When Gary, IN, Mayor Jerome Prince ran for election, he envisioned transforming the City in a number of ways—all laid out in a platform he called Reimagine Gary. Once his bid for mayor was successful, he immediately asked staff to embark on a digital transformation that would help bring Reimagine Gary to life.
Then, the pandemic hit. The digital transformation became not just a vision but a necessity, especially in the Building and Zoning departments. Moving to a digital solution would be especially relevant for Gary and its businesses, as a significant number of them operate in the City but aren’t based there. The outdated system of business owners traveling into Gary to personally complete and sign paperwork was no longer a viable option.
“We knew and we understood something that we couldn’t have the flood of people trying to come to the City in the middle of the pandemic. We knew we couldn’t have that happen again,” said Chief Innovation Officer Lloyd Keith.
Launched Online Licensing and Permitting
Increased License and Permit Revenue
Increased Staff Collaboration
Review & Track FOIA Requests Online
Through 2020 and into 2021, City leaders knew change was inevitable — it was time to truly reimagine Gary.
“We bought into it,” Lloyd said of the mayor’s vision. “We had to. How do you do that? You stop doing the things of old that were time-consuming, that were antique, that just did not move into the digital capability of today.”
That’s when Lloyd and others began researching partners that could lead them through change. Their choice: OpenGov Citizen Services.
- Launched Online Licensing and Permitting
- Increased License and Permit Revenue
- Increased Staff Collaboration
- Review & Track FOIA Requests Online
Simplicity is Key
As City leaders researched online solutions, they kept two things top of mind. First, the solution had to be user-friendly for customers. Second, within the online system, licensing and permitting processes had to be clearly defined with convenient, simple steps.
“[We wanted] anybody who works with the City of Gary to see what the process is and how simple it is to do business with the City of Gary,” Director of Zoning Eric Boria said.
Before, the process for business owners seeking a license was more complex. Their applications bounced from department to department and person to person within the City. That translated into wasted time for the business owner and City staff. Now, license and permit seekers can use Gary Online to do business from the convenience of their home or office or from one of four computer kiosks in the Zoning Department.
Customers aren’t the only ones benefiting from technology. Staff is working more efficiently too. That doesn’t mean 40-hour work weeks are cut in half. But it does mean staff have time to do more meaningful work.
Strategic Training Plan
Technological changes didn’t come easy for everyone on staff, though. For some, the familiarity of offline manual processes was comfortable. But the team leading change was committed to forging ahead. Necessary staff met weekly to train and build out the system. The team ensured every clerk became familiar with its use. The goal: greater cooperation and collaboration among multi-department staff.
“[Before introducing technology], there was a little too much of each department doing its own thing … and what it does is create friction points for customers and for businesses, and then it becomes frustrating from a customer service perspective,” Eric said.
Knowing that paperwork and file cabinets were going to be a thing of the past and, most importantly, that everyone was moving forward together, staff began embracing the weekly training sessions.
“The beauty out of this system … was making sure that departments now begin to collaborate together. They have to,” Lloyd said.
Gone are the days when license and permit applications would be stuck within a department, awaiting approval. Now, the licensing and permitting process is transparent. Staff and leadership can see where an application is within the workflow. If a staff member doesn’t review the application within a designated timeline, Lloyd receives an email and follows up.
“Going online isn’t a technological change. It’s an organizational change,” Eric said. “You are making your internal processes more transparent and forcing departments to have to work together. At least everybody sees what everybody else is doing and where those friction points are.”
The training team also brought the Legal team to the table to outline the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. While setting up FOIA requests as a record type within OpenGov Citizen Services, the Legal team laid out the process of which departments would do the review, how much time they would be given to respond, and who in Legal would be responsible for tracking the request.
“Once we brought FOIA in, legal loves it… because now they just hand out the review to whoever has ownership of the request,” Lloyd said. “Then they follow up to make sure the information gets out to whoever is making that FOIA request.”
More Money in the Door
Once business licensing was brought online, it freed staff to investigate businesses that previously failed to renew their license or were never licensed. The City also benefits from a collaborative effort among Zoning, Building, Redevelopment, Code Enforcement, and IT to identify property code violations that cross departments and bring them into compliance.
“All of that—bringing everything up to current regulations—both improve the City and brings in revenue,” Eric said.
A Digital-first Long-term Vision
“Data analytics is where we are,” he said. “That’s where we know we have to go—the decision-making process, how do we use the data to make the right decisions to move forward.”
Most importantly, City leaders envision a day when any business that can be done online will be brought online, essentially eliminating the need for customers to visit City Hall. That will free staff to work more closely with residents and businesses on initiatives that require a more hands-on, strategic approach.
“The City of Gary does not have a big budget. It does not have a budget that can fund the staff necessary to do the work that is currently needing to be done in the City,” Eric said. “So, if you can free up that staff time to be able to be more targeted, then you can start to make City government more effective in the long-term, to be more proactive because your head is now starting to get above water and you can start to swim towards where you want to go rather than just trying to reach the surface.”
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