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Santa Clara County Offers and Internalizes Digital Services

Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Santa Clara County, California, is no stranger to innovation and emerging technologies in government. Before coming to Santa Clara County, she was CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and although the populations she served there might have been different in number and demographics, the roles are strikingly similar.

“Pretty much the entire public sector is wrestling with how to be more responsive, to implement technology quickly, to respond to changing needs and demands and change in technology itself,” Dunkin said.

To tackle the familiar challenges, Dunkin turned to a familiar solution: Agile development, a process she helped EPA implement. The incorporation of digital services by Agile development has saved the county hundreds of millions of dollars, she said. In Santa Clara County, e-signatures, which are behind much of the savings, have fundamentally changed the way the county goes about day-to-day operations.

“Digital service is not simply digitizing a paper workflow or taking an existing client/server application and going to the web or going to mobile, but really rethinking it and transforming it,” Dunkin said.

Before digital signatures were in place in Santa Clara County, workflows were much less efficient. Documents would cycle for days or weeks, as they went from signature to envelope to desk over and over again.

The average circulation time of a document in Santa Clara County was five days before the county implemented digital signatures. Now, the average time is five hours. Dunkin said that saving 70 percent to 80 percent of cycle time is the simplest example of how digital services can transform workflows. But she added that there are ripple effects across agencies that many don’t consider.

For example, agencies can reinvest the saved money and time into other digital services, which can build on one another. Alternatively, they can use the savings to pay off legacy costs and contracts or to reinvest in citizen experience.

That’s true across any level of government, Dunkin said.

E-signatures may be the simplest example of how digital services can transform government, but they’re far from the only one. Santa Clara County, the 17th most populous county in the United States, offers a variety of other digital services to residents and employees.

Dunkin noted that when people think of digital services, they often think of mobile-friendly portals or applications. Mobile-friendly is no longer a choice, however, as many residents rely exclusively on their cellphones to pay bills and interact with government.

Having these services available is especially key for connecting with poorer communities, where residents might have access to only smartphones. The county allows for partial payments on taxes through its e-portal, which lets people pay when they can and, in the long term, can help restore communication between government and citizens.

At EPA, Dunkin launched an e-enterprise portal, which prominently offered environmental information in one centralized location that was accessible by citizens, regulators, contractors and EPA employees.

That enabled EPA to bridge the gap between all its stakeholders, and Dunkin has sought to accomplish similar goals in Santa Clara County. Using online portals, county residents can reserve park space, access voter registration services and scan restaurant inspection scores.

As part of a larger effort of digital transformation, the county is now moving toward e-filing, which would expedite permitting processes countywide.

For Dunkin, the key to success is seeing the bigger picture.

“You really do understand that the productivity gained is amazing,” Dunkin said. “And that productivity translates to more.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Emerging Technology of 2019: Meet Your New Digital Coworkers.” Download the full guide here.

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