After Hack and Scandal, Scranton, Pa., Focuses on Cloud ERP

Coming on the heels of a political scandal and a large cyber attack, Scranton’s recent move to modernize its ERP system is key to rebuilding public trust, ensuring security and bringing city operations up to date.

downtown scranton
The city of Scranton, Pa., has partnered with OpenGov for its cloud ERP on the climb out of a period of administrative turbulence and technical challenge.

The former mayor, Bill Courtright, resigned in 2019 and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in October 2020 after pleading guilty to charges of bribery, extortion and conspiracy. Just two months prior to his sentencing, in August 2020, city computers were targeted by a cyber attack, underscoring the need to increase transparency around city operations and planned improvements.

This put the new mayor, Paige Cognetti, in the unique situation of having to rebuild public trust while at the same time modernizing operating processes. The city’s partnership with OpenGov is a step toward those ends, officials say.

The ERP modernization process started last year, before OpenGov was chosen as a partner, according to city Business Administrator Carl Deeley. The partnership was announced on May 11, 2021. By October, there will be a testing period to ensure smooth operations of software, workflows and system design.

Deeley cited pandemic-related economic issues and reputational issues related to the Courtright scandal as driving forces for change. However, he did acknowledge the inability of the former platform to support the city’s evolving needs as the primary impetus, stating that the modernization may not have immediately taken place had it not been for the “burning platform.”

City operations had not changed very much since approximately the 1980s, according to Deeley. The challenges of the past year — including the shift to remote work — created a positive opportunity to address these needs.

“How do you determine what a city needs?” Deeley asked. “Well, you need to listen to it. Technology allows you to do that.”

The new system will reduce the city’s reliance on paperwork and increase visibility. According to OpenGov’s senior vice president of sales, Mike Mattson, the software platform democratizes data across staff, stakeholders, council members and the public by unifying it into one system. He stated that the platform makes it easier to work with government, from permitting and licensing to communicating budget and data information with community members.

“You want transparency in any business, but in particular within (the) public sector,” he explained. “You’re using taxpayers’ money, at the end of the day. It should be transparent.”

INCREASED SECURITY


Deeley said Scranton learned a lot following the ransomware attack last summer, in which nonemergency response systems were targeted.

He said the city was in a high-risk group in terms of security, like many local governments that do not have a tiered security structure to their data systems. The move to the cloud is a big part of ensuring security moving forward.

Governments are under a microscope, according to Mattson, given the historic nature of technology and vulnerabilities with on-premise software. However, he cited OpenGov’s strategic partnerships with cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services as a way of ensuring secure digital infrastructure.

OPTIMIZING OPERATIONS


The new platform will be what Deeley described as a “cultural shift” for the city and its residents. Constituents will be able to access a lot of services, like acquiring a permit, through the online portals the city is building.

The city had teams working to map more than 75 internal processes to design the way information would be put into the new platform. The city employees were closely involved in the redesign process, Deeley said, so that they could have a say in what their responsibilities would look like following the shift.

Deeley hopes Scranton’s experience with modernization can offer a playbook for other mid-sized cities looking to adopt more advanced operating systems.

He emphasized the importance of municipalities investing in data and technologies to get more accurate and recent insight into trends. Deeley detailed that there is a “massive disconnect” between how cities operate and what people want from their cities, adding that investing in technology can help governments overcome that divide.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
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