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Newer Technologies are Redefining Government-Citizen Interactions
Aldona Valicenti, Commissioner & Cio, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (Lfucg)
The government sector has changed dramatically in the last few years. Nearly a decade ago, applications used by the state or local government, though web-based, took a long time for development and implementation. Additionally, these products were workflow centric, whereas applications built today are more inclined to bridge the gap between a city and its citizens. In a technology-driven world, the need for these solutions is growing at a fast pace, and the time-frame to implement them is getting shorter.
For example, when Lexington developed the 311 initiative, citizens could call in to raise an issue or call in for a service request. The problems were noted, and the logs were maintained for many years. Over the last couple of years, we realized the application was reaching an obsolete stage and that the functionalities of the old system could not be enhanced further. We licensed Salesforce and built-in a 311 feature. The process has been automated ever since. If a resident calls in with a request, it can directly be sent to the right department who will work to fix the issue. If a citizen shares their email address while raising requests, an automated email is sent to them once the request is fulfilled. There is a significant shift in how governments interacted with citizens in the past and how they approached a particular problem.
Currently, citizens who are using new and innovative solutions to interact with their city officials are quite pleased with the outcome because it helps them access the proper channels to voice their opinion and concerns. Organizations that build these applications have considered this as they understand the importance of a connected world in this mobile age Another significant change that has taken effect is that solutions can now be accessed through multiple devices such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones. People mostly browse through websites for information to get answers about a query or to provide feedback. People operating businesses in the city have to reach out to their government to submit development plans for new housing or infrastructures as well. Having the means to access web-forms on their smartphone, they can submit any record or requests electronically from anywhere. People who have difficulty navigating the digital space can always reach their administrators through phone calls, such as our 311 phone centers.
Citizens who are using new and innovative solutions to interact with their city officials are quite pleased with the outcome because it helps them access the proper channels to voice their opinion and concerns
The citizen population today consists of younger people, millennials, and Gen-Z, who want efficient applications available on smartphones, and they want the solutions delivered faster. They aspire to communicate with their governments more effectively and quickly. They want to know about events or festivals happening in the city and not to have to wait in a long queue to take part in the festivities. The challenge for the government is that they probably will not always have enough funds to fulfill all of those demands as quickly as the citizens expect. I see the expectations of the citizens growing much faster than what the government can deliver. So we need to ensure that we can respond faster than we did in the past. To do this, governments need to enable citizens to reach out to the right official directly. If they want to discuss a specific issue such as parking structure, they can leverage a mobile app to talk to an official from that department immediately without having to be routed through multiple departments.
Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful projects/initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?
One of the most important projects that are going on right now is to continue the effort to modernize public safety. Our police and fire departments interact with the public, so we recently deployed body-worn cameras for the police. Another significant initiative is to help builders who want easier ways to interact with government regulations, such as submitting building planes, geographic data, and housing permits. We will continue to ensure they can do these online so they can apply for multiple permits at one time and pay for them electronically. Our most amazing initiative was to turn Lexington into the largest Gigabit city, which helped us bring ultrafast internet, television, and telephone service to residents and businesses via fiber cables, which transmit data at the speed of light.
How do you see the government tech space evolve in a few years from now?
I think the demand from the citizens is going to be greater, and they would want us to proceed faster as well. This is one of those opportunities where the city will have to keep prioritizing the solutions to invest in. Today, people want to connect with their government through phones call or social media platforms or emails. And I believe, in the near future, citizens will continue to increase their effort to ensure they can interact with their government to create a modern and digital city and governments will have to oblige.
What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field who is looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?
When I first came to Lexington, I looked at the investments that were made over the years and the irregular patterns of its usage; historically, solutions procured would serve a purpose for a year and be ineffective the next year. I would always advise people to first assess their environment. Secondly, governments should understand their citizens’ needs, do their due diligence while looking for a solution, gather the information that would then empower them to make an informed decision.