The prevailing vision of tomorrow's local government predicts widespread electronic access to information and services. Online town meetings and debates, video conferencing, telemedicine, telework and e-mail are expected to improve government service and responsiveness.
Yet, today, many local governments struggle to cope with technological change and may lack necessary tools and training. Greater efficiency and success depend on how well information is used. Thus, there is an increasing demand to analyze the data in mainframes, desktop computers, mobile computers and paper files.
Getting to the data and extracting meaningful information from it has been always a problem for local agencies. Whether it is processing health-care claims, identifying crime suspects or implementing welfare reform, agencies now require greater access to data and an increased ability to evaluate and work with it. Many software products and technologies are making this process easier.
Geographic Information Systems
A lot of government data points to a location -- a traffic light, a fire scene, flood damage, high-crime areas, etc. Computerized data can be mapped with a geographic information system (GIS) to simplify access and interpretation of complex data.
Perhaps this is most evident in an emergency. In January, a devastating ice storm caused widespread damage across New York and New England. Local, state and federal officials used GIS to collect data, allocate resources and provide vital information to emergency crews. GIS helped identify the areas hardest hit, helped in mission planning, provided road information and assisted the various jurisdictions in coordinating their efforts.
For additional information, contact MapInfo at 800/327-8627 or online at . Additional GIS information can be found at: , ,, , , and.
Today's project management software not only runs task-scheduling applications, it also gives the user a graphical view of the relationships between tasks. Many programs -- Microsoft Office, Claris Works Office, Lotus SmartSuite, etc. -- include scheduling and other project-management functions.
Eagle Software's Predesign, Planning & Management series provides solutions for planning and managing projects. It features AutoCAD, AutoCAD map, ADE, ArcCAD, ArcView and Rasterex. It includes management programs for water systems, parcel records, land-use planning, storm sewers, street maintenance, building/leasing, natural gas pipelines, telephone systems and electrical distribution.
For additional information, contact Eagle Point Software at 800/678-6565. Project management information may be found online at: ,, , , ,, , and .
Many accounting and financial tools that have worked well for business can be useful to local government as well. USL Municipality Financials offers specialized options to meet the accounting needs of state and local government agencies. The following modules are available:
* FUND SQL accounting suite: a general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, purchase orders, purchase requisitions and administrator's control system;
*Integrated Business solutions: job cost, inventory control and check reconciliation; and
* Integrated partner solutions: advanced financial reporting, human resources and payroll, fixed assets, and budgeting and allocations.
For additional information, contact USL Financials at 800/800-0768. Financial management system information may be found online at: , , , and .
Economic, social and political trends are threatening tax revenues of many local governments. Agencies increasingly focus resources to streamline the entire tax process.
Toledo, Ohio, uses MITIS, a tax administration system for return processing, taxpayer registration, taxpayer accounting and case management of profit, and income and withholding taxes. The program integrates taxpayer registration, collections, remittance processing, audits and other systems so they can
all be accessed through one application.
For additional information, contact Maurice Shepherd of Unisys at 215/986-2206 or online at .
Local agencies that try to cut costs and improve productivity but keep working with paper have a difficult task. Some are turning to imaging technology to reduce or eliminate paper-based systems. Imaging software converts typed or handwritten text or numbers into computer-readable data.
Imaging systems can cut valuable staff time spent on filing and retrieval duties, while reducing errors related topaperhandlingand keyboarding.
The Uvalde County, Texas, Clerk's Office usesanoptical imaging system to integraterecord management, balance the office's cash transactions,provide an audit capability and enhance public access. The newsystemmanagesproperty records, statistical records, Commissioner's Court records and records from the County Court.
"Documents that come through the deed office or official public records can go out a lot quicker," said County Clerk Lucille Hutcherson. "Before, we were microfilming twice a week and then we had to send our film off to a company, and then they sent it back to us in hard copy, so we were holding a document approximately two weeks or longer. Now we can scan in the same day a document comes in and we can get rid of the document next day."
The system features a Dell File Server with magnetic storage for index and image information. The Microsoft-based application software provided by Hart runs with an Oracle database and Eastman Software imaging products.
For additional information, contact Hart InformationServices at800/223-HART. Imaginginformation may be foundonline at: , , , , and .
The Internet has been transforming local government service delivery for some time. Many local agencies are delivering meaningful services in addition to static information online.
Convenience and access are frequently cited as prime attractions of Web-based services. Many cities are also using Web sites to attract tourists and developers with online travel and business-development information. Cities have also started putting information on the World Wide Web to sell themselves to companies considering relocation.
Seamless Internet Posting
LaserFiche WebLink is an Internet publishing tool that makes public records readily available. LaserFiche WebLink can post documents to the Web instantly and automatically, and does not require HTML coding, file conversion, plug-ins or proprietary client software.
According to the company, LaserFiche WebLink completes all necessary webmaster tasks in the process of posting documents to the Internet.
Initial customers for the LaserFiche WebLink are the Benton County, Ore., Sheriff's Department; the Porterville, Calif., School District; and the Mississippi State Supreme Court.
For additional information, contact LaserFiche at 310/793-8691, or online at .
As use of the Internet increases, security becomes more important. It would be prudent for government system managers to consider using firewalls and encryption to protect data.
