Technology brings accountability and transparency to government work

Based on first-hand experience, I have found that the private sector is adopting technology faster than government. The private sector is inherently motivated to be efficient, save money and enable positive customer experiences.

When I started working in a city government in 2007, I was shocked to find that no customer relationship management (CRM) software was used to manage the needs of voters. Instead, I encountered time-consuming and error-prone manual processes. Coming from the private sector, I used CRM on a daily basis to improve client success and believed the same could be done for voters. So, I implemented a CRM to enable responsive government for things like potholes, street lights, graffiti, and overall voter assistance. Not only did we provide thousands of great constitutive experiences, but we were also able to measure success by tracking data.

Recently, I watched a San Jose City Council meeting where management presented the quarterly “City Roadmap” which contains the goals set by the council and the work that goes behind the scenes to be successful. In government, the elected body gives direction, but it is the staff who do the actual work. Several questions were asked by board members, but when government entities use manual methods with static data, it is almost impossible to answer questions in real time. Additionally, waiting three months to find out if a goal has been missed is both problematic and costly, such as when a grant application deadline is missed.

Cities and counties suffer from siled data, as each department handles “work” in its own way. Policy work requiring collaboration across multiple departments brings additional confusion over how best to manage and get the job done. And now, 86% of state CIOs believe working from home is the new normal, which adds additional challenges to accomplishing collaborative tasks. All you have to do is ask anyone who has recently applied for a permit with the town planning department.

This disconnect leads to very common scenarios in which an elected official asks a city manager or a county executive when something will be finished. At this point the answer is usually, “I don’t know, let me answer you. What happens next is management creates an unnecessary fire drill for staff at six levels deep to provide a quick response to the chosen one.

A proven work management software solution would provide visibility and accountability whether staff are in the office or at home. Each new request can be analyzed immediately, allowing management to understand the costs, time, trade-offs and appropriate staffing levels to get the job done. This would give elected officials an understanding of the level of effort required to accomplish projects rather than the desired deadlines that are systematically missed.

Once a request is approved, the software captures every step, task and deliverable that comes down to the priority goals defined by elected officials. Each action can be measured and displayed, providing real-time status. The ability to plan scenarios and see how changing priorities affect other projects is easily visualized. This approach allows government to retain institutional knowledge as staff retire, capturing best practices and historical records. Consultants or nonprofit entities that receive taxpayer funds can report in real time and be held accountable for doing the job they were hired to do.

Work management software can unleash efficiency, productivity and cost savings; however, it requires leadership. Widely adopted by businesses, these systems have proven their worth with governments outside of Silicon Valley. As voters and taxpayers, we must demand local use so that government can be both accountable and transparent, and voters can be confident that our tax revenues are being used effectively and efficiently.

Pierluigi Oliverio is a member of the San Jose Planning Commission and a former San Jose city councilor.

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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