With CARES Money, Which Government Technology is Best in 2020?
2020 has been a strange year for everyone, especially for government leaders and particularly for government IT leaders. There was plenty of talk about digital trends leading up to this year, but now that we’re five months in since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many government leaders into remote, virtual roles, here are the top 10 recommended technology upgrades from top leaders across the country.
Budgets are certainly tight, so the prospect of a technology upgrade may seem daunting. However, having the right technology to allow your government to operate from anywhere, and ensure efficiency and intelligence throughout your processes, plans, and budget has never been more needed. Luckily, CARES Act funds can be invested in certain technology upgrades to bolster the necessary capabilities of your technology, as we discussed in a recent eBook. So, if you have CARES Act money to spend on technology modernization, here are some suggestions where those funds could be invested.
Need One: Work-From-Anywhere
1. Collaboration in the Cloud
The sudden transition to a work-from-home scenario as a result of Covid-19 in March 2020 left many governments scrambling to get employees laptops and VPNs in order to transition to virtual work. Beyond this immediate hardware need, leaders found that collaborative tasks, such as strategic budgeting and permit approvals, became especially challenging without the proper cloud-based technology tools to enable efficient communication and real-time sync.
“We thought we knew the benefits of having a web-based platform, but during the pandemic, we realized how absolutely crucial it is, from report sharing to book building. Everybody being able to work at the same time [from home] was so important. I can’t imagine not having that after this year.”
Christen Sullivan, Senior Budget Analyst, Harford County, MD
2. No-Coding-Needed Website Updates
During any emergency—whether it’s a natural disaster or a health crisis—residents go to their local government webpage for accurate information they trust to be most relevant to them. Because of this, government leaders find that being able to quickly add critical instructions and maintain timely page updates, without an IT or coding professional, and without having to go into the office to log in, is a must-have requirement of a modern government.
“OpenGov has provided us the opportunity to quickly and smoothly provide information and services to our residents. We were able to quickly roll out press releases, essential service info, pre-recorded updates, and economic aid information within hours to residents.”
Jaime Tirado, Business Analyst, Gilpin County, CO
3. Centralized Reporting Dashboards
What would you rather review—a spreadsheet with an eye-squinting amount of data points, or a clean, color-coded graph? Most government officials prefer the latter, but don’t have a way to get there without manual data collection that draws from multiple departments, which all use different systems. Without a centralized platform that integrates and standardizes data sets, governments run the risk of spending a lot of time collecting and making sense of data for their various reports. Dashboards and data visualization tools standardize the import process and automatically update charts, graphs, and visual dropdowns with the latest data automatically.
“Before using OpenGov, we did a lot of things manually to track our different performance measures. And all of this data was coming from all types of different systems throughout the county. We put it into different spreadsheets to track it that way, so there was no ability to graph information or visualize it in any way. Now with OpenGov, we are tracking performance measures across 30 different departments…we have graphs and dashboards for all of our different performance measures. We load the data and the graphs update automatically, so that’s been a huge time savings for our team.”
Maria Zuniga, Business Improvement and Performance Administrator, Bernalillo County, NM
Need Two: Optimize Budgets
4. Scenario-Based Budgeting
The traditional model for government budgeting has been to meet twice per year and review actual revenue versus projected to get a sense of future accuracy and areas of need. Covid-19 has highlighted that this fails to account for the many unknowns that could throw a community’s budget off track—including smaller federal dollars, lower real estate taxes, and decreased seasonal spending. A budgeting platform that allows for scenario-based planning builds room for proactive contingency planning rather than a reactive twice-per-year meeting.
5. Increased Public Budget Input
Prior to the escalation of the 2020 pandemic, many communities were already spearheading participatory budgeting conversations in 2019 to engage more residents around what they want to see city money go towards tomorrow. Now, as residents’ economic needs are increasing at the same time budget dollars are shrinking, being able to provide interactive, visual tools to show where public funds are going and, more importantly, why they are going there, increases public transparency and trust, even in crisis.
6. Intuitive Accounting
It’s one thing for department leaders to determine annual budgets that factor in program goals for the upcoming year, but it’s another thing entirely to actually stick to them. That’s where intuitive accounting technology can help by tracking the actual spend and providing tools for active monitoring, such as staff-proposed action items, funding adjustments, and alerts. A shared data platform shows these budget performance indicators to specific users for daily monitoring and reporting.
“Better monitoring across funds, groups of accounts, and departments with OpenGov helps us avoid budget adjustments and makes them more accountable for their spend.”
Erjeta Diamanti, Budget Manager, The City of Pompano Beach, FL
7. Raise the Bar on Transparency
In 2019, East Providence, Rhode Island began publishing an interactive budget for its 2020 budget, using OpenGov’s Stories platform, to improve broader fiscal transparency by sharing a clearer, more navigable picture of its financial obligations and priorities.
“With OpenGov, we can provide a better understanding of the City’s financial position and priorities—how and where we save and invest, It enables us to both: 1) Create a better, more collaborative budget, one that deploys resources more efficiently across departments; and 2) demonstrate to the public, Council, and our bond ratings agency the impact of savings and investments for our city.”
Mayor DaSilva, East Providence, RI
Need Three: Meet Constituents’ Need for Virtual City Hall
8. Online Permitting & Licensing
“With the closure of the Town buildings due to the pandemic, the online permitting process has made it seamless to continue to serve the public, even if not face to face. Staff and the public alike are seeing the value of bringing these services online and there has been a big uptick in online permit requests across departments.”
Christine McElhiney, IT Administrative/Technical Assistant, North Andover, MA
9. Virtual Inspections
“The biggest question we received was ‘Will you still be doing inspections?’ We won’t go inside occupied homes, but we will go inside new residential (unoccupied) properties. What we’ve been able to do is use Zoom a lot for virtual inspections. We locked City Hall, but we didn’t miss a beat with providing our customers with services.”
Tim Monea, Chief Building Official City of Wooster, OH
10. Online Payments
“The cost of doing business for the Treasurer Collector—to count out all of the cash, checks, turnover sheets, paperwork, and then drive downtown with a big wad of money, put it in the bank, and then come back to the office to pay online bills—it’s four hours worth of work for something that takes the customer a minute to accomplish. Without online payments where customers can conveniently use a credit card at home, the alternative is no longer sustainable. It’s four hours worth of work for something that takes the customer a minute to accomplish.”
Jamie Hellen, Town Administrator, Franklin, MA
When it comes to IT needs, every community is going to have slightly different priorities around what’s most urgent and what’s most important for carrying out government operations. While times are tough, the CARES Act could be an opportunity to impart lasting change by infusing modern technology into daily operations – helping your government be more efficient and flexible now and in the future. This list acts as a starting point to reconsider technology that has now emerged as imperative for meeting the demands placed on today’s local governments.
Want to read more about how to use CARES Act funds to move to the cloud? Download our eBook on how to use CARES Act funds for this purpose.