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Return to: 2002 Feature Stories
Jan. 21, 2002: Public Works.com
Local governments are rethinking the way they offer services to their constituents and looking to a new breed of systems and public/private partnerships to guide the way.
The City of Mountain View, CA, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, has always been proactive in adapting cutting-edge technology. So it came as no surprise when in the summer of 2001 the City implemented California's first online permitting system that is hosted at a private data center but presented seamlessly on the City's website.
Via the Hosted Services solution from GovPartner, Mountain View's new online permitting system, called PermitPartner, is accessed by the public off of the City website (www.ci.mtnview.ca.us) yet is fully operated, maintained and upgraded at a remote, high-security data center.
This use of advanced software in partnership with the private sector may seem far-fetched for some local governments, but the Mountain View experience actually serves a precursor to a new era of government service delivery. In this new era, services are provided from a local government by way of a commercially supported, state-of-the-art data center that processes Internet-based transactions in the same way an e-Commerce venture would.
The benefits of such public/private partnerships are tremendous.
Mountain View's hosted online permitting system is stable, reliable and protected by the highest levels of security. The transactional capabilities are also guaranteed by GovPartner to be operational even when City Hall might be experiencing technical difficulties (as could be the case through a black-out, given the current energy crisis, or worse due to a terrorist attack).
As September 11th demonstrated, the Internet has become a leading method of information and service delivery in times of emergencies - in which case it is crucial for a City to assure their e-Government services will be available through a state-of-the-art data center with redundant layers of protection, even if the actual City department or City Hall as a whole is experiencing difficulties at its bricks and mortar location.
Mountain View's hosted online permitting system was originally developed in partnership with the neighboring City of Sunnyvale and Microsoft Corporation. Through the system the public can apply for basic permits; schedule inspections; and pay the permit fees with a credit card. Mountain View does not impose an additional processing fee or "service charge" on applicants, and because the system, PermitPartner, is fully integrated with its internal management system, CommunityDevelopmentPartnerä, all information entered online by the public is automatically reflected on the internal system for staff to manage their work.
With all of the changes brought on by the Internet, some aspects of public service have not changed much at all. For example, old-fashioned public outreach is still an important element of assuring any new e-Government system is successful.
If a state-of-the-art system is implemented by a local government, but not used by its "customers," then the project has failed. Thus Mountain View is not only running its online permitting services like a commercial enterprise with the most advanced technology, it is also marketing these services in a professional manner to help assure rapid adoption of the system and success of the overall program.
To publicize its online permitting system, Mountain View has advertised in a local weekly newspaper, on cable TV and sent information to 16 neighborhood associations. A large two-sided banner is prominently posted on Castro Street, the City's main business thoroughfare, and Mountain View officials were on hand to answer questions about the new e-Government system at the City's Art and Wine Festival.
Feedback from commercial contractors who have used the permitting system has been positive. They're able to devote more time to their business and it has reduced administrative tasks for the City's Building and Safety Department, enabling Mountain View to improve overall turnaround times and better manage the plan check tracking process.
The bottom line for this new breed of e-Government is that local governments reduce the cost of operation, while tremendously increasing the quality of the service to the public.
Hosted solutions, in particular, allow local governments to save the maximum amount of time and money by leasing the e-Government services and avoiding up-front costs for the state-of-the-art hardware and related e-Commerce software necessary to operate the advanced systems. This model is also enabling many local governments to enter the e-Government arena that otherwise would not be able to due to the costs and highly advanced technical and support requirements.
Proof that this new way of operation is indeed becoming the way of the future - for any government - was provided in early December, when Mountain View hosted a delegation from East Timor. As the newest country in the world, Timorese officials are working to fully establish their new form of government. To that end they are looking for examples from the most advanced governments in the world.
The fact that this developing nation took time for its delegates to the U.S. to tour a city operating the most advanced e-Government systems demonstrates that all governments are reaching closer to also offering transactions online so as to improve their internal processes and quality of service to the public.
Soon all local governments will be e-Governments, and systems like Mountain View's hosted online permitting system will be as routine as the paper files and forms they are replacing.
About the City of Mountain View
Located in Santa Clara County, California, the City of Mountain View is home to many of the professionals that work in the Silicon Valley. With a population of approximately 75,000, Mountain View is located in the midst of tremendous technology development and is home to 11 percent of Santa Clara County's top firms. In addition, five of California 's fastest growing companies are headquartered in Mountain View. For more information, please visit www.ci.mtnview.ca.us.
GovPartner, an affiliate company of Berryman & Henigar, Inc., is a leading provider of comprehensive and affordable e-Government solutions for cities, counties and special district government agencies. Among GovPartner's offerings are various Web-enabled software applications, including PermitPartner (online permitting), RequestPartner (online service requests) and ReservePartner (online parks and recreation) - all available through a hosted model. GovPartner also provides a powerful workflow management system, CommunityDevelopmentPartner, which interacts with the online transactional systems. Please visit www.govpartner.com for more information, or call 888.256.5777.
Return to: 2002 Feature Stories