GT: You have said that it's not enough for local governments to become more efficient using technology; they have to become more responsive to taxpayer's needs. Why is responsiveness a critical factor today?
Di Paolo: Well, I think, to a large extent, private industry has, in a very real way, raised the bar in what we're dealing with. It's not enough to be efficient. Government tries to be more efficient with the money. We want to do more with the same dollars, which is not a bad thing. We want to turn a [service] out at a lower cost.
But, in my own personal perspective, people want government to be small, fast, seamless and largely invisible. They don't want to see us. They want things to happen.
Private industry does things 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can do that with 800 numbers; you can do it with Web sites; you can do with other things. You can go into stores 24 hours a day.
We work 8 to 5; that's not responsive. We can be efficient. We can lower our cost per unit. We can be real effective in turning out higher quality, but if we aren't meeting expectations, my perception is that it doesn't really matter.
People understand what's possible, and their expectations are higher than they have ever been in the past, and ... we, as government, are lagging behind in recognizing that and taking action to address it.
GT: How can technology help make government more responsive?
Di Paolo: I gave a technology presentation to our City Council, and it didn't have to do with bits and bytes; [it was] about strategies and so on. One of the things I said to them back in February when I did this was, "If we really believe we live in the Information Age, then the organization that's capable of acquiring, manipulating, distributing, sharing and using information really well is the one that's successful."
If you don't really use information well, you are always bumping into yourself. For example, does code enforcement know that the police visited that address yesterday? That could be an important thing to know. Have you developed the technology base that lets the business operate? And even though cities operate what are fundamentally different businesses, they are still dealing with the same customers -- some in a more integrated fashion.
You can't really meet those responsiveness expectations until you get to that point. Individual units can be more responsive, but the government overall doesn't operate that way.
Here in Fort Worth, we meet fairly regularly with the other departments. I've got two coordinators who do nothing but interface with other departments; that's their only job! They are the customer interface to our department. They have the authority within the department to draw people from different operating divisions together to address things.
We look at the customer departments, and we see them asking for things. We keep telling them, "Don't ask for things; tell us what you want to look like and act like; tell us how you want to do your job. We'll figure out what things will do that, and we'll tell you the choices of things you have. And then we'll tell you the pluses and minuses and costs of those and the different ways of going about what you want to do. And then you make the business decision for which one you want to use. Don't say you need mobile data computers! Tell me what you want to be. Tell me what you want to do. Tell me what you want to accomplish. That [mobile data computer] may be the solution, but that's not the issue."
The things we buy are the very last thing on our list