Open Municipal Data, Part 2 – Going Mobile

Over the last several years, many businesses re-invented themselves to deliver the “Amazon experience”: a mobile phone app that enables transactions any time and from anywhere. Could a government benefit by doing the same?

That question was asked and answered years ago by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS was spending a fortune answering taxpayers’ phone calls[1] and had to save money. The goal was to let taxpayers get information without taking up employees’ time, and the vehicle was a mobile app called IRS2Go.

When IRS2Go launched in 2011, a lot of people downloaded and loved the app. Oddly, some who loved the app never actually used it. They simply appreciated the IRS’ offering free technology to make their lives easier. The IRS instituted a cost-control measure and wound up with both savings and a tremendous public relations coup.

Include All Your Residents

A municipal mobile app enables something fundamentally more important than cost savings and good PR. While it’s understood that mobile apps appeal to a generation who are most comfortable with those devices, it’s less apparent that other demographic groups are also better served. Some seniors never found reasons to purchase or use personal computers. Some households are budget-limited. However, almost everyone today has and can use a smartphone.

Figure 3 Not everyone uses a computer, but almost everyone has a cell phone

An IBM research project on the use of mobile apps in government[2] pointed out that citizens who don’t own computers feel underrepresented when a government offers online interaction. Offering your residents a connection via the ever-present smartphone gives access to a broader demographic cross-section of your constituents.

While online portals can be accessed from smartphones, a better solution is a mobile app specifically designed for the smaller screen. Citizens can report hazards, file and check OPRA requests (or avoid them by getting the information without filing an OPRA request) and check statuses from anywhere, and they can do it without requiring time from a municipal employee. A well-designed app can further streamline processes by taking advantage of built-in device features like cameras and mapping technology.

               Figure 4 – SDL Citizen Mobile App

In Summary

Using technology to connect citizens and governments is often assumed to be an expensive proposition with limited payback beyond the obvious morale or public relations boost.

Some municipal leaders don’t know they already own the technology needed to offer access, or assume that deployment requires custom software and lengthy integration projects. If you’re a municipal manager or administrator, an answer to mitigating public-access concerns, resource cost management and citizen outreach might just be waiting for you to give it the OK.

[1] NextGov.com, It Costs Taxpayers $41 Per Phone Call to IRS (http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/2018/02/it-costs-taxpayers-41-phone-call-irs/145870/, 2018)

[2] Sukumar Ganapati, Using Mobile Apps in Government (Washington, DC, IBM Center for The Business of Government, 2015)

Open Municipal Data, Part 1 – Ease OPRA, Optimize Budgets

Letting citizens access municipal data sounds like a bad idea, but many of New Jersey’s municipalities have done it and realized a tremendous payoff for everyone involved: municipalities realize cost savings and increased revenue. Residents appreciate the convenience as well as other advantages. Most importantly, what sounds like a long-term project is often much more straightforward than you and your IT team think it is.

Managing Public Record requests

Last June’s NJMMA conference reminded us that OPRA is more of a concern than ever. The bulk of OPRA requestors (real estate agents, homeowners and contractors) would prefer instant, 24/7 online access from the comforts of home. When they gather public information themselves through a portal, staff can concentrate on less mundane work and avoid the “7-day liability clock” associated with OPRA.

One SDL Portal deployment resulted in:

  • A decrease (of more than 40%) in the number of weekly OPRA requests
  • A 30 – 40% decrease in foot traffic at municipal hall
  • A similar decrease in phone calls, many of which were permit status inquiries

For Residents with Privacy Concerns

Residents may applaud the portal’s convenience but balk when they realize property data is public. Many don’t know much about OPRA or public information. Once they do, they’ll appreciate the fact that portal information can be redacted.

Example: when real estate agents need to analyze property prices in a neighborhood, they don’t care about homeowners’ names. But if they file OPRA requests to get the numbers they also get the names. If your town opens a portal and decides to redact them, those names are less public than if your portal hadn’t been launched.

Figure 1 – To allay residents’ fears, portal information can be redacted

Advantages beyond OPRA

Municipalities who activated portals to ease OPRA burdens found other advantages by switching on other functions. Pet licenses can be processed and paid entirely online; citizens can apply for permits, schedule inspections, register concerns and more, all at their own convenience and minimizing the hours of staff time they occupy.

While online PDF forms are a step in the right direction, portal-hosted forms:

  • prevent mandatory fields from being skipped, saving several back-and-forth cycles before forms can be processed
  • enforce data types (i.e. you can’t enter “1/12/2019” in the “Last Name” field)
  • tie directly to workflow… pothole reports and permit applications can go to the right departments without someone having to read, process and forward them.
  • Let the user choose how to be notified (text, email, in-app notification) when a status changes

Figure 2 is an example; Morristown, NJ’s citizens can report issues and help themselves whether Town Hall is open or closed, without occupying staff-hours, and without waiting for someone to read and respond to a PDF form.

