GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Giving communication a push
Over the past several years, new technology has come onto the market designed to help local governments deliver on-demand services through Internet browsers, personal digital assistants, cell phones and pagers. “Push technologies” — a generic name for software and other tools that allow agencies to electronically distribute information to specific groups of residents — are helping local governments achieve a high level of customer service.
Cities and counties can find push technology in tools for creating Web portals, like those from San Francisco-based Epicentric, and in Web site content management solutions, such as those from Austin, Texas-based Vignette and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Interwoven. The technology requires local governments to gather subscriptions from Web site visitors, categorize Web content and use server plug-ins to distribute the content to subscribers.
Using push technology, residents do not have to search through Web sites or navigate telephone systems to find the information they need. Rather, they register on the government’s Web site to receive e-mail updates, text messages or voice mail about government services and events.
During registration, site visitors can define the communication devices on which they want to receive the information. Staff members who create new content for the sites classify the content according to topics of interest. As that information is posted on the Web site, a complementary application “pushes” that content to the group of registered users.
Local governments have begun using push technology to complement the services on their Web portals. Push technology also can be used with simple Web sites, but more custom code is required to make it work.
New York has begun using push technology on its Web portal, www.nyc.gov, to notify registered users via e-mail of updated Web content. The city also can sort registered users by ZIP code and send information to users in specific areas of the city. For example, the city can e-mail all registered users in a certain ZIP code that the city will be spraying for mosquitoes the next day between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. To keep non-registered users updated, the city maintains a Web page that lists the notices that have been issued.
Refinement of New York’s portal registration process and installation of a portal content management tool will help agencies categorize and standardize their information. The upgrades also will allow the city to use other communication technologies besides e-mail, such as voice mail and text messages.
While general notices and alerts are typical uses of push technology, future developments of the technology could allow governments to send specific reminders to residents. For example, the technology could automatically generate a reminder for a business about an upcoming inspection date or a license that is about to expire; it could remind a taxpayer or a business about tax filings; or, it could provide meeting reminders and minutes for specific board members.
Governments interested in implementing such services should inquire about vendor product capabilities or product suites that can automatically generate messages to specific recipients. Currently, a “magic bullet” software product is not on the market, although some of the portal tool vendors are working with other vendors to provide that solution.
By using push technologies, local governments can distribute valuable information to residents with relatively little effort. Push technology allows cities and counties to provide information to residents in a manner that is convenient to everyone.
The author is principal for Atlanta-based North Highland.