When I received an invitation to present for the Texas Certified Public Manager in San Marcos, TX, this past week, I immediately thought of Dustin Haisler. Haisler wears many hats for the city of Manor, which is a few miles northeast of San Marcos just outside of Austin. He and his colleagues are finding creative ways to stretch their limited resources and launch incredibly innovative projects that benefit the citizens of their small town. I had the chance to learn more about Haisler during my time in Texas last week and wanted to be sure the GovLoop community heard his amazing story, too.
1. It seems that you were born to be an innovator, Dustin. Can you say a bit about that business you started when you were ten years old and the events that transpired in the ensuing years?
Actually I had started a few small businesses that went all the way back to before my age reached double-digits. One of my first entrepreneurship experiences was a lawn mowing business with the slogan, “You grow it, we’ll mow it!” In junior high school I started my political involvement by volunteering on political campaigns during the summer, and also started my first e-commerce business that was essentially an early Amazon-style product distribution store for technology components. This eventually led to the creation of a local technology consulting business called GadgetWizard, which I started with my father. GadgetWizard provided web design, network administration, graphic design, and other technology related items to a variety of clients, including a corporate McDonald’s office.
2. What was your motivation to move from young web entrepreneur to aspiring banker?
I think my father played an important role in this process; he always encouraged me to never let my age get in the way of achieving results. Growing up we always discussed the latest business financials, marketing strategies, and branding opportunities. We were both two business nerds separated by a substantial age gap! We still bounce business plans and other ideas off of one another to this day.
3. And from banking to brilliant public servant - when/how did you decide to make that leap?
Actually there was a very short tenure in the retail business that prompted my move from banking. It occurred when a head-hunter suggested my name to a new proposed retail store operation in my hometown. I was interviewed and hired to be the site director over this store that also housed two national-franchised food chains. After the Manor City Manager learned of my resignation at the bank to accept this position, he contacted me and setup a meeting. After that meeting, I decided to accept the challenge of entering public service with the City of Manor.
4. So the position as Financial Officer for the city makes sense as does the Chief Information Officer...but Municipal Judge? How did that happen?
About 2 years ago after consolidating our software systems, the City Manager decided that the Municipal Court needed extensive business process reworking. I was named Municipal Court director, in which I managed the day-to-day operations side of the municipal court. After about a year, our current Municipal Judge was diagnosed with cancer I went to the required legal training and was appointed Associate Administrative Judge to fill-in. About 6-months later, our citizens adopted a city charter that converted our government type from General Law to Home Rule. As a of this new government type, I was appointed Municipal Judge in order to manage the day-to-day operations of the court. I currently perform arraignments and juvenile trials and have two Associate Judges that perform the bulk of the trials. Being Municipal Judge has allowed me a unique opportunity to see the role of technology in the justice system and how it can be improved.
5. There was a problem with multiple municipal systems that required integration, which you cite as the beginning of your odyssey of innovation. Can you talk a bit about that project?
Four years ago the City of Manor did not own a server, and each department’s software was installed on stand-alone machines. As a result, there was significant repetitive data entry required to keep things running. After installing a server array and deploying Active Directory, I consolidated every department on a unified software platform called Incode, made by Tyler Technologies. In the process, I worked with each department head to adjust business processes within their departments to increase efficiency. Having efficient internal processes is what allowed Manor to shift it focus to innovating solutions to other problems.
6. And when did you really start sliding down the rabbit hole toward QR Codes, Manor Labs and the many other novel projects that are in the works? Can you give a quick overview of 3-4 projects (we'll link out here to other stories with more information about each)?
In-Car Thin-Client System
One of my first projects with the City of Manor was the creation of an in-car thin-client system (Nicknamed an XtremeClient), which was an affordable computer system for our police cars and other public vehicles. It essentially was a desktop thin-client (because laptop thin-clients did not exist yet) that was hardwired into a police car to provide mobile access to our records management system.
Our QR-code project came out of looking for a low-cost document management system. Instead of buying an industry barcode reader, I wanted to find a barcode that was open and easy to read for our staff members. QR-codes provided the perfect solution to this idea because they can be decoded using a mobile phone camera. After experimenting with QR-codes for document management, the City Manager and I both came to the realization that these barcodes had many other potential applications for government. As a result, QR-codes are now deployed throughout Manor to provide residents (and tourists) information about city projects, historic buildings and many other items of interest. One of the greatest features of QR-codes is that they can be generated for free and subsequently read for free. A whitepaper for our QR-code program is available here.
