Episode 21: Seven Key Digital Solutions for Local Government


Providing access to key services that help their citizens live better lives each day is all in a day’s work for local government officials – but the reality is that they’re also mostly understaffed departments, trying to do it all with antiquated paper systems. In this episode, Paul Gorman from ImageSoft is sharing 7 solutions for local government to create digital access that makes a real impact for the people they serve, as well as the hardworking officials themselves.

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Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks and know how to solve your biggest workflow challenges, and bring great productivity into your workplace every day.

Local government officials are some of the most stretched public servants providing access to key services that help their citizens live better lives each day. But with all that stretching doesn’t come without a bit of pain as well, often in the form of understaffed departments trying to do it all with antiquated paper systems.

Today our guest is Paul Gorman, account executive at ImageSoft in the government space. Paul will be sharing with us seven solutions for local government to create digital access that makes a real impact for the people they serve as well as the hardworking officials themselves. Thanks for joining us today, Paul.

Paul Gorman: Well, it’s wonderful to be here and thank you for the opportunity.
Kate: Great. So I’m excited to talk with you today because you’re not only a new guest to the podcast, but you’re new to the ImageSoft team as well. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Paul: Sure. I graduated from law school and when I got out of law school I worked in federal, state and local government agencies, pretty much in a variety of roles. I’ve been a CIO for two different state agencies and a CAO for a large city agency, that’s the chief administrative officer, and we were doing a big city redevelopment project that’s hired by Hyland Software. They’re the manufacturer of the OnBase software and I was a government industry specialist with them for about five years before joining OnBase reseller sales teams, much like ImageSoft, and selling and implementing OnBase solutions in state and local governments. I’m delighted now to be joined the ImageSoft team as well.
Kate: Great. Well we’re very glad to have you on the team. So, well first of all, we’ll dive into the main topic for today. So when you’re talking with local government officials and the offices that they work with, what are some of the biggest internal pain points? Where do you see them needing the most help through a technology solution for their daily tasks?
Paul: In my experience, one of the most challenging information issues in government usually derived from under staffing and recently anyway, slow funding areas of government. That is procedures, programs and directives are frequently initiated before staffing or technology considerations. So they have the ribbon cutting, as I used to refer to it, of the new program or the new directive or whatever the procedure is and often the required resources that you need to initiate it aren’t available yet. And they are rather far behind.

Activity that involves managing data or documents in an environment like that is likely to suffer and you’ll see this at both constituent facing and employee facing information processes. So a good internal example of this would be managing the dissemination and collection of policy and procedure documents. As part of the onboarding process and often even annually, staff have to sign off and acknowledge receipt of procedures and processes and that very act requires maintaining the documents, the dates of dissemination, follow up on the stragglers and the ability to find this documentation later is really what you’re shooting for.

Every change to a policy frankly should probably be documented this way and frequently they aren’t. Too often the changes in requirements to distribute and share happen without the backend infrastructure, so it’s never really a problem until it’s needed and then it winds up being as you know, probably a big problem

Kate: That sounds like a good compromise.

Right, and-

Paul: It’s not just government that faced that too. Hyland software was essentially challenged with that problem themselves and they created a solution that eventually became a module. They call it document knowledge transfer, and they really target it for policy and procedure acknowledgement. I’d say it’s a critical part of onboarding and human resource management, but in government I would even argue with proper program management in government, it would really benefit from it as well.

The software solution does the hard work. It basically leverages the module by providing easier policy and procedure dissemination. You can even do harassment training, sensitivity training, management, communication. All of this could be routed through this module. The policy changes can go to an approval process before being disseminated to staff. Access rights determine who gets which policies. So essentially HR and IT policies, they may go to everyone, while changes to program policies would probably only go to effected staff.

So tracking the stragglers with it is automated. They have reminders that go out. They have comprehensive reporting. Essentially what it does is it completely solves the data and information problem. The cool thing about this is that it can be an enterprise solution because if you think about it, everybody in the organization pretty much needs that sense to it and even if you don’t have enterprise wide seat licenses for an OnBase solution, you could have this product as an enterprise solution.

And I like to look at it this way. If you’re an IT staff looking for a quick one, this is a great choice. It’s a real quick win and you solve a problem absolutely completely with it. That’s an internal one. A great external one may be processing permits. Processing a permit is a pain for government staff, but it’s also essentially a pain for constituents. Anytime you improve a constituent facing process, it’s supposed to be a priority of government.

