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November 2002: Public Works


Many cities are looking to implement e-Government systems and services to benefit their constituents. Web-enabled systems can greatly improve internal efficiency and provide 24/7 access to residents and anyone doing business with the City.

Lynwood, California, population 70,000, is located about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. According to City Manager Faustin Gonzalez, Lynwood had previously used a database system that used Lotus Notes.

"It was a bit cumbersome and didn't address the growing needs of our community, principal of which was to have an online service request system that would allow anyone to enter a request for service and then that request would automatically be assigned to the right person," Gonzalez said.

The City scheduled a 'technology retreat' last summer where senior city officials reviewed different systems and technologies. RequestPartner™, an online service request system from GovPartner (www.govpartner.com), was eventually selected.

But Lynwood elected to not immediately launch the system with availability to the public through the City's web site. There was no urgency as only 15 percent of the community currently has Internet connections; a figure that Gonzalez said is expected to increase dramatically over the next 12-18 months.

Cities that have adapted a more traditional IT approach tend to buy a product and not test it internally. Lynwood officials wanted to first implement RequestPartner to follow current and revised procedures. Staff from five departments (Administration, Code Enforcement, Environmental Services, Finance, and Public Safety) and the City Manager's office were then trained and brought up to speed by the e-Government consultant on how to use and interpret the various service request forms.

In short, some of the City's processes were 're-engineered' before implementing the technology. Staff was then given access to learn the system and new procedures before opening the system up to the public for self-service.

This methodology is proving popular among cities. As Frank Giebutowski, Microsoft's general manager for state and local government, has explained, "if all you do is build the front end and you don't tie it to the back end and re-engineer the processes behind that, you are just paving cow paths, and the benefits to the citizen and to government are minimized."

Gonzalez added that implementing the system internally before making it available on the City's web site enabled staff to get involved in the process from the beginning. This created a sense of buy-in and consensus from those who were affected by this new way of managing their work.

"Any city considering launching an online service request system should first try it out internally before the public does," he said. "In our case, we had staff members submit requests and go through the same process that the public now does online. In effect, it was like a dress rehearsal - by the time the system was made available, there was no confusion and the questions posed by the public were easily answered and processed."

Today the City fields numerous requests, particularly code enforcement and tree trimming issues.

"We get a lot of requests from citizens wanting copies of resolutions, agendas, city council minutes, specific sections of the municipal code, and more," Gonzalez said.

The system is now providing a number of features and benefits not only for the public, but for city officials too:

  • Personal Accounts: The public can establish personal accounts with their own user-name and password to avoid entering routine contact information when submitting a request. They can also use this personal account to log on to the city website and check for up-to-the-minute updates on action taken to respond to their requests.

  • Automatic Responses: The system automatically sends a personalized email to anyone who enters a request through the website and provides an email address. Staff can also send emails to the public and auto-print detailed response letters for anyone who would like a response but does not have access to an email account.

  • Reports: Routine or custom reports can be created in seconds to assist city officials with planning, budgeting and managing resources and personnel.

  • Web site information management: Non IT-staff can update or edit information on the city's web site, including creation of custom web-forms linked to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.

And the bottom line? Lynwood now has an online service request system that not only fields requests from the web site, but seamlessly manages ands streamlines them, which has helped increase productivity among various departments.

Return to: 2002 Feature Stories