Sacramento, California Dreams of Digital Transformation

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Sacramento, California, to dream up creative answers to its problems. Whether it is delivering Wi-Fi via buses or launching digital innovation platforms, Sacramento is creating surprising solutions to its challenges.

According to Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) Louis Stewart, Sacramento’s recent initiatives embody such city principles as creativity and collaboration. Speaking with GovLoop, Stewart detailed how digital transformation can become a state of mind for agencies.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

GOVLOOP: How has COVID-19 changed Sacramento’s CX, products and services?

STEWART: We need to find a way to reach citizens who are trying to pay fines, get permits or do other business the city does. We’re trying to meet people where they are. Our IT team has done a fabulous job transferring most of our services to a digital platform.

This has also brought to light the digital divide. We’re at the beginning stages of the conversation. We’re starting to look at what partnerships we can bring to the table to get digital equity as a fundamental element of citizen life here.

The pandemic has dispelled the myth that teleworking is not a thing. There are studies showing people are more productive working from home. Management has less of a reason to worry about people working from home.

Sacramento is probably forever changed, like everyone else. For us, it’s going to be necessary to look at what markets can operate in this system. We need to start rethinking attraction mechanisms. What kind of life are we trying to build for our citizens?

Sacramento began using buses to provide Wi-Fi access during the pandemic. How has that helped citizens?

Wi-Fi buses came about from the state looking at how transit agencies might take a bigger role in recovery during fire season, earthquakes and other disasters. We got hit by the pandemic and we needed to deal with the digital homework gap with all the students. There was a mad rush for laptops. All the schools took time to figure out how to put their educational platforms online. We rolled that out as an educational tool.

It’s also a job tool. If people are looking for work or need to do work at home, they can go to the bus. It is a proof of concept we think has merit.

I would go out to the sites and use the service myself. You couldn’t really tell any difference. It was better speed than I had at home. It is super easy to log in. We decided not to enable too many tracking features. We could tell if people were watching Netflix.

What are some best practices for digital transformation you’d recommend?

The first best practice is starting from yes. Try not to start from a place where you’re scared to try new things.

Look at how to reduce rollout times. You remove all the barriers to rolling out a quality product or service to citizens.

Examine how to evolve with change. You just start stacking changes on and making the services better.

Be open to some of the startups out there that are vying for your attention. It’s OK to work with some startups.

Take a second and see how agile you need to be during this moment in time. The pandemic is offering the world the greatest opportunity in a decade or more to reimagine itself. We can restart the listening process. What is the best thing for our ultimate customer? What is the easiest way to close the gap on how we deliver services?

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Digital Transformation in Government.” Download the full report here.

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