During the pandemic, the city has stood up services fast and cost effectively in-house, with low-code tools, then tweaked them with customer feedback, as opposed to spending millions and years on consulting.
The city of Orlando, Fla.’s Information Technology Department has spent the better part of the last three years on digital transformation. Even before COVID-19 forced many cities to do the same, the city had compiled a list of 300 different service pages accessible through its website that could at least be started online — everything from reserving a park to reporting a pothole to requesting a new trash bin. So when COVID-19 brought in-person services to a halt, it was an opportunity for staff to actually study and improve what they had built, to tweak the customer service experience for citizens as opposed to losing ground and compensating with new projects under the gun.
Explaining the evolution to Government Technology, Orlando Director of Innovation Matt Broffman said something as simple as a comprehensive list of digital services turned out to be invaluable.
“While that might not sound that special in talking to peers across the country, most cities don’t have a list of their services,” he said. “We were able to give that to senior leadership … so they could make quick decisions about what needed to be put on pause, what needed to be transitioned, and what was still operational.”
In order to accommodate users who in some cases had never been to the site before, the city added hundreds of notices and flags, giving specific information about forms, updates, or what buildings were closed or open, and for what purposes.
Broffman said Orlando had built many of the service portals and forms in-house using low-code tools the city had bought, such as the form-building tool OpenForms, saving money while making it easier to adjust or add things as needed.
“A lot of large cities will custom build services. We started our (digital services) project about the same time as another large city did, and they got through five services, because it takes months to do something,” he said. “If you hire a consulting company to do 300 services, it’s going to cost millions of dollars.”
Broffman said having so many digital services already in place allowed the city to focus on two things during the COVID-19 crisis: which services needed to change, and how to maintain customer services when employees shifted to remote work. He summarized the strategy as standing up services quickly, making sure they work, and then tweaking based on feedback from customer satisfaction surveys.
As an example of change, Broffman pointed to inspection services. He said the city had talked about allowing virtual inspections for specific structures such as roofs before, and the pandemic was an opportunity for a test run. Broffman’s office quickly turned around a service they’re testing right now that allows citizens to request a virtual roof inspection and meet with the inspector via video conference.
To gather feedback from both citizens and employees, Orlando turned to Qualtrics surveys.
Broffman said any time a citizen interacts with government staff, they receive a survey, usually by email, after the service is completed — for example, after the pothole has been fixed. The survey first asks about trust in government, then about their specific experience. At scale, the resulting data tells the city which services are building trust.
As an example, Broffman said the city learned that residents doing online park reservations liked the city staff, but the call backs to confirm reservations were taking too long. The city switched to email confirmations, and the ratings improved. The surveys also revealed technical glitches and instances of city emails being diverted to people’s spam folders.
Broffman said Orlando has also been using surveys to measure the other side of the customer experience issue: how digital services are impacting city staff.
“We started to see connections between the employee experience and the customer experience,” he said. “We had one division in particular where the employee experience was being rated fairly poorly, and you could see a direct correlation to the customer satisfaction that residents were reporting … so we were able to fix that problem that was causing the lower score. Seeing the two together has been really important, especially while staff are remote.”