How to Break Down Silos and Leverage Platform Technology

Local governments have historically relied on siloed software systems to store data. This approach produces redundancy and errors. The modern solution lies in platform technology.

by Ben Sebree, CivicPlus / February 15, 2019
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One of the most critical components of any operational entity is its data. For municipalities, data comes in many forms. It is voter registration information, credit card details, website traffic, annual bid submission statistics, and everything in between that is critical to allowing you to serve your citizens. Create in your mind an image of your data. Picture it in whichever form comes organically. If you are like many, your mind immediately conjures individual rolls of walled data, stored securely in identifiable locations. A piece of data can then easily be pulled from its place in storage, used, and put back. It never mingles or mixes with the data around it to protect its integrity.

In this way, your mental image of a typical data storage center is likely akin to a spice rack. Each spice is stored in a labeled bottle and pulled from its designated spot in a repository of data, used, and returned. This approach is the optimal solution for how local governments must store data—in individual silos to protect and preserve it. Right? Maybe the spice rack storage system was ideal in 2010, but now it’s 2019.

The New Rules for Data Management

For decades local governments have been reliant upon siloed software systems that house—often redundant—stores of data. The systems never intermingle, and they never share data. If this seemed like the best way to preserve the integrity of each system’s data, in reality, it produces data redundancy, errors, and duplicative workflows. Local governments no longer have the time, funds, or human resources to continue to operate and maintain siloed systems, nor are the new rules of citizen engagement willing to accommodate such narrow data applications.

Thanks to an ever-expanding universe of interconnected systems and devices (think: The Internet of Things or IoT), today’s citizens expect a streamlined digital experience with every entity in which they interact. Today, citizens can listen to an audiobook through the dashboard of their car in the morning, continue it using a phone app during their lunch break, and finish it that night using an e-reader. Give these advancements, they certainly expect that the same username and password they use to pay their utility bill on their city’s public works web page should also allow them to register for a swimming class on the parks and rec page. And that they only need to log in once.

The Value of Data Integration

Public and private entities can no longer maintain data in siloed systems. The spice rack method no longer accommodates the type of data sharing that saves both administrators and users time and effort and improves digital engagement experiences. Today, entities must instead think of data like students at recess. The students are safely kept in a single classroom, kept secure by their teacher who maintains both order and security. During recess, the students travel to the playground where they interact with any piece of playground equipment that they would like. They rock on teeter-totters and climb ladders, and work together to build sandcastles. When recess is over, they travel back together to their single classroom for safekeeping.

This student playground methodology exemplifies the approach that local government content managers and IT teams must take to storing and utilizing their data. When municipalities invest in a single, secure data repository to store all civic and citizen data and then connect that data hub to essential third-party systems via application program interfaces (API), any mission-critical application can leverage the necessary data. No data redundancy, no data errors, no logging in and out of disparate software systems.

Here are six more reasons why smart cities and counties can no longer rely on disparate data stores.

1. Siloed Systems Bridle Efficiency and Collaboration. A Single Data Hub Streamlines Workflows.

Software applications should automate processes and workflows and allow for the sharing of data across teams, departments, and geographic regions. When essential systems, such as your community event calendar and your parks and recreation management software, do not share data, you risk team miscommunications that could negatively impact citizens.

2. Too Many Disparate Systems Result in Too Many Manual Processes. A Unified Data Platform Enables Efficiencies.

When your critical software applications do not share data, it can cause teams to build more manual processes than they had before the systems were implemented to circumvent system inefficiencies and integration limitations. Imagine if your website’s permit application form could automatically send payment information to your accounting software. Without such integrations, your staff has to create routine workflows to generate system reports, audit them, and send them to your accounting department where staff manipulate the data for input into your accounting system. A platform that enables data sharing allows your teams to eliminate hours of manual data management and processes created to accommodate system integration limitations.

3. Siloed Systems Lead to Service Inefficiencies. A Platform Enables High-Level Service.

In a municipality with dozens of departments and hundreds, or thousands, of staff members, if each team utilizes separate software systems to accomplish their jobs, the collective entity suffers. Siloed systems create enterprise-wide blind spots and small numbers of super-users serving as single points of failure. Imagine if a citizen contacts your public works department to check on the status of a pothole repair request submitted via your civic website, but your employee can only refer to a separate project management system that does not integrate with the citizen request system and does not provide details of the citizen’s request. The citizen will end up frustrated by the inefficiency, and it will take more work for the staff member to track down the original request and find a resolution. To enable the best possible citizen experiences, every department and every staff member who may interface with a citizen needs access to the same data, which means accessing information via multiple software applications.

4. Multiple Systems Mean Multiple Credentials. An Integrated Platform Simplifies User Access.

Multiple systems that do not share data mean repeated data entry, wasted time, and the possibility of error. When your human resources department hires a new city clerk, her information will already exist in your human resource management software. Why then, should your IT team need to add her credentials to your agenda and meeting management software and why should your IT team have to add her credentials to your website’s CMS so that she can separately upload agendas and board meeting videos? How many usernames and passwords should your staff members be expected to maintain?

5. Multiple Systems Weaken Security Measures. A Powerful Platform Safeguards Civic and Citizen Data.

A single platform protected by the latest cloud-based security measures will better safeguard your civic and citizen data from the threat of hackers. When data is duplicated across multiple software systems with varying levels of data protections, your municipality risks exposure to hackers and the possibility of a cyberattack.

6. Multiple Systems are Costly to Maintain—A Single Platform Results in a Lower Long-Term Financial Investment.

Purchasing and maintaining separate software systems for every function your municipality performs results in a much more substantial burden to your budget and your taxpayers’ dollars. With one platform that can serve as the foundation for a wide variety of administrative workflows, you can minimize your maintenance and management costs.

Conclusion

Migrating to a single data platform is no small task, but like any technical advancement, modernizing and future-proofing your critical infrastructure is a necessary time, resource, and capital investment that can save you headaches, stress, and system failures in the future. It’s time to throw away the data storage spice rack and realize the benefits of a fluid, centralized, and accessible data management model that enables the greatest productivity from every municipal department in your administration.

About the Author

Ben Sebree, Director of Platform and Technology

As the Director of Platform and Technology for CivicPlus®, Ben is primarily responsible for identifying opportunities for CivicPlus’ integrated portfolio of unified applications to continue to meet the evolving needs of local governments and their citizens using the latest paradigm-shifting technologies. His expertise and passion for innovation enable CivicPlus to remain at the forefront of the digital transformation revolution.

Ben has over eleven years of experience in the technology space with seven years focusing on enterprise platforms, integrations, IoT technology, AI, and CaaS. Products he's managed have received multiple industry awards, and today, his innovative processes still have numerous patents pending.

In addition to leading CivicPlus’ integrated solution offering, Ben is responsible for working with third-party partners to build industry-leading system integrations to enable CivicPlus’ solutions to further serve as the foundation for all local governments’ software stack needs. Ben holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information systems and Human Resources, and a Master of Business Administration from Kansas State University.

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