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Salt Lake City is adapting to new residents and workers by focusing on customer experience, easing hybrid work challenges and rethinking IT staffing.
Salt Lake City Chief Information Officer Aaron Bentley is busy.
Utah’s capital is growing -- and not just in population, although that’s expected to increase, too. Its technology workforce swelled 29% since last year, and these new residents and workers don’t want to conduct business with the government the old way – namely, in person.
“More and more, those transactions are happening through web portals or just online, and that’s been a big change for us,” Bentley said. COVID “accelerated the work we have in the technology world of trying to help modernize government in a way so that I can participate in government from home or maybe I’m on a business trip or vacation somewhere…. So, ‘we’re busy’ is a good way to say it.”
Much of the work involves cloud migration. Currently, all the city’s software projects involve a cloud migration or implementing a cloud project, Bentley said. For instance, it’s halfway through moving its enterprise resource planning system from an on-premise solution with its own database server and several application servers to the cloud. The city is also moving public safety systems to the cloud.
“We could never have enough” full-time employees to manage these systems on our own, he said. “That’s why, across the board, we’re either using [the cloud] or we’re migrating there.”
The city already had plans to move to the cloud and digitize historically paper-based processes, but the pandemic forced faster change. For example, before the health crisis, all contracts were signed with wet signatures, but within a week of the 2020 shutdown, the city moved to e-signatures.
“Those are things we won’t ever go back on,” Bentley said of the changes. “We learned through that process that we could move quickly, but at the same time, do it in a wise manner – not just pull the trigger and hope that you hit the target.”
Now, one of the biggest challenges the city is working through is hybrid work – a practice that almost all 60 of its departments and offices follow. During COVID, the city “just shoved computers out,” Bentley said, so today the city is stabilizing systems, making sure that those employees who work remotely – even part of the time – are as secure as office-based workers.
The goal is “making sure that those that we serve have as good, if not a better experience, with their local governments,” he said.
Salt Lake City’s community engagement team sits within the Information Management Services department that Bentley oversees.
“It’s actually made in an interesting way a good fit” because the city departments coming to us for community engagement help know “we also have the technology, whether it be the website, the social media platforms, [the customer relations management] to support that,” he said. “As an IT director or as a human resources director or finance director, city attorney – whatever the role is – we have to stop being more siloed, and we have to be more centralized and more open, and more transparent as a government entity to help make the community better, instead of us just applying what we think is best.”
With so many initiatives competing for attention – community engagement, cloud migration, remote work support and cybersecurity – Salt Lake City relies on an IT steering committee and direction from the mayor and City Council to prioritize its to-do list.
It’s also rethinking staffing. For example, the city offers apprenticeships to anyone who wants to gain technology skills. The idea is that they can help the city while learning about enterprise technology and then either get hired or find private-sector tech jobs when they’re done.
“That’s something that historically we didn’t embrace … [providing] people with IT skills so that they can get jobs,” Bentley said. “But that’s a great relationship that we’ve leveraged and has really helped us as a city and in my department.”
A self-described anti-consultant – “I wanted us to have all the skill sets to do it in house” – Bentley has come around to the idea that the city doesn’t have the capacity to own everything. As a result, he’s worked to partner with software, security and other tech companies.
He’s also aligning with business stakeholders on shared technology. Traditionally, the city’s business and IT offices have been separate, but today, specialists in those areas work side by side. The result is a department explaining what it wants to do from a business standpoint and the IT department ensuring that the solution is secure and interoperable but not duplicative and that the data is available.
“Salt Lake City is transitioning from what I would say [is] a small city to a big city … and with that, it brings a lot of change in the technology sector,” Bentley said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.