Although the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Conference is more than a week behind us, I got a chance this week to reflect on my notes. In addition to the How to Measure a High Performing Finance Office session that I blogged about last week, I attended another powerful session on transparency. The panelists represented small, medium, and large municipalities which provided an interesting perspective of how resources may vary, but impact on citizens remained top priority.
The City of Sunrise, AZ offers their citizens a “closer look at the city’s books” with a portal called “It’s Your Money“. Dig into this site and you’ll find easy to access information about all expenditures per department. And as media requests for salary information remain one of the top FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) inquiries, it makes sense that Surprise puts the information out there instead of spending administrative hours per individual request.
The City of Jackson, MS is embracing open data and the idea that it can be used to create a sense of community. Check out the JackStats site to learn about downtown development, employment opportunities and financial stability to name a few. It not only provides the data and dollars spent, but it shows the status of the goal and if it was achieved. An “open book” allows citizens to feel more engaged and part of the solution.
The City of Los Angeles, CA is striving to meet aggressive open data goals and even open checkbook objectives. Their payroll department alone oversees the pay of 45,000 employees. And if you want to peruse through this information you just visit the Payroll Explorer website.
Their stats across all facets of the city are fascinating and dive into areas you wouldn’t even think of on your own. Did you know that their data shows that UPS and FedEx are the top two offenders for parking tickets? I know, that’s not surprising, I mean how else are they going to get us our packages on time? However, when they looked at the data even closer they were able to determine that this is equivalent to needing 12 Full Time Employees just to manage the parking tickets for these two companies.
Transparency plays a pivotal role in our lives. The more information we have about our community and surroundings, the better we can advocate for what we need. And cities can respond with data-driven decisions.
To me, the term “Smart City” always felt like a fictitious phrase made up by someone in marketing. I’m probably more cynical than most since I come from the marketing world, but I wondered how you could debate a city was smart or not. And does that mean the other cities are dumb? No, of course not, but as I’ve researched this topic I have noticed that some cities do exemplify the definition of Smart Cities. Yes, there is a Wikipedia page devoted to this. In short, the term refers to the creation of knowledge infrastructure through technology and data.
Last month I attended the Smart Cities & Counties Summit put on by the Public Technology Institute (PTI). They put on a great conference and gathered some outstanding cities and counties to come together for best practice sharing. At that point, I got to really understand why the term “smart” was used. Topics included 311, GIS, fiber optic broadband, transportation, etc… But from the topics were overlying themes of efficiency, collaboration, and an overall goal of wanting to build a better community. So for a city to be “smart” it doesn’t just adopt new technology and say “we are cutting edge”, it uses technology alongside people to look for ways to grow. Here are just a few of the cities that presented on their initiatives at the summit:
- City of Minneapolis is using analytics and data to make better decisions across departments and better coordination of city operations.
- City of Charlotte is building solutions to connect the city and it’s citizens with sites like Open Charlotte and the Code for Charlotte Brigade complete with it’s own hack-a-thon.
- City of Columbus is working with academia and businesses to conduct research on sustainability and economic development.
Workforce development was another element of Smart Cities that found its way into the conversations. After all, what is a city without its employees delivering services and its citizens being part of a workforce to stimulate the economy? Smart cities (or any city for that matter) are seeing a new generation come in with different skill sets while an older generation makes plans for retirement. Workforce development plans proactively look for ways to bridge this gap and transfer knowledge to move forward with succession efforts. Technology can play a role in this by way of educational/training tools, workforce management solutions, and talent acquisition.
So, this brings us back to question, ‘Is having a smart city important?’. Some will argue that it is subjective so therefore the title is up for grabs for any city who deems themselves worthy. I say, the smart city title is important, but only if the ultimate goal is bringing government and it’s citizens together. So far, I like what I see.
Who knew government finance could be so cool? After attending the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Annual Conference this week, I have to say I saw some pretty innovative best practices from a variety of cities and counties. Like the Town of Cary, NC and it’s advanced meter reading, or the City & County of Denver creating efficiencies with Lean principles, and the City of Minneapolis making better decisions with predictive analytics. But there was one initiative that really had that “wow” factor. It was the Montgomery County, MD’s Open Data project. This new site, called dataMontgomery, gives citizens and employees alike visibility into budgets that puts transparency at a whole new level.
dataMontgomery is a tool that makes reading financial data fun and interesting. How can that be you ask? Well, for one, it’s visually appealing. You can choose to look at the data in different views (charts, graphs, etc…). And coming soon, you’ll be able to drill down into each department’s costs, even down to project level spending. Another thing is, its user friendly. The data can be exported or used right on the site. They also have reports already created and ready to be viewed in multiple formats. Public requests for data – no problem!
Meaningful data is unfortunately a rarity in more than just government, but around the world. We keep hearing the term “big data”, but all that data is useless without a tool or resource to help you understand it. An open data tool, such as dataMontgomery, can benefit not just the external customers (citizens, media, etc…), but also internal customers (employees). Think of the knowledge gained by making data-driven decisions. Time, money, and resources that can be reallocated to more fulfilling initiatives. And the satisfaction that they (employees) are serving the community in a purposeful way. What a wonderful world that would be.