core, bringing the equilibrium into greater balance.
Your Spend Is Your Vote
Visionaries across the public and private sectors are moving away from this core. Smaller, nimble govtech companies are now leading product development by providing modern, user-friendly software products and services at competitive prices. Municipal innovators are now searching farther and wider, seeking to provide agile, user-centric solutions to their employees and constituents. New government marketplaces and procurement tools are popping up to help connect these groups, and help them build the products that will soon benefit the majority.
In a marketplace, your spend is your vote. Government officials are starting to bravely invest in these modern, nimble companies, because the risk of investing in yesterday’s technology is starting to outweigh the ‘risk’ of investing in a company that may be newer. Leaders see the gap between public and private sector services widening, and they know the positive impact that investing in new technologies will have on their communities for years to come.
To all of the visionaries working to make your corner of the world a little bit better: the time is now. Together, we have the power to build the world we want to live in.
*source for all quotes: Redd, N. T. (2019, Jul 11). What Are Black Holes? [Web log post]. Retrieved Jul 26 from www.space.com.
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.
The ViewPoint Cloud office has been ablaze with excitement as we near #ELGL19. For this year’s conference, we’re sending a first-time attendee, Tom Crosby, and we thought it would be fun to have him sit down with our resident ELGL veteran, Rachel Keyser, to chat about the upcoming event.
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.
Population: 24,386 State: North Carolina Departments: Community Development—Building, Inspections, Code Enforcement, Fire Problem Addressed: Cumbersome, makeshift software Project Highlights: 2 month implementation & inspection management
Kernersville, North Carolina is a town of 25,000 residents and a booming commercial base. Located in the center of “The Triad”—the third largest metropolitan area in the State—the Town is a popular location for business and industrial parks, contributing a vast amount of work to the Community Development Department. One prime example: the 1-million-square-footAmazon fulfillment center being built in Kernersville right now.
Imagine you’re a government official in the City of Parkview and you oversee permitting and licensing fee collection. Some projects require multiple permits like building, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical—the cost of each can vary according to the specifications of the project, and they may even be interdependent on one another.
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):
Far too many government staff members find their daily workload bogged down by inefficient and unintuitive processes and tools. Whether it’s trying to physically deliver paper documents and manually track applications, or using outdated software that doesn’t quite fit your needs and makes collaboration difficult. Local governments everywhere are realizing that decades-old tools are no longer cutting it.
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.