For A Remote Workforce, Technology Builds Agency Culture

Locomotives and coal train rounding a track curve in Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

Locomotives and coal train rounding a track curve in Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | In a rural state where agency employees are isolated in far flung locales, a digital transformation meant not just efficiency, but "a cultural revolution."

The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments (WY OSLI) is responsible for managing all state-owned land assets in Wyoming. Those assets go back to when Wyoming originally became a state on July 10, 1890: the federal government granted approximately 4.2 million acres of land to the state. Our office leases lands for commercial and agricultural purposes, not to mention ensures the long-term preservation and enhancement of those lands.

Our mission is important beyond the value of the land itself: the income from the land supports public schools and other state institutions—making it key to ensuring a thriving future for our state.

While the land may ensure the future of the state, its administration has until recently been a reflection of its rural past. Namely, employees worked in silos – often in remote areas, alone.

Our processes reflected this:  the legal documents, land records, and other information were created and used by program managers working in their own departments and with their own systems. Information was primarily paper-based and hardly ever shared. It was difficult for another person in another area to get access to the data, even if it were pertinent to their job.

As the amount of leasing requests and data increased, it became apparent that the old system was untenable. The high-tech part was relying on phone calls for program management—painstaking to schedule and difficult to track.

This was obviously not great for employees; instead of feeling inspiration and engagement, they felt insignificant and overworked. 

This is a common story in states across the nation. Of course, the Wyoming story does not end there; our agency was able to harness digital transformation to spur a cultural one.

Seeking a better way to manage these processes and records, and turn our extensive paper trail into a digital footprint, we developed an integrated application library called the Surface Land Asset Management System (SLAMS). Like a four-wheel drive on a Rocky Mountain backroad, SLAMS has provided WY OSLI staff with the ability to traverse and overcome challenges that once seemed insurmountable and has significantly boosted employee engagement and productivity.

SLAMS allowed our employees to spend less time creating and searching for information and more time working together, being productive, and making better decisions. Along the way, we learned that there are certain core features that are fundamental to reaching this goal.

Reducing Time to Productivity

Any agency developing a digitized document library needs to ensure that everyone has access—anytime, anywhere. This is especially true for organizations that have personnel who routinely work in the field and rely on mobile devices to get their jobs done.

WY OSLI’s employee base includes both office and field managers, many of whom need access to the same land and lease information, sometimes simultaneously. SLAMS lets these employees retrieve the data they need whenever they need it—they no longer have to hunt down or shuffle and share paper-based copies. We also used an open framework so that the system could be used with existing legacy technologies and across different device platforms.

It’s been a revelation for field managers, who used to have to record their information on paper forms and then record that information upon returning to the office. Now, with SLAMS, managers working in mobile coverage areas can simply tap data into their mobile device, access records remotely, and more. And since Wyoming has more mountains than cell towers, we’re also looking at options for implementing an offline mode for the SLAMS system. We’re doing everything we can to make field managers’ jobs more efficient and effective—and create happier and more productive employees.

Make Things Easy and Accessible

Like most state agencies, WY OSLI doesn’t have many technical experts on staff. We’re land managers and agricultural experts at heart, and require technology that is user-friendly and easy to navigate.

To achieve this we developed customized, purpose-built applications using user-friendly design templates through customizations in Salesforce. We purposely kept the “look and feel” of the program simple, and minimized the steps required for people to initiate an action. We wanted program or land managers to be able to simply go into the system and retrieve information or make changes with a few clicks.

User adoption and engagement began to skyrocket shortly after we unveiled SLAMS, in large part due to the system’s ease-of-use. Employees found that SLAMS allowed them to do their jobs more easily and effectively.

They began to take ownership of the system, recommending ways to improve upon it, which was encouraged. It’s not unusual for someone to identify a need and come up with a solution or feature to address that need. For example, one of our non-technical colleagues created a way to easily incorporate interactive maps into land inspection records. That was impossible with our old, paper-based system. Now, everyone can quickly access this helpful information with a mere glance.

SLAMS is a living system that was created for—and is being created by—everyone that works at WY OSLI. This makes our employees feel invested in its success.

Emphasize collaboration

Implementing effective means of communications and collaboration can be challenging when everyone’s working in their own silos. Agencies moving toward modern systems should consider including capabilities that make it easier for employees to interact with one another.

Our solution was to include community messaging and digital comment boards within SLAMS. Everyone can sign in, ask questions, tag their colleagues, and have productive conversations. Those conversations can be searchable and easily referenced as necessary, and the information is always readily available.

Since we implemented SLAMS, we’ve seen a marked increase in employee engagement, satisfaction, and collaboration—and a dramatic improvement in the WY OSLI culture. Our colleagues no longer work in solitude. Instead, they’re in the system—sometimes simultaneously—instantly and transparently accessing and sharing information.

The result is a more vibrant and interactive employee base. People are communicating and working together, both digitally and in person, and becoming more productive. As a result, we’ve seen greater numbers of land use applications being processed and increased revenue.

Most importantly, they’re happier because they are empowered. You can see it in their faces, attitude, and overall performance. They’re coming up with ideas to improve the system, and have a new sense of mission and understand how important their work is to the State of Wyoming.

We have not only found great efficiencies in our digital transformation, but a cultural revolution in how our employees find connection, innovate and fulfill our mission for the betterment of our state.

Ben Bump is the assistant director at the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments

NEXT STORY: Using Data to Figure Out Where Transit Should Go

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