Figure 2 – SDL Portal (shared by permission of Morristown, NJ)

For Your Information Technology Team

Your IT team might assume the worst when this discussion comes up. In this case, “the worst” includes standing up a new web server, integrating and synchronizing separate data sets, etc. Fortunately, none of that is the case.

As an example, the various SDL system components (including the Portal) are already tied to a single data set. Changes are reflected throughout the system, with no external synchronization needed. Everything is built into the system and tied to the same data. In fact, if your town has upgraded its website to SDL Sites, all the Portal functionality is pre-integrated and even easier to launch.

Cost vs. Benefits

For SDL clients, the incremental cost of portal deployment is about zero (SDL Portal is included with an Enterprise license). But there are other fiscal impacts: when a revenue-generating process is easy, people are more likely to comply.

This became clear in March, 2018 when New Jersey eliminated some maintenance and minor work permit requirements. Follow-up interviews showed that citizens and contractors had never objected to the costs of the fees. They resented the hassle involved in paying them. The result was the elimination of a process that generated significant revenue for many communities. Even when the resolution is less drastic, some residents often see a difficult payment process as justification for non-compliance and therefore non-payment.

Summary

Portal deployments can drive positive impacts on municipal income, on your residents’ perception of government, and on your staff’s ability to keep up. It can be a scary-sounding proposition, but a little investigation often shows that there are both greater benefits and fewer disadvantages than you might have thought.

Part 2 of this post (Open Municipal Data: Part 2 – Going Mobile) explores how you can let your residents interface with government the same way they interface with everyone else… namely, with a mobile phone app.

2019 New Jersey Planning Conference

SOMERSET, NJ – January 21, 2019 – Spatial Data Logic will be in New Brunswick this week, exhibiting at the 2019 New Jersey Planning Conference. Be sure to stop by to see us if you’re planning on attending, and learn what’s new with SDL!

The conference is being co-hosted by the American Planning Association – New Jersey Chapter and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and will be held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick on Thursday, January 24 and Friday, January 25. The full agenda for the New Jersey Planning Conference can be found here.

If you have not yet registered, you can still do so here. For more information regarding the conference, visit the New Jersey Planning Conference website.

River Edge Upgrades to SDL Enterprise License

SOMERSET, NJ – January 11, 2019 – The Borough of River Edge, of Bergen County, has recently decided to upgrade to the SDL Enterprise License. With the Enterprise License, River Edge will have access to SDL Mobile, SDL Portal and SDL Citizen, in addition to their current use of the SDL Desktop software.

With SDL Mobile, inspectors have the ability to start, update and complete inspections from in the field, while syncing all data in real-time to the SDL Desktop. The SDL Portal provides borough administrators, employees and citizens instant and easy access to borough data, maps and requests. Borough citizens also have the ability to access data and submit requests from the newly released SDL Citizen app.

River Edge has been using the SDL software since 2014, and will continue the their use within the Building department. We are thrilled to continue working with River Edge and are looking forward to assisting them with this expansion of their software.

Township of West Windsor Selects SDL Enterprise License

SOMERSET, NJ – January 9, 2019 –  The Township of West Windsor, of Mercer County, has recently chosen the SDL Enterprise License for use throughout several departments within their municipal offices.  With the Enterprise License, West Windsor will have the ability to access and utilize all platforms of the SDL Municipal Management Software, including SDL Desktop, SDL Mobile, SDL Portal and the SDL Citizen app.

At this time, West Windsor will be deploying the software throughout their Building department. We are very thrilled to have West Windsor as a new client, and we look forward to working with them in the future and assisting with the launch of their software.

Belleville Selects SDL Enterprise License

SOMERSET, NJ – December 31, 2018 – The Township of Belleville, of Essex County, has recently selected the SDL Enterprise License for use throughout their municipality.  With the Enterprise License, Belleville will have access to all features of the SDL Municipal Management Software, including SDL Desktop, SDL Mobile, SDL Portal and the SDL Citizen app.

At this time, Belleville has chosen to launch the SDL software throughout multiple departments within their municipality, including Building, Land Use and Code Enforcement. We are very happy to have Belleville as a client, and we look forward to working with them in the future and assisting with the implementation of their software.

Hillsborough Selects SDL Enterprise License

SOMERSET, NJ – December 28, 2018 – Hillsborough Township, of Somerset County, has just chosen the SDL Enterprise License for municipal management throughout their municipality.  With the Enterprise License, Hillsborough will have access to all platforms of the SDL Municipal Management Software, including SDL Desktop, SDL Portal, SDL Mobile and SDL Citizen.

Currently, Hillsborough has decided to launch the SDL software within a number of departments throughout their municipality, including their Building, Land Use, Engineering and Health offices. We are very thrilled to have Hillsborough as a new client, and we look forward to assisting them with the implementation of their new software.

