By George Vitti, Founder and President, Business Automation Services (BAS)
Reprinted with permission, Association of Towns 2013.
With today’s fiscal constraints, more than ever local governments are looking toward technology solutions to streamline their internal processes, control overhead, offer a higher level of service to residents and ultimately reduce their long-term operating costs. On the surface this may seem like a daunting task, but these goals can be achieved.
Let’s first take a look at e-government which has been defined by the Center of Technology in Government as “the use of information technology to support government operations, engage citizens and provide government services.” There are many examples of residents having access via the web to information e.g. Board/Council meeting agendas/minutes, zoning laws, printable forms, etc. In addition, the Internet allows residents to do business with their municipality; as examples, our company has implemented:
1. Online Dog License Renewals - residents can access current dog license information via the Internet and if the license renewal period falls within the rabies certification period the renewal license fee can be paid by credit/debit card or electronic check; the resident receives a receipt and the renewal transaction is posted to the Municipal Clerk’s in-house dog licensing system without the need for manual data entry. Residents do business remotely and the entire process is quicker and more efficient than before.
2. The 24 X 7 Tax Office - an Internet portal of all the tax bills and payments is maintained; taxpayers can pay their bill by credit/debit card or electronic check as well as view/print tax information needed (e.g. tax bill or receipt for filing April 15th income taxes). Online payments as well as tax payments made at the local municipal office are seamlessly synchronized to the Internet database allowing residents, attorneys, banks, title & mortgage companies, realtors, etc. to access up-to-date payment status (paid/unpaid), which significantly reduces the volume of calls to the tax collector’s office. More convenience, greater efficiency and more cost effective is a win/win for everyone!
3. Web Portal (Constituent Service Request System) - allows citizens to report problems or issues such as potholes, broken streetlights, garbage, etc. or retrieve information on the status of a permit, inspection, complaint, etc. These systems engage residents and provide a platform for government to be more responsive to the needs of its residents in a way that clearly improves the quality of service and generates a “feel good” attitude toward their municipality.
There are many more examples of e-government applications currently available or under development; over time, the impact will be significant as residents become more comfortable doing business with their municipality there will be less disruption of municipal staff to service information requests or to enter various transactions for processing.
Another key to efficiency and cost effectiveness is systems integration i.e. the ability for various software applications to retrieve/share data that is relevant to the task at hand. The problem that many municipalities have is their departmental software was designed for a specific office; their databases are isolated and cannot be accessed from other areas (departments) that need to view or utilize specific information in a work process or procedure. As an example, to issue a building permit, even though most of the parcel information needed (owner name & address, type of property, etc.) is available in the Assessors’ database, the required information for a building permit has to be manually entered into the permit system instead of electronically retrieved for inclusion in the permit process.
For departmental systems to interface with each other, they need to be designed to capture information where it originates and share that data as part of an enterprise-wide system. The ability for systems to work together within a municipality pays big dividends in terms of improved productivity for the departments. In addition, collaboration or communications (in terms of sharing data) between municipalities, counties and/or state agencies is dramatically improved.
Next generation software with built in interfaces and integration capabilities along with standardized relational database structures will enable municipalities to improve internal work processes and streamline their operations to levels that will result in a major transformation in how government works and cost-effectively delivers services to residents.
Adopting an “e-government/systems integration” focus for the future requires municipalities to purchase and implement modular software applications that will satisfy immediate priorities and, over time, budget for the additional software needed as funding becomes available. The return on investment will be measured in terms of operational efficiencies and the higher levels of service that residents require and expect.