Connecting state and local government leaders
Combining systems from five San Joaquin County offices onto a single platform is expected to improve customer experience for residents and employees, streamline workflows, improve security and save money.
San Joaquin County, California, is in the design phase of a 15-month plan to shift five departments’ workflows to the cloud.
Under a 15-year, $10 million contract announced May 24, the county will use solutions from Accela and its partners Microsoft Azure, OpenCities and Velosimo to improve customer experience for employees and residents working with community services departments: Community Development, Public Health Services, Public Works and Treasurer-Tax Collector and the Information Systems Division.
“We’re trying to address a number of issues,” said Mark Thomas, the county’s chief information officer. “First and foremost is improving the experience for our local developers and residents in terms of interacting with the county’s permitting, planning, licensing processing -- improving the experience, essentially, for our customers.”
Although residents and business owners currently have an electronic portal-like way to apply for permits and licenses, the back end is splintered.
“There are actually multiple systems that don’t integrate with each other and that are spread across several departments,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of workflow that’s done in email, and so for the staff who are processing those requests, it’s a cumbersome and slow process.”
Workflows that the county is targeting for improvement include business licensing, cannabis regulation, short-term rentals, environmental health, public safety, and community planning, building and management. Accela will provide a single Azure-powered platform to deliver a single user experience, shared data and processes across departments as well as configurations for the county’s unique regulatory and workflow needs.
San Joaquin County will use OpenCities as a “digital front door” to make it easier for residents and businesses to initiate a process, said Dennis Michalis, chief revenue officer at Accela. Velosimo will provide seamless connection on the back end for financial management transactions.
“If there’s a workflow that spans those departments, all the staff in those departments will have access to the ‘case,’ to the request and to its status,” Thomas said. “There are tools within the Accela platform to let them know that a task is available to them. Residents are able to go into their request and see a status,” he said. With a “monolithic” system, staff across departments will be better able to coordinate, he added.
The county also purchased Accela’s Inspector mobile app so employees who do site visits and inspections can use it to take notes and make observations that will update cases in real time.
Going from several systems that don’t interface to one reduces the need to enter the same data multiple times. Previously, for instance, employees at one department might email a form to someone at another, who would then have to manually enter the data from the original form into their department’s system. Now, information can be entered once and follow workflows spanning multiple departments.
In addition to increased employee and resident satisfaction and transparency, the county expects the changes to result in better cybersecurity and cost savings.
“These are cloud-hosted systems, so we’ll be able to retire essentially our internal infrastructure,” Thomas said. “From a security standpoint, operating system and hardware maintenance, it significantly reduces or eliminates the county’s need to support that infrastructure,” Thomas said.
The effort is part of the county’s overall cloud-first strategy. It’s also working to implement a new system for the district attorney and Probation Department. “We are looking for next year to do an upgrade of our jail system as well as our law and justice warrant system,” Thomas added.
To prepare for the migration, the county will rely on Accela’s system implementation program. Currently in what Thomas calls the tailoring phase, it will subsequently move through building and testing before reaching the trained and refinement phases. At that time, the company and county will work together to tweak workflows to remove pain points.
“It’s all part of our organizational change management strategy around this application,” Thomas said.
Accela is no stranger to helping state and local governments migrate to the cloud and automate workflows. For instance, it helped Pima County, Arizona, implement a completely automated solar permitting system, Michalis said. Residents apply online for a permit, technology assembles the parameters and next steps, and then inspectors do virtual reviews after installation via videoconference.
The company is also helping states and localities with cannabis licensing and product tracking as well as occupational licensing.
Going digital is critical for governments today, Michalis said. “They have to have digital flow. It’s the only way they can advance the county in a strategic sense,” he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.