Sometimes, the scariest moments create an environment for lasting, positive change. And, when the imperative to change is linked to exploding technological options, it can be truly revolutionary. Take the position government finds itself in right now. The public sector lost more than 700,000 jobs since its peak in 2009. The latest economic forecasts suggest that job cuts, especially those in local government, will pick up again in the fall. The dilemma is that while we cut staff, the workload never decreases. And, with budget pressures comes an unprecedented increase in the expectations for constituent service and government transparency.
Although my mantra is “faster, cheaper, better government,” it can seem unattainable in the midst of current economic struggles. However, everything I’m hearing is hopeful because technology makes government workers more productive than ever, producing – what I believe – will be the single greatest period of public sector productivity gain in a long time.
At last week’s Cityworks conference, a number of attendees explained how they are moving forward with technology because they had to. This was a particularly interesting group of attendees because one of the lesser noticed aspects of the real estate boom was the need to expand local infrastructure to service new subdivisions, shopping malls, schools, etc., that sprang up. Since then, there’s been a sharp decline in those activities, their sources of funding are lower, but they are conversely tasked with more community assets to support and preserve.
Their answer? More technology. During the conference, I saw a number of smartphone applications that allowed field staff to access information – making them more productive because of the combination of smartphone familiarity, impressive hardware and affordability. By making information accessible in the field, staff accomplish more without making trips back to the office. They now can cluster tasks geographically to maximize time and reduce gas usage.
In their minds, this results in faster and cheaper government. And, coupled with the latest versions of Cityworks that handle permitting, licensing, asset management and work orders, they use technology more than ever, despite their core work also needing tools, shovels and heavy machinery. When you see a smartphone on a bucket loader you know things are changing.
So, two-thirds of my mantra was covered, but what about the “better government” part? That was the part they were most proud of – the ability to quickly respond to problems using smartphone apps. In this time of constant cutbacks, technology and easy access to information in the field gives government the chance to provide better service to their constituents.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to spend more on technology at this time, the options for faster, cheaper and better government are made possible by things like smartphones, solutions like Cityworks and systems for document management.
In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll look at “faster, cheaper, better” in some key government processes and how to get it done.