Tips On How City of San Diego Can Use Technology More Effectively

Published in UT San Diego, March 3, 2014

The San Diego region boasts numerous technology entrepreneurs and enormous expertise in software, yet there have been few connections between the city of San Diego government and this community. A few weeks ago, Startup Circle sponsored a program, “IT for Pols,” in an effort to bring these worlds together.

We asked the speakers to answer this question: What are the top three ways that the city of San Diego could be using technology more effectively so that government runs more efficiently and better serves the people and businesses of San Diego?

Here is a condensed version of their responses that we have edited to eliminate redundant suggestions.

Gabriela Dow, Owner, Mora Dow Consulting and partner with Startup Circle/Plug and Play San Diego

1. The city needs to use modern technology to communicate internally and with the public. Tools like Web-based CRM systems, mobile apps, social media and crowdsource platforms would allow city staff to manage all contact and requests with constituents in a centralized manner, as well as disseminate important information to people and businesses based on interest. More efficient internal processes would assure the public that all contact is being tracked and followed up on adequately and allow our leaders to build two-way communication, building the foundation for important long-term efforts and projects.

2. Data analysis (the buzz word is “big data”) needs to become a part of routine business at the city so that our leaders can better understand what is happening in each department as they guide policy and funding decisions. Decisions could be made based on concrete data versus lobbying and guesstimates.

Jed Sundwall, Civic Knowledge

1. Implement IT policies that favor using open-source software for internal systems. The city certainly spends a lot of money on licensing fees for software that can be replaced by open-source solutions. Spend that money on local contractors and consultants who can help the city transition to and manage open-source solutions. Keep that money and those jobs in San Diego!

2. Develop an internal data-training program for city employees.

Ben Katz, technology entrepreneur

1. Fully implement open data so that community organizations, companies, individual citizens and government staff can finally see what is actually happening within our city government.

2. Review and revamp workflow. The current process from a citizens complaint to the issue being addressed is complicated, bureaucratic, inefficient and error prone. A good workflow system would lower overhead and increase quality of serving the public.

3. A true focus on usability. Too many government systems don’t work well for the public. An example is the city tool for reporting potholes. ( Technology should be nearly invisible, not a struggle to use.

Olin Hyde, CEO and founder, Englue

1. Solve: San Diego needs more events to inspire vision and leadership in our government.

2. Learn: Once inspired, we need to build real, robust solutions. This requires government to change from a bureaucratic system to a transparent, accountable system — think regulation. Mandate that city employees solve problems — not perform tasks. This requires the will to learn more skills.

3. Open: Require all government data be open-access in standard data formats. It would be awesome to read the San Diego General Plan.

Matthew Strebe, CEO, Connectic

1. Publish all of the appropriate data that it collects in read-only formats, accessible by all comers. This will increase transparency and eliminate the city’s transactional costs in providing this sort of data.

2. Implement and publish performance metrics that quantify progress toward the promises the city makes to its constituents. This will rapidly realign city services around the public good rather than internal processes.

3. Put every public interface — every transaction a citizen may need to have with the city — on the Web. There should be no reason for citizens to visit a public building unless they’re in handcuffs. While the upfront capital costs will be expensive to implement, this will save citizens millions of hours of wait time and will ultimately lower recurring costs for the city.

Rule No. 341

If the shoe fits, wear it. But fix it first.

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