Firewalls restrict data transfer and traffic in a network, reducing the chance of attacks and vandalism from hackers.
AltaVista Firewall 98, developed by Digital/Compaq., provides Internet security software for Windows NT and UNIX platforms. It protects networks and deploys countermeasures as attacks become more forceful. In combination with AltaVista Tunnel, users can extend their intranet across the Internet to create a virtual private network.
For additional information, contact Chuck Malkiel of Digital/Compaq. at 508/467-1996 or online at .
Another mode of securing data is encryption -- encoding data to insure security using numerical keys and mathematical algorithms. Two of the most famous encryption schemes are RSA Data Security and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). Many of the popular applications and Web browsers currently provide encryption.
For additional information, contact Microsoft at or Netscape at .
Public-sector Web pages are evolving from electronic brochures and static information into more interactive forms, through which people can provide input or even complete transactions. California Gov. Pete Wilson, for example, signed a bill last year that requires state agencies with Web sites to provide e-mail for people to voice their concerns directly to the agencies.
Local government Web pages can likewise help increase participation in civic affairs. The Johnson County, Kan., Election Office Web site encouraged voter interest and participation by posting voter registration information, sample ballots, poll locations, candidate biographies and pending legislation. The site also provides its users with contact information for local government officials -- telephone, fax, e-mail, etc.
Access to computer and online services is still limited to a relatively small segment of the population, although that is changing. According to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, nearly 41 percent of white families own a computer, compared with 19.4 percent of Hispanic households and 19.3 percent of black households.
Some cities have provided other avenues for residents to communicate with their representatives. Decision.Room, developed by Local.Affairs, provides a live community forum that can facilitate local decision-making via the Web. People can easily access current information, review what others are saying and participate in the process of making decisions.
For additional information, contact Local.Affairs Inc. at 415/381-1750 or online at .
Protecting environmental quality and natural resources in local jurisdictions is not easy. Dakota Auditor 4.2 simplifies the process of conducting audits, submitting reports and managing regulatory compliance. The program can analyze the results of environmental compliance reports and compiles a list of findings to be incorporated into any needed correction and follow-up.
Modules include air quality, solid and hazardous waste, spill prevention and control, storage tanks, toxic substances control, water quality, community right-to-know/chemical risk, hazardous materials transportation, chemical and physical exposures, equipment safeguards, water safety and health and medical services.
The program interfaces with Word- Perfect, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Word for Windows, WordStar, dBase III, Alpha 4 and Lotus 1-2-3.
For additional information, contact Dakota Software Corp. at 800/926-6759. Environmental program information may be found online at and .
Law enforcement and criminal justice often begin at the local level, but are increasingly linking local, state and federal agencies in cooperative sharing of information. Electronic record-keeping allows rapid sharing and coordination and makes paper-based systems much more difficult to integrate. Consequently, there is an increasing variety of automated systems for local law enforcement and justice agencies.
The Computerized Arrest & Booking System (CABS) is an effective tool for offender processing and database matching. It provides:
* Single data entry of booking information, photos and fingerprints;
* Relational database design built on Oracle and Microsoft Access;
* Faster booking of repeat offenders;
* Rapid access to digital images, including mug shots, scars, marks, tattoos and other distinguishing features;
* Electronic lineups, photos and court forms; and
* Secure communication over an ISDN Internet-based virtual private network.
For additional information, contact Imagis-Cascade at 604/853-4564 or online at . Criminal-justice program information may be found online at , , and
Electronic Monitoring of Offenders
The shortage of bed space in jails and the high costs of housing suspects or convicts are important issues for local government agencies. Massachusetts is running a community-based release program to monitor nonviolent offenders. To help enforce court-ordered relief for jail overcrowding, electronic monitoring equipment called Watch Patrol RFD has been installed in
the homes of offenders. The system can pick up signals from wrist-worn radio transmitters. Correction officers can program Watch Patrol and monitor a participant's movement in the home.
The monitoring system makes house-arrest programs viable, helping to reduce crowding in jails and giving lesser offenders an option other than being thrown in with hardened criminals.
For additional information, contact Jim Visuri of Prairie Oak Communications at 708/366-9999.
Cheaper communications links, better software and more versatile hardware have helped make telecommuting viable, but successful telecommuting requires an understanding of the issues of security, protocols and hidden costs.
Employers have discovered that telecommuting can reduce operating costs and the need for office space and parking while increasing productivity. Not everyone can telecommute, though. A position must require substantial individual initiative and minimal face-to-face interaction to shift to telecommuting.
A file-transfer program called pcAnywhere, developed by Symantec, provides users dial-up access to their office and transfers files effectively. Other solutions include Microsoft's Remote Access Service and Novell's Connect.
Additional information is available onlineat, ,and .
The new millennium could bring an explosion of data corruption. One year from now, 2000 will bring data disasters to the unprepared. IT organizations must immediately analyze their application portfolios, assess the extent of the problem and begin planning and implementing corrective measures.
Public Technology Inc. has released a video, "Y2K & YOU," to help government officials deal with the problem on the local level.
For additional information, contact Public Technology Inc. at 800/PTI-8976.
This roundup of local government software represents only a fraction of the products and services available to automate local government agencies.
October Table of Contents