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In the last few years, perhaps no buzzword has received as much attention as ‘transparency,’ especially with regard to government agencies. What are these agencies up to? How are they spending taxpayer money? How efficiently are they working? Aaron Bentley, Software Support Manager for the City of Salt Lake, knows this better than most:
“We used to have only two people in the City who knew how to pull data requests on things like municipal finance. And whenever we got an incoming request, they had to stop whatever they were doing and spend a lot of time answering. It became almost a full-time job communicating to the public in this way.”
To get ahead of the deluge of transparency requests and engage with their citizens in a more meaningful way, Salt Lake City began using SunGard Public Sector Analytics. The solution aggregates data from any number of sources that a municipality designates, then processes and visualizes data in ways that are easy to digest and comprehend. The data also becomes available to the public in a new way.
“In the past, the burden was on citizens to request this kind of information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or a more local request. With SunGard Public Sector Analytics, we can now provide an ongoing dialog with our constituents by proactively making data available,” added Bentley.
Salt Lake City primarily uses SunGard Public Sector Analytics for financial reporting, such as general ledger, payroll, and other budgeting. The dashboard function means anyone can easily learn how to generate financial reports with the click of a few buttons. And where Salt Lake City once had just two staff who knew how to generate financial reports, there are now dozens of trained professionals who can quickly call up reports from the financial data for any number of requests in the City.
“City administrators said that our old system was too complex and convoluted, and that the data that came out was too disparate. Now, we have one point of record that anyone can access and see the same, consistent data. Instead of being a black hole where we drop financial data, SunGard Public Sector Analytics has given us better understanding of the financial data at our disposal than we ever thought possible,” said Bentley.
Beyond financial reporting, Salt Lake City is now exploring other uses for the SunGard Public Sector Analytics, including in the fields of public safety and energy efficiency. Under Salt Lake City’s new greenhouse gas emissions plan, staff can collect data on the emissions from the City fleet and energy utilities, find the greatest drivers of pollution, and make adjustments that can save energy.
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For more information on SunGard Public Sector Analytics, click here.
On December 31, 2015, a woman was walking through a parking lot when she noticed two young children alone in a parked car, so she decided to try to text 911 for help. Most people would have just called 911 but the woman, who is deaf, was unable to. She pulled out her phone anyway and sent a text message to the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety hoping someone would respond:
Woman: “Does anyone work on text?”
911: “Alpharetta/Milton 9-1-1. If it is safe to do so please call 9-1-1. If not, what is the address of the emergency?”
Much to her surprise, the woman was able to use text messaging to “talk” with a 911 dispatcher from the Alpharetta Public Safety Department. The Department, a SunGard Public Sector (SunGard) customer, happens to be one of only a few local Atlanta-area 911 centers leveraging NextGen 911. NextGen 911 supports the transmission of text, images, video, and data to a 911 center.
This first-time experience with 911 texting in Alpharetta proved just how successful the service could be for deaf individuals. The 911 dispatcher was able to respond to the woman’s text and continue the conversation in an effort to get all the necessary details before dispatching an officer to the scene. “We’re very grateful [to her],” said George Gordon of the Alpharetta Public Safety Department , via WXIA-TV in Atlanta, GA. The deaf woman initially wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but has two children of her own and didn’t think it was right to leave young children alone in the car. She later said she was just grateful the 911 dispatcher answered her text.
Alpharetta Public Safety Department’s NextGen 911 is supported by and interfaces with SunGard’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software, streamlining communication, improving officer safety, and enhancing emergency communicators’ situation awareness. For more information about SunGard’s CAD offering, please click here.
By Tom Amburgey
Civic engagement tools like open data, GPS devices and social media can help Public Works teams tell their story in an open and transparent way. These tools can help humanize employees, give citizens a peek behind the scenes, and empower residents to become advocates rather than frustrated consumers.
Public Works employees have a tough job. They operate in all types of weather conditions, often working long shifts and odd hours. Public Works employees are also frequently derided by citizens who are frustrated by perceived inefficiencies during a snowstorm, flooding or construction related issue.
Unfortunately, it is very easy for citizens to be frustrated with the local agency when they are sitting in congestion due to road projects. When the workers on the side of the road are nameless strangers, it’s that much easier to race through a construction zone because drivers are in a hurry. It’s also easy to declare that the roads in my town are the worst anywhere. But when agencies start telling their story using social media and start engaging in conversations, they can help the audience understand that there are real people (friends, family and neighbors) filling those roles.
In a snowstorm, we often see a lot of citizens complaining about the weather on social media. What if Public Works took an active role in that conversation by answering questions and offering updates?
There are many occasions where Public Works employees go to great lengths to minimize impact of an incident for their constituents. Many of these initiatives are second nature so workers don’t even think to share these steps with the public. Social media can be used to show off impressive equipment, innovative technology that runs in the background and what really goes into a road closure. Giving the audience a look behind the scenes helps develop a relationship. A look behind the scenes also provides a subtle reminder of all the preparation that goes into projects, events and emergencies.
Public Works teams can also benefit by letting taxpayers weigh in on a project. How about offering an “Ask a Snowplow Driver” for their questions or invite them to come to a public meeting? Give them the tools they need such as real time traffic feeds from Twitter, text alerts or web based camera views from congested intersections. Some agencies are now offering “track a plow” technology (using GPS/AVL) – how cool is that?
Our Public Works employees are true unsung government heroes. Their jobs can be physically challenging or even dangerous. Social media and other technology can be used to allow citizens to “walk in the boots” of Public Works. Many people love to have the inside scoop of how something works. The goal is to not only educate, but to empower the audience to serve as advocates the next time a conversation strikes up in the community.
Local governments, public safety and justice agencies, non-profit organizations, and the citizens they serve can envision the future happening today with SunGard Public Sector.