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Outside of the Bright Lights, Los Angeles County Pioneers Novel Assessor-as-a-Service Idea

Survival of the fittest often reveals itself in competition, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the budgeting process. Different departments face off, arguing what mission is most important and why one program should receive more than another. These ruthless and cutthroat politics are as cold as shoulder-bumps in a big city.

Los Angeles is a big city, and Los Angeles County, which is the largest county in the United States with around 10 million residents, is even bigger. And yet, the L.A. County Office of the Assessor has broken free from the rat race to begin an “Assessor-as-a-Service” program designed to help smaller counties’ assessor’s offices maximize their operations given budgetary constraints.

This program is brand new and only enabled by the cloud. Until recently, bright flashing lights not only illuminated Hollywood Boulevard, but also the on-premise mainframe for the L.A. County Assessor’s Office. Everything was housed on a 1970s mainframe, meaning employees were using old “green screens” without even advanced search functionality. In order to launch Assessor-as-a-Service, the office needed to make a change.

“Cloud just seemed the perfect maneuver,” Steven Hernandez, Assistant Assessor for the L.A. County Assessor’s Office said, later adding that the Assessor-as-a-Service would work as a subscription for smaller counties. “We were willing to provide our code and our system to other counties free of charge just because we’re not in the business of making money off our product. We’re here to help each other out,” he said.

The county is familiar with helping others out. Composed of 88 cities and unincorporated areas, Los Angeles County provides needed services like fire, police and property. The terrain of the county is diverse, encompassing over 4,000 square miles from ocean to mountains. Within Los Angeles County, there are 2.57 million parcels, and 500,000 appraisals are completed a year, resulting in a $1.6 trillion roll and $15 billion in revenue to the state.

It’s the exact kind of place that you could envision geographic information systems (GIS), information-sharing and mobility making business a smooth and seamless experience.

But the county could only do so with cloud. Before getting into emerging technologies, first and foremost was to enable basic features like searching and mobile applications.

“We know that we needed to find a solution,” Hernandez said.

The solution was a pay-as-you-go cloud infrastructure that enabled an Agile and measured move of services. Agile and adaptable practices were necessary for an agency so central to the state’s mission to operate while transitioning.

The Assessor’s Office identifies the owner and performs property assessments under the unique environment of Proposition 13, which uniquely affects tax collection and assessment in California. Due to Prop. 13, cloud vendors had previously been unable to offer the L.A. County Assessor’s Office the services it required – especially one capable of handling a large amount of exceptions to regular policy.

Moving to an Agile and tailored cloud, the Assessor’s Office was able to work in three-month intervals to deliver piece-by-piece functionality to end users and improve incrementally – first getting rid of green screens and launching an online portal.

As it stands, the project is entering phase four, which includes a final rollout of all products and full migration – meaning employees from Los Angeles and subscribing counties will be able to access central systems online and remotely. It also will include testing disaster recovery within the cloud.

The final version will reap immediate returns for L.A. County and beyond.

The county will be able to host over 100 formerly separate applications in one online-based suite. These can be accessed from anywhere, including from counties throughout the state, as part of the Assessor-as-a-Service program. Features will include GIS and mobility. Some of these capabilities are already live.

Furthermore, going through a trusted cloud provider, the county was able to circumvent governmental barriers of acquisition to providing the Assessor-as-a-Service program. Not only is the program based on a model whereby the county pays for what it needs, but data security is maintained and ensured by the provider – removing some burden of data protection.

And as far as addressing bumps along the road, Hernandez said that will always be a part of the process. But Agile development that can be tested and deployed on the cloud allows the county to ensure stability at important times of service – whereas on-premise environments could falter in important times, such as elections.

“Nobody is ever sleeping on this,” Hernandez said. “As one developer is going to sleep, another is working on this, so that is helping us to go forward.”

L.A. County is gearing up for the final phase, but the Assessor’s Office has already realized benefits of the cloud migration, including a 50% reduction in its cost operating model.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Intelligent Innovation: Tech Trends Taking Root in State and Local Governments.” Download the full guide here.

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