A Technology Plan for the New County Executive

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How County Executive Armond Budish can create a 100-day plan to implement technology that will save the county millions, fix the budget and establish Cuyahoga County in the forefront of the Open Data movement.

By Lev Gonick, CEO, OneCommunity

Lev Gonick, CEO OneCommunity

Lev Gonick, CEO OneCommunity

County Executive Armond Budish should move as rapidly as possible to transition all County and County-delivered services, such as health care, sewage, and social services to the digital broadband platform.

Make County Government a digital service provider for everyone

In the beginning, government data was stored on pieces of parchment and kept in a bureau. Only the government employees knew where all the documents were stored thus giving us the word: bureaucrat.  Today, government is different. Now cities across the country are putting government data on data portals that can be accessed by residents and businesses.

In metropolitan regions around the country, elected officials and their administrative operations are embracing the power of the Net to develop self-services for residents and businesses. For example, Chicago built a premier open data program relying on automation to deliver updated data. While initially created to increase transparency and accountability for Chicago’s government, multiple departments and developers have leveraged that foundational platform and have begun launching programs that enrich the lives of Chicago’s residents. For example, developers created Rack It, an iOS app that lets people find bike racks throughout the city. The SweepAround.us app leverages street sweeping records to notify residents when to move their cars and avoid street cleaning tickets. The uses of open data for citizen engagement and county services are limitless (http://www.govtech.com/data/How-Government-Can-Unlock-Economic-Benefits-from-Open-Data-Part-I.html). The County’s digital service strategy should not be relegated to one of a long list of efficiency initiatives or internal process improvement efforts. Either open data and digital service is strategic. Or it’s not.

Dozens of metropolitan authorities are building services for citizens, businesses, and visitors that are designed with up-to-date digital systems. The goal of self-service solutions is both provide a better ‘consumer experience’ and to provide services that are faster, better and cheaper than paper-bound and legacy agencies deliver. Learning from this experience and the experience of private enterprises that have improved performance through digital technology, the County should digitize the knowledge platform of all its agencies and departments. Not only will regional government-as-a-service be better, it will be cheaper. The County should engage the region’s high–tech community and have them help identify a scope and a talent to be the County’s Chief Data Officer. The County Executive should direct a blue ribbon panel to identify the $10 millions of saving achievable by 2020 through better use of technology.

To obtain these savings, The County and its Executive should create a data management authority that resembles what the Feds have in their military base closing commission (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/2687). The County and its Executive should agree that the authority’s recommendations will have the force of law unless the County passes, and the County Executive signs, an order reversing them. Run by executives who have led such transformations in the private sector, the authority should make recommendations every six months, for the next five years.

The commission should be able to reinvest at least some of the money it saves to expedite its transformation of County government. It also should allocate some of the savings to training County employees who will provide the new services, as well as a program focused on training new computer engineers. Some savings also should be dedicated to creating digital literacy programs for the public so that users of County services can learn how to access those services. In addition, as the County moves from analog to digital, it has to assure that all have access to the new platform. The framework for the legislation, therefore, should dedicate some part of the savings to bringing all County citizens online.

The administration should also campaign against paper. Paper records are the enemy of performance improvement. Paper leads to huge costs in double entry, translating to digital forms, mistakes in translating, and difficulties in analyzing and responding to the data. This is why the Federal Recovery Act back in 2010 wisely directed the federal government to invest almost $20 billion to encourage health care providers to move to electronic health records.  Today, just a few years later we are seeing substantial savings from workflows and decision-making support systems in health care. The same logic should be applied to all County government activity.

Everyone hates filling out forms. Technology can liberate people and businesses from the tyranny of forms. With a single click, we can provide the information government needs while retaining security and privacy. County agencies can securely share information without requiring duplicate forms from their users. Data exchange platforms now allow people and businesses to store information securely. Using these, a person or a business could give a County agency access to its data. When the County needs it, the business would permit the government to retrieve the data. The person or business could revoke access to their data at any time. This kind of technology also gives the County and other institutions greater flexibility to integrate and edit existing forms and to fulfill new requirements for data.

To provide better public services, the County Executive should create myproblemsolved.cuyahogacounty.us, a personalized government service that enables data to flow easily from government servers into innovative applications.  With appropriate safe guards for privacy, a countywide commitment to open data is critical. Open data is of value to the commitment to a transparent and ethical government.

Open Data is also a platform for innovation. An individual with a problem should be able to state the nature of the problem once and, through a search algorithm, find the skills within the government to address the problem. Where possible, residents in the region should be able to interact with their government anytime, anywhere.

Accelerate bandwidth growth

Network bandwidth and network-delivered services are complementary products — neither has much value without the other, and which must come first is an unsolvable chicken-and-egg problem. Government always does well, however, to take at least three steps. First, the County should encourage competition in network markets so that individual organizations and provider can seek advantage by being early to deploy new bandwidth. Second, the County should create and deliver public services on the digital knowledge platform so as to create the assurance of volume that encourages investors in the region to upgrade network bandwidth. Third, the County should facilitate aggregate buying of bandwidth and other shared services.

The County government should offer to buy access to next-generation network services for County buildings in any community that is seeking an upgrade to world-class connectivity. In an open procurement process, the county could invite all public institutions to join in a buying cooperative for next-generation network access. This would be analogous to the sensible “dig once” policy that requires a coordinated construction effort to accelerate broadband deployment on public lands. The principle should be “buy once and buy together” for schools, libraries, hospitals and governments at all levels. Cuyahoga County can lead by bringing all of its facilities into alignment.

County agencies also should make higher bandwidth connectivity a criterion in evaluating communities’ applications for certain grants, for funding or for economic development grants. (World-class networks in any event would improve the effectiveness of each grant.) As soon as a critical mass of communities in the region has obtained an upgrade, other communities will have a greater motivation to do so. The goal is to keep bandwidth provision on a Moore’s Law curve of declining cost, thereby assuring that consumers will be getting the knowledge platform’s services faster, better and cheaper.

The Time is Now

Everyone is watching the new County Executive. The first 100 days is more than just a turn of phrase.  Getting tech right from the get go, rather than a 4 year journey is long overdue. The efficacy and impact of the County’s highest priority policy areas are intimately and inextricably linked to having a ‘shovel ready’ digital strategy. The lack of a digital strategy will necessarily mean sub-optimal outcomes on all the things that matter to the citizens, our elected officials and to the County Executive.

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