Roseville, Calif.: A Sleepy Railroad Town Grows Up

A three-hour drive northeast of Apple’s headquarters, the once sleepy suburb of Roseville is becoming high tech too as “One City.”

by / May 9, 2012
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Roseville, Calif., is striving to innovate to keep pace with the needs of the city’s booming and sophisticated population. One of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Roseville’s population has increased nearly 500 percent in the past 30 years. Once known as a sleepy railroad hub northeast of the state capital of Sacramento, the city of Roseville is now home to 120,000 people, some of them San Francisco supercommuters and affluent business owners.

Consequently, citizen expectations are high in Roseville. So the city’s philosophy is to put technology at the center of all its business operations to drive local progress.

Ongoing success, said Roseville’s CIO, Hong Sae, can be largely attributed to the city’s desire to keep its spot as a technology leader and to forge strong relationships between IT and the city’s business units — remaining agile in the process. “One of the areas that we’re really embracing is: ‘IT becomes the business itself,’” Hong said.

Roseville’s business team includes the City Council, community, all city staff members and businesses, Hong said. They are all collaborating and working within a team concept to achieve one goal, which is the visionary statement “One City.”

From a technology standpoint, this singular focus will result in the upcoming launch of a virtual city hall, Hong said, as well as the implementation of private cloud and shared cloud services — all to improve citizen services and maintain Roseville’s standing as a technology leader.

A Little Different

Roseville also does a few key things differently, Hong said. Gathering feedback is an integral part of many cities’ operations across the country, but in Roseville, it’s a big emphasis, Hong said. Performance-based data is collected regularly. Internally the city conducts an annual survey of its business units and found the city had reached an 89 percent approval rating; the feedback the city gets is a big driving force for their projects, he said.

Hong said Roseville’s model is completely different from the traditional IT break-and-fix department, in which concentrates on repairing hardware or becoming an IT service provider. “No. The IT departments in Roseville here — it’s completely embedded as a strategic partner for our team,” Hong explained. “We continuously get that feedback that comes back and the department directors, end-users, customers and constituents are telling us that they want technology to be embedded in their day-to-day business.”

Roseville is also moving toward a private cloud infrastructure for its public safety system, which includes a partnership with 10 jurisdictions throughout Sacramento and Placer counties.

Another upcoming project is the development of an online, community-based permits application. The city hopes to eventually partner with other cities in the development of this project, Hong said.

These projects are necessary to fulfill the expectations of the community.

“Roseville is completely unique. It is a city of choice for businesses, investment and lifestyle. We’re one of the only full-service cities,” Hong said. “We’re providing parks, libraries, police, fire, water, and as well as electric, public works, transportation, planning and all administrative services. You don’t see that a lot throughout the Northern California area. And what is also attractive about living in Roseville is that the constituents and the Councils are forward thinking.”

Virtual City Hall

One component of the city’s forward-looking posture is a virtual city hall project, started three years ago and led by E-Government Administrator Lon Peterson.

Roseville’s virtual city hall will consist of a Web redesign, integrated customer relationship management (CRM), a mobile app that connects to the city’s CRM, a citywide portal, an upgraded video archive portal, a utilities rebate portal and a portal-integrated library system. The idea, Peterson said, is to create a personalized experience that people are becoming accustomed to when they go online. They want all of that information at their fingertips, and none of the things they don’t care about. The website redesign portion of that project should near completion in eight months to a year, Peterson said.

Right now, Roseville’s website is powerful, Peterson said, but it’s not always easy to get the needed information from it. So a big focus of the website redesign is improving usability. “If somebody can’t find it, therefore it’s useless,” Peterson said. “So there might be 50 great forms out there to get the city a piece of data, but if the resident can’t quickly find it or naturally integrate it into the natural workflow of our site, then basically it’s as if it doesn’t exist.”

In addition to the structural changes that will integrate the site into the city’s CRM system, another change will be altering the language used, Peterson said. On the new website, users will see a link that says something like “Pay My Bill” rather than “Environmental Utilities.” If someone goes to the city’s website to pay a bill, it may not occur to him or her to click on “Environmental Utilities,” Peterson explained. This effort should help address ingrained assumptions about what citizens really know and how they navigate, and what they can easily find. A big inspiration for this type of change came from a popular book about Web usability called Don’t Make Me Think, Peterson said.

Another guiding philosophy behind many of Roseville’s website changes is that of Apple and its late founder and CEO Steve Jobs, Peterson said. Rather than putting the technology first and building the interface around what was available, Roseville is designing the user experience first and working backward to integrate the technology, he said.

For example, watching an archived City Hall meeting will allow the user to also view the associated meeting agenda and minutes. And if the user sees something in the agenda that looks interesting, everything will be hyperlinked, Peterson said, so the user will be able to hop around to different videos through the associated content, creating a dynamic experience. Much of the information on Roseville’s website has all been around for a long time, but few people will take the time to manually search for things — and that’s why Roseville is upgrading.

Everything is about the user and making the experience as intuitive and simple as possible, Peterson said. “It’s almost like holding a little City Hall in your hand,” he said. “You grab your phone, you log right in, and it’s full digital interaction with the city of Roseville on all of our services, which is 15 departments and 145 divisions.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.