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Process Automation Finds Efficiencies in Garland, Texas

Ongoing efforts to automate manual processes are underway in the city with the end goal of making government more responsive, efficient and mobile. Citizen programmers and developers are helping this along.

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Credit Shutterstock/Sashkin
In Garland, Texas, efforts to automate the city’s manual processes are underway, jump-starting a digital transformation aimed at boosting communication throughout the city’s government.

According to city CIO Steven Niekamp, “eliminating manual processes by creating automated workflows has not only reduced processing time but has virtually eliminated instances of misplaced documents that were moving from person to person.”

“It has also benefited the residents of Garland by enabling city staff to operate efficiently, thereby reducing costs,” Niekamp added.

To automate the systems, Sean O’Bryant, a senior systems analyst for the city, said he started working with SharePoint — used by departments to manage time-off requests — to simplify some of the city’s traditional processes.

Not long after working with the program, the city’s fire department asked to use it to track equipment purchases.

“The fire department needed to start tracking equipment purchases, so they jumped in and used the software to create an inventory of purchase orders and equipment,” O’Bryant said.

From there, they used the software to create an inventory of drugs on the ambulances, manage training and time-off requests, and automated a large majority of their business operations, O’Bryant added.

City employees are also using the software to create workflows and manage different processes as citizen programmers and developers.

“There are over 300 workflows built by citizen programmers and citizen developers,” O’Bryant said. “The whole idea behind citizen programmers is city employees can use the software to create workflows that meet their needs without having to go through the city’s IT department.”

“These individuals don’t have a background in IT, but they have been taught to create processes and automate them,” he added. “IT doesn’t do anything except provide training and empower users to use this program.”

In terms of creating workflows, it’s as simple as dragging and dropping the information you need, O'Bryant said of the customizable templates.

For example, if the city’s legal department needed to create a workflow to submit requests, a template can be created to do that. If the city’s water department wanted to do the same thing, they could borrow the legal department’s template and customize it to fit their needs, he added.

As for what comes next, he said the city will continue to work with Nintex to expand the platform and make it more mobile. Through these upgrades, city employees will be able to open up workflows, submit budget requests and communicate with different departments from home offices.

“It’s always been in the plans to be more mobile, so that’s what we are working on,” O'Bryant said.

As for Nintex’s perspective, Steve Witt, the company’s public sector director, emphasized the importance of addressing digital transformation efforts thoroughly.

“Garland went all in on this,” Witt said. “They understood what their processes were and how they wanted to address them. Our job was setting them up with the tools they needed to automate these processes themselves.”

As for digital transformation as a whole, Witt said, he was intrigued to see how the Biden administration’s recent boost in federal IT spending would impact the public sector’s digital transformation efforts.

The influx of funds, announced earlier this year, would add $58.4 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund, marking a 2.4 percent increase in federal IT spending.

According to Witt, despite this increase, he predicts that it will take time for government agencies to modernize their technology, which could translate to slowing down digital transformations across the board.

However, there might be opportunities to avoid this lull by jump-starting long-term transformations.

“I think because a lot of organizations were strapped for resources because of the pandemic, the influx of funding from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act caused them to modernize really quickly,” he said. “Now they can take advantage of those funds to solve immediate problems, but if they do it right, it can be a jumping point for longer-term transformation.”

This process is best compared to digital fitness, Witt said.

“Like fitness, it’s not so much about there being a beginning and an end; it’s more about consistency,” he said. “You can take all of your resources and money and do one thing really well, but when that’s done, and nothing else has been changed, you have to go back and work on other things.”

For this reason, he believes the public sector should avoid rushing through digital transformation and take the time to address each change thoroughly.
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.
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