We are also working with the University of Trento, Italy on a new QR-code technology called Entity Naming System that will allow one QR-code to redirect to different information based upon the individual scanning it. Expect a pilot in early 2010.
Manor Labs: Open Innovation
Manor Labs is an open innovation platform, powered by Spigit, which allows anyone in the world to contribute new ideas and solutions to existing problems. Users can submit ideas and track them through the innovation process, as well as collaborate and vote on other user's ideas. One of the most exciting features with this platform is that users are ranked and rewarded with "Innobucks" based upon their participation (such as voting for ideas, submitting ideas, commenting on ideas, etc.). These "Innobucks" can be traded in for real products, which provides users a tangible benefit for their participation. In addition, the City of Manor will utilize Manor Labs to publish their research and development for other agencies to learn from. You can signup to participate in the innovation process here.
We are currently working the deployment of a pilot-RFID program that provides citizens and tourist a more interactive experience throughout Manor. Citizens and tourist will be issued a very inexpensive passive-RFID card that is programmed with their cell-phone number on it. As they walk around town, they can “touch” various points of interest and their cell phone will ring with a prerecorded message about where they are at.
Some of our most up-and-coming projects are centered around the Android operating system. We have received a grant to develop mobile applications for government on Android. Such applications include mobile meter reading, evidence capture, and building inspections. In addition, the City of Manor is also focuses on augmented reality development on Android and the iPhone to provide next generation government interaction to our citizens and tourist.
7. You are really harnessing the power of the next generation's proficiency with mobile devices to propagate Manor's drive toward a high-tech future. Can you talk about your outreach to the local school systems and the dissemination of your messages through young people?
One of the methods we utilize to speed up the adoption of our technologies is through outreach to our local students. For example, in order to grow Manor’s QR-code program the City Manager and I spoke at several schools in the area to teach the students how to use their cell phones to read Manor’s QR-codes. We further encouraged them to go home and demonstrate the technology to their family as well as assist them with the installation of the QR-code reader on their phones. This method has proved very successful and is attributed with the growing QR-code adoption rates in the Central Texas area.
8. You've sparked significant interest in your activities - from companies in the United States to the White House to international neighbors. Tell us a bit about the diverse people who are knocking on your door to learn more these days.
It’s been quite amazing and rather unexpected to see some of the interest in our technology and innovation. We have had visitors from as far away as Australia, Ireland, South America, and France. Many of the visitors come to see our QR-code signs and hear our philosophy about innovation on a shoestring budget. The City Manager and I have also had the pleasure of speaking to agencies of all sizes on the federal, state and local government level about a variety of technology related topics.
9. What's next? What's your vision for Manor in 5 years? Do you have any personal/professional goals that you could share with us?
My vision for Manor is that our R&D Lab will expand its operations and hopefully gain some additional staff and private funding. It is also my goal that other local, state and federal agencies will begin collaborating with Manor to research and development the next generation technologies for the government.
For me, I will seek to achieve my Masters of Business Administration and continue my quest to help cities maximize their potential through innovation.
10. BONUS QUESTION: What are your Top 10 Favorite Android Apps?
a. Layar 3.0: A great augmented reality application that has several layers, such as the Recovery.gov dataset, that can be overlaid on the real world using the phone’s camera.
b. Wikitude: An application that overlays Wikipedia on the real world using the phone’s camera. (Augmented Reality)
d. Barcode Scanner: Reads QR-codes and UPC-codes
e. Carr Matey: Uses GPS to help find my car in a crowded parking lot
f. Locale: Changes my profile automatically based on my GPS location (Work, Home, etc.)
g. Key Ring: Allows me to store the “barcodes” for all of my membership cards (Petsmart, Library, etc.)
h. Twitroid: Allows me to keep up Twitter on the road.
i. Qik: Allows me to stream live audio/video from my phone’s camera to the City of Manor’s Ustream account.
j. Runstar Free: A great runners application that helps log runs.
k. Live Football Scores: An application that allows me to keep-up with football wherever I’m at.
PS - Each application listed above is completely FREE on the Android Market.
Thanks, Dustin, for sharing your story with fellow GovLoopers! Can't wait to see what happens next in your tremendous story.