SDL Mobile Update – Police Module

SDL has just released the latest version of SDL Mobile. With this version, we are introducing the new Police Module, vehicle tracking and fire certificates. The new update also contains hundreds of new features, fixes and improvements.

Police Module

 

We have now released the Police Module for SDL Mobile!

 

With this module, users can search pets, parking permits and road closings all from the the SDL Mobile app.

 

The module also allows users to view all complaints and provides custom town maps and a property search tool.

 

 

Vehicle Tracking

 

Users can now assign vehicles and track their current routes using SDL Mobile’s new Vehicle Tracking feature.

 

Stay up-to-date with the progress of snow plows, garbage trucks and street cleaners from within your Engineering, Water, Sewer or Public Works SDL Mobile module.

 

 

Fire Certificates

 

With this latest Fire Module Update, users have the ability to issue, print and email Fire Certificates right from SDL Mobile. Now, inspectors won’t need to return to the office just to issue a Fire Certificate.

Core Updates

  • Added – Users can now edit Notes/Inspection comments in SDL Mobile *NOTE: This change does not apply to the Construction Module
  • Added – Is Private, Show On Portal and Life Hazard checkbox options are now available when creating Complaints in SDL Mobile
  • Added – New option to filter inspections by a specific date range
  • Added – New option to set all checklist items to “Not Applicable”
  • Added – Checklists will now automatically be copied to re-inspections
  • Added – Reports emailed from SDL Mobile will now automatically be added as attachments in GeoClient
  • Added – New option to filter Complaints by assignee/inspector
  • Fixed – An issue where Complaints created in SDL Mobile were not appearing on the app immediately
  • Fixed – Templates will no longer be lost if the SDL Mobile app crashes or requires an update
  • Fixed – Re-inspections/recurring creation check boxes are now unchecked by default

Module Updates

Construction

  • Fixed – “Related notes and inspections” feature has been redesigned to avoid time-out issues; additional options have also been added to decrease load time

Code Enforcement

  • Added – The option to remove a checklist from an inspection
  • Fixed – Property Registry expiration dates now show on the SDL Mobile property view

Engineering

  • Added – Vehicle Tracking functionality
  • Added – Traffic Permits view
  • Fixed – Reports generated in SDL Mobile now come down to GeoClient as attachments

Fire Prevention

  • Added – The option to add a photo to a violation *NOTE: Photos will still be attached to the associated inspection record in GeoClient
  • Added – The ability to create stand alone inspections
  • Added – Detector Inspection Requests will now update when an associated inspection is completed
  • Updated – Violation status wording on Inspection Report now matches GeoClient (Abated/Unabated)
  • Fixed – Legal NJAC precursor added to the Inspection Report
  • Fixed – Use Group now appears on the Inspection Report

Health Pro

  • Updated – Risk Based Report can now be sent via email
  • Fixed – Inspector and User signatures display correctly on the Risk Based Report
  • Fixed – Risk Based Report violations now appear in order

Land Use

  • Added – The option to filter Zoning Applications by application status

Police

  • New Police Module added!
  • Search Pets
  • Search Parking Permits
  • Search Road Closings

Public Works

  • Fixed – An issue with the Use My Location feature when creating a Service Request

Public Works, Sewer and Water

  • Added – The option to create Service Requests from Complaints
  • Added – Notes field from GeoClient
  • Added – Service Request Report with the option to add user’s signature
  • Added – Vehicle Tracking functionality
  • Added – Traffic Permits view

Township Manager

  • Fixed – Township Manager module now has homepage icons and no longer permanently displays the “Town Server Not Connected” error message

 

   

 

Roselle Park Selects SDL Enterprise License

SOMERSET, NJ – December 26, 2018 – The Borough of Roselle Park, of Union County, has just chosen the SDL Enterprise License for municipal management throughout their borough.  With the Enterprise License, Roselle Park will have access to all of the SDL Municipal Management Software platforms, including SDL Desktop, SDL Portal and the SDL Mobile and SDL Citizen apps.

Currently, Roselle Park has decided to launch the SDL software throughout their Building, Code Enforcement, Clerk and Pet Licensing departments. We are very thrilled to have Roselle Park as a new client, and we look forward to assisting them with the implementation of their software.

Ewing Township Selects SDL Sites

SOMERSET, NJ – December 20, 2018 –  Ewing Township, of Mercer County, has recently selected SDL Sites for the management and design of their municipal website.

This recently released website package provides municipalities with integrated SDL Portal capabilities, and includes hosting, support and unlimited storage and bandwidth with all SDL Enterprise Licenses.

Ewing has been utilizing the SDL Municipal Management Software since 2015, and has implemented it throughout their Building, Code Enforcement, Clerk, Health, Land Use, Fire Prevention, Assessor and Pet Licensing offices. We are thrilled to assist Ewing with the launch of their new website, and look forward to continue working with them in this new capacity.

For more information on SDL Sites, please contact sales@spatialdatalogic.com, or call 800-805-9695.

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