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New Tech, Innovation Are Helping Denver Outpace Historic Population Growth

Innovations in technology and process have helped the city and county of Denver provide vital services more efficiently, its CIO says.

New technologies and process innovation are helping Denver provide services more efficiently in an era of unprecedented population and workload growth, the city's new technology leader told attendees at the Colorado Digital Government Summit Oct. 1.

The region has added a net population growth of 1,000 people during each of the past 48 months, city/county CIO David Edinger said — a condition that has exacerbated resident concerns identified in a survey around issues like affordable housing, congestion, traffic and overall cost. Denver had an estimated 2017 population of more than 704,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau and it’s one of 28 major U.S. areas growing by at least 1 percent per year. 

Simultaneously, the local government has increased its workforce, but only by around 19 percent, Edinger told attendees, noting that “if you’d never heard of the word ‘innovation,’ you might conclude things have gotten really bad.” That, he said, is decidedly not the case.

Denver government may have 58 percent more work to do in aggregate than it did in 2011 but thanks to what Edinger termed “government widgets” — including apps and updated processes powered by modern IT — the agency has managed to eliminate backlogs and improve resident experience in some of its most heavily used areas. 

Edinger said he believes innovation is powering the agency’s mastery of timely, effective service.

“If you look at that difference, I think that has to be innovation. Not all technology innovation. Could be process, could be organizational. But a lot of it is technology-based innovation that’s allowing us to get the service levels to their highest points we’ve ever seen even though we’re not adding resources — at least FTE [full-time equivalent] resources — at the rate you would expect ... based on the amount of work that’s being demanded of us,” Edinger said.

So-called “quick permits” in areas like roof repair and water heater replacement were another area ripe for disruption. They comprise roughly half the agency’s annual total of around 85,000 permits, the CIO said, and within a few weeks of deploying an online option, officials saw their usage climb to around 65 percent of all quick permits.

City webpage, PocketGov Denver, he said, is another streamlined resource that helps point residents to information on basic needs like trash and large item pickup schedules, and provide details on high-use resources like election material and the DMV.

In the future, Edinger said Denver may utilize chatbot technology for simple questions and outbound calling, where there’s a need to educate residents on issues that may have arisen. He acknowledged recessions inevitably end periods of economic growth, but told the audience that the city’s historic growth has left an indelible impression on city services that should only increase.

“Whether or not the economy continues to grow, we’re going to see these types of curves, that are the underpinnings of our cost, continue to grow,” Edinger said. “Which is why digital government isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a must-have. We have to continue to outpace these kind of growth