Technology as the key to successful re-engineering
While technology is providing more resources for municipalities to streamline services and reduce workloads, it also can lead to frustration because of its ever-changing nature. Often, municipalities are not sure which technology is useful and which is overkill.
Cities and counties are now learning – some the hard way @ how to use current technology within their limited budgets, so they can remain competitive with private industry. This new emphasis on competition provides the impetus for local governments, efforts to “re-engineer” themselves from static political entities into service and customer-oriented creatures.
Technology alone is not the “silver bullet” that can make these re-engineering efforts succeed. Nationwide studies show that 50 percent to 70 percent of all business process re-engineering efforts fail to meet their goals despite new technologies that should have made the processes a snap.
In each of these cases, it did not matter how fast the machines were, how superior the software or how many high-speed telecommunication lines were available to link every person in the office. What mattered was how the machines affected – and were affected by – the people who used them.
Still, technology, properly employed, can simplify the re-engineering process and create a more user friendly and effective government agency.
For example, some agencies like the Columbia, S.C., police, are using business process re-engineering to put themselves in touch with the community they serve. The county of San Diego, Calif., used a similar approach to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in welfare funds previously distributed to ineligible recipients, leaving more for those in need. And Toledo, Ohio, completely restructured its tax system to better serve its tax-paying customers.
How did these entities succeed? The following five steps provide the blueprint.
START WITH THE CUSTOMER
The strategy and direction of the organization must be determined. Lack of a clear business direction is the number one reason for failure.
Building better business, particularly in fiscally strapped governments, demands a keen sense of direction.
While it is not easy, successfully accomplishing this mission can dramatically change the way services are delivered to citizens and prepare people for a future that promises to become more burdensome.
The federal government has initiated a number of programs designed to shift additional responsibility to state and local governments over the coming years, and more are coming. The impact of this is expected to be felt by all city and county organizations.
Business process re-engineering can build the infrastructure to survive and excel in this changing environment, but only if cities and counties know their overall direction. Already, agencies including city police departments, county tax authorities and welfare offices created more efficient operation, effectively meet the growing demands of constituents.
The number one rule of business public or private @ is to know the customer. If the customer remains an unknown, money, resources and time are spent doing the wrong thing more efficiently. But, typically, customers for any one government-operated task are extremely varied.
For example, a revenue department’s customers are those who pay taxes – individuals, families, small businesses or corporations – each with different needs and requirements. Health and human services deal with those who are needy, including those single, married, married with children and the elderly. And public safety deals with those who need help.
The outstanding agency in each of these cases will be the one that builds its operations around the unique needs of its customers. Not only will this satisfy customers, it will create the infrastructure to stay competitive with other government agencies and, increasingly with the private sector.
Constituents will not judge the kind of service delivered by comparing it to other local government organizations. Instead, they will judge it against the best customer service experience they have ever had.
In other words, the average constituent calling to inquire about a welfare check or pay a parking ticket is not comparing the agency’s service with that of another government agency. He or she is comparing it to the best service experience he or she has ever had @ public or private.
Many times when trying to decide the best way to balance decreased funds with increasing customer demand, there is no clear choice. As a rule, when there is no clear choice, customer service wins.
In two short years, Columbia’s police officers have built themselves a newer, sharper image in the minds of their 112,000 constituents. During that period, the department went through a business process re-engineering program to re-identify the needs of the public.
The result was an agency-wide initiative for community-oriented policing, moving away from the more traditional incident-oriented approach.
Using an integrated Lifeline Computer-aided Dispatch (CAD) and mobile data computer (MDC) solution instead of the traditional two-way radios, the police department can access information from headquarters and use it in the field with the help of laptop computers.
The agency-wide system incorporates CAD in the dispatch office for faster response and better record-keeping and is linked with the police department’s e-mail system so police and other personnel can communicate more easily. The open network uses message switching and routing tools to allow easy and fast exchange of information with state and national law enforcement databases.
Officers now spend 15,000 fewer hours handling paper each year than they did in the past. That, in turn, free more than 300 police officers to spend more time where they belong – on the streets. And technology makes it possible to reassign some of the records-room personnel to positions that are more visible to the community. “The marriage of police work and technology is a quantum leap that has taken us into the 21st century, Police Chief Charles Austin says. “It has not only helped us become more efficient, it has enabled us to provide better service to the citizens of Columbia.”
The backing of senior management is critical to any re-engineering effort, a challenge for the public sector since management can change frequently. Governing bodies from the mayor to city council often change every couple of years, while re-engineering projects often take several years to implement. Those who have been through successful and unsuccessful efforts recommend that agencies either determine the project’s chances for surviving a change in administration or stick with projects that are of shorter duration.
OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION
Communication between management and the workforce is critical. Workers should be comfortable with the re-engineered work environment, including the new technology, if they are to use it effectively. The key is to over-communicate. Fear of change and job loss are always factors in re-engineering projects, and if employees do not know the plan, they will sometimes go off in their own directions, so it is necessary to communicate early and often during a re-engineering effort. This will not only reinforce the team message but will engender a heightened sense of trust. It is also true that not all the answers are available immediately. Employees should know this.
TECHNOLOGY OF CHOICE
Technology – hardware, software and peripherals – is only as good as the business strategy it supports. Many times, government agencies enter into a re-engineering project with a singular goal, such as eliminating a traditionally manual process. Today the computer industry provides dozens of technology-driven solutions that can easily and affordably accomplish this goal. For instance, if the manual process involves paper, the business goals of cost savings, revenue generation or improved customer service will dictate whether to eliminate that paper at the mailroom or at the constituent’s home.
Technology is available to support either.
Cities and counties cannot afford to buy new technology because it is simply more powerful@ they should buy technology to fit specific business applications.
The information system (IS) organization can provide much needed help and guidance @ but not in the traditional sense. The IS organization used to be necessary because the assembly language programmers and other computer support-related personnel were needed to translate and program the data. With easy-to-use technology, improved computer performance and dramatic price decreases, the role of the IS department is changing. Just a few years ago, a city or county might have paid a million dollars for a minicomputer running at l megahertz, as well as the fat maintenance contract that went with it.
Today, that same city or county can put a 200 megahertz PC on a desk for $5,000. This opens many new windows of opportunity for an organization @ opportunities that the IS organization can support. The IS department should understand what end users currently do on the system, what they will want to do tomorrow and how new technology can reconcile the two. For example, many revenue departments have taxpayer service divisions. If a taxpayer wants to know the status of his or her return, a simple phone call is all it takes. Since around 90 percent of the questions asked are standard, a voice response system can answer the questions in a number of languages. This frees up the customer service representative to deal with more complicated requests.
If it is necessary to speak to a representative, imaging and client/server technology can be used to electronically pull up the tax return and letters that have been written to provide instant answers.
Toledo, for instance, has revolutionized its tax administration with a new image-enabled, client/server, relational database tax system designed to meet the needs of cities and counties. The system is designed to support returns processing, taxpayer registration, taxpayer accounting and case management of two of Toledo’s taxes, net profits tax, an income tax assessed on both businesses and individual earnings, and withholding tax.
The system application provides a broad level of functions, including:
* processing cash received during the day;
* maintaining taxpayer accounts;
* posting various types of source documents and calculating regular penalty and interest, 2210 penalty, liability and credit;
* tracking delinquent taxpayers and court cases filed against taxpayers;
* processing refund requests filed by taxpayers;
* generating notices to be sent to taxpayers and
* maintaining general ledger accounts receivable and accounts payable information.
* The technology eliminates many paperwork steps, decreases the time involved for processing tax procedures and reduces the number of employee job tasks.
Yet, the real issue is not the technology itself, but how it is used. How will it integrate into the existing investment in the information technology infrastructure? How going to allow both the workers and the constituents to, access the system, for the benefit of both, and make it work effectively and efficiently?
CLEAR GOALS AND METRICS
Much like a driver tracks the progress of his cross-count drive on a map, the municipality should know where it is and where it wants to go – from the viewpoint of the customer. For example, most state revenue agencies’goals involve reducing taxpayer burdens and increasing taxpayers, voluntary compliance and internal productivity and quality. In fact, a recentChief Financial Officer” magazine poll reported the results of a survey of Fortune 100 companies about location.
The questions asked included? Which state’s tax environment is fair? Which state wants you on its tax roles? Which state’s audits are the toughest? In which state would you locate or expand?
Having quantifiable goals and metrics to stick to becomes key to understanding whether the re-engineering is a success.
But the goals and metrics have to be the right ones, since what is being measured is going to drive behavior. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue tracks costs based on the per-transaction cost of processing a tax return and how fast refunded checks are issued.
AN ONGOING PROCESS
Business re-engineering, whether corporate or governmental, is about response to change.
The Information Age is replacing the Industrial Age, resulting in a fundamental shift from the workplace as a gathering area to one where more people are working remotely. Information becomes more important. Police work now involves database searches; the revenue department is now in the business to make money.
Still, although the world is changing, the workers and customers would rather not. In today’s environment, change is an on-going process; it is not a one-time event. Change must be embedded in the fiber of the organization and become a part of its ethic.
Every project should be followed up by a program to institutionalize change that will ensure improvement over time. But institutionalizing change in any organization can be an extremely challenging affair.
Consequently, planning, commitment and clarity of vision are essential elements of success.