So where I see this so often is in growing communities. Permit processing times can really become hot topics for political leadership because in a growing community you’re adding housing, you’re adding buildings, you’re adding roadways and that creates the permit bloat and that permit load has to move as quickly as possible to keep up with the growth of the organizations.

So Hyland Software has an electronic plan review process. Usually permit processes are expensive. I call them budget busters. This process, this solution is really not that way. What they’ve done is they’ve essentially targeted the very parts of the permit process that caused governments the most pain and it caused the largest delays. And what it does is it allows you to work with your existing permitting system investments, allowing you to increase the velocity of the process without having to go through an expensive, oftentimes multi-year replacement up at an entire permitting system.

I like to see it as well as a way in which you can gradually move off of the legacy data driven permit solution. You can implement something like this and slowly add OnBase components while you move off of the old system. I like it as well because it does double duty. In addition to permit processing, the same software module can be used by the asset management teams looking to mark up and manage their as built drawings. It helps them with managing complex work order processes. So you get a single module in there and solve two problems with a single solution cost. It can help you create an accessible digital library of asset infrastructure and can literally save lives and property by saving critical time during emergencies.

Kate: Yeah. While we’re on that topic, I know that there are several opportunities. You talked about first of all the the growth of the community. I thought that was really interesting because I do think that’s one of those things that when you have a growing community, people externally that don’t understand the process and everything, all they see is the outside, whether or not a street is being built in enough time, whether or not they have a building that they need to get to or anything like that.

I think that a lot of people, they don’t understand that. They kind of expect these cities to spring up out of nowhere and they don’t. There is a process for that in order for it to happen correctly and to be able to serve them longterm. So I think that’s something that probably does cause a lot of frustration and if there’s more, a quicker access through this digital process, that’s something that’s probably going to demonstrate itself externally as well.

But talking about, you just touched on right now the first responder aspect of it, what about some of those things like that? Because, like you said, saving it… This goes beyond just just simple access and making things convenient for people in a city. What about things like that where it’s truly critical for their safety?

Paul: Yeah. You see that in some asset management solutions, the issue winds up being a broken piece of infrastructure can create a health and safety issue very, very rapidly. And when that asset infrastructure breaks, there’s a proper way to go about bringing it down so that you can repair it and then bring it back online. Documentation for that information is frequently not readily available if it has not been digitized and it’s in paper based form. It’s not something you access every day, so it’s not someplace where you can actually put your hand on it right away.

You have to go look for it, and frequently, let’s take a broken water main as a great example. In the case of a broken water main, you may have water racing down the street creating an essential… It’s like a flash flood when it actually happens. That flash flood is going on and people are getting trapped in their vehicles. The first responders are out there trying to get people off their vehicles and what’s your role? Should be in that instance is going directly to where the turnoff valves are and shutting down that stream of water.

The issue is all the infrastructure is underground. It’s not like you can look at it say, “Oh there it is.” You have to know where it is and you have to get the proper equipment out there to dig, identify it, turn it off. And that process of finding that piece of infrastructure is assisted tremendously if you have digitized all of your as build drawings, the drawings to tell you how this thing was actually built.

Frequently when things go in the ground, they’re not quite exactly the way the engineered grew them up because the people installing them are running into things that the engineer couldn’t envision. And getting those drawings digitize for them and available to the first responders or in this case to the maintenance staff is critical in certain situations, and actually literally save lives and property.

Kate: Yeah. And what about when people are out in the field like that when it’s kind of a quick decision? I imagine there’s opportunity for people to be able to, when it’s digital obviously, you can access that through a mobile solution I imagine. And it just makes it a little bit easier to be able to get at that information and report back as well for future instances.
Paul: Right. With mobile access, there’s a couple of different ways that Hyland Software and OnBase can provide the solution. And ImageSoft has done some excellent examples in this. Where you’re in the field and you’re standing, you could actually use your cell phone and using a GIF solution, ESRI mobile, you can access content stored in on days from the location where you’re standing, literally saying, “Okay, I think I’m standing on top of it and let me look.” And there it is.

The mobile solutions like that, enabling field staff to get at documents, it’s one of the ways in which you increase the velocity of services because if have to… It’s very inconvenient to carry around a file cabinet like in your truck. You can’t do it. So when you’re in the field, having access to that file cabinet as a digital download is one of the ways in which you solve the drive time. You don’t have to drive back and forth. Nobody has to go and do an archive of paper documents and try to find something. Your access to this stuff is instantaneous and the service to the constituents improves dramatically.

Kate: Now what about that kind of mobile access or more just digital access in general for the public? Which again, you kind of touched on there. Things like public access portals or records requests. What are some ways that constituents could be better served through that these government offices could put in place to perhaps provide a better constituent experience? Which again, helps to keep everybody better connected and everybody feeling like they’re being well served along the way.
Paul: Sure, great question. In addition to the asset management process often starts with a constituent noticing that something’s broken. Public works directors and asset management staff are not on mission. They don’t know when something breaks. Usually the first person to see it is a constituent. When the constituent has the way to submit that information, they can start the process sooner.

I look at it this way, it really use providing a service basically not just to the constituent but to the agency itself. The sooner you know about a broken piece of infrastructure and can address it, it’s just smart management except it helps you identify the issues and address them more quickly. Those of us in public works not being omniscient, we need the public basically becomes our eyes and ears as an identifier of the broken infrastructure.

One of the ways to sell this type of solution that I liked is that you can incorporate the political management into the response letter, either the mayor or the city manager, and when the solution is fixed, thank the citizen for the notice of explaining what was done. So the citizen that notifies you, you capture that information. Now I like to say that there is no wrong door for something like this to come in. If they call you, be available. Have a way to take that message and incorporate that message into the routing process.

If they fill out an e-form that you have on your website, the constituent service request e-form, have that route to the same process or even the constituent could take a photograph of the item, of the broken infrastructure and submit that and have that route to the process. What can happen is essentially as that contact comes through the door, it can be routed directly to the right part of the agency to address it, and you could have the city manager or the mayor respond back thanking the citizen for letting them know and telling them what they’ve done to to address it. It can be all form driven and automated. You can kick off the process and the entire thing can look to the citizen like, “I am getting directly contacted back for the interaction that I’ve had with the government.”

Kate: Absolutely. What a cool way to feel like you’re part of your community and feeling like your community cares about you, to have that back and forth like that.
Paul: It’s a good government practice. Keeping constituents informed has become like an expected level of service and in many cases, in most cases, is actually codified in statute. That said though, the process of responding to request for public record can be painful and extremely time consuming. Where I see the pain and the time spent though is often not in finding the requests that you’ve received. If somebody requests a public record, you can probably find it quicker than you can manage the process of doing this.

The Hyland Software version of a public request solution, it manages the time consuming aspect of searching for content but also the time consuming assets of managing the process by which that content is searched for, gathered, redacted and submitted to the individual who made the request. That provides a more rapid response, would be one way to describe it, in a less time intensive effort to provide that response, and you have some assurance that your record that you’re providing back is relatively complete or as complete as you can make it And that you’ve accurately redacted. You’ve got the redaction stage of the process in place before the record is submitted back to the public. Those are all the painful parts of it and the Hyland solution directly addresses those.

One of the related solutions to that is the public access portal and agencies use that as a strategy to reduce the load of staff responding to Freedom of Information Act or FOIA requests. I like to think of it as an augmentation of the public information request, where rather than spending staff time responding to routing requests, the public is invited to search for specific types of content themselves.

I like to think of it a little like the checkout line at a grocery store. When you’re in the regular checkout lines, you have a store employee actually doing the checkout for you, but many people like to go through the self check line where they scan it and bag it themselves. From the store’s perspective, it’s less expensive for them not to have to consume a human resource asset to check your bags out for you. But from the public access, we view it as at the convenience.

This is sort of like using that same model to apply for public information. It’s quick and easy to set up and extremely affordable for local governments. It provides a quick win for the IT team and places the burden of performing the search and looking for the documents on the customer, but it’s more of a self-help burden as opposed to a true burden.

Kate: All right, well I think that’s covered a lot of ground today. It really seems like when these areas are addressed, that’s where you’re going to start to see a real impact for these local government departments. So where could our listeners find out more about this topic and maybe start looking into implementing it in their own offices?
Paul: I would recommend you start at the ImageSoft website. That’s www.imagesoftinc.com/government.
Kate: All right, well thank you so much, Paul, for sharing these solutions for local government. I look forward to talking with you again soon, and thanks for your time today.
Paul: Thank you for having me.
Kate: All right, and thank you everyone for joining us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This podcast is sponsored by ImageSoft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about@imagesoftinc.com. That’s ImageSoft I-N-C.com. Join us next time where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, supercharge efficiency, and accomplish your organization’s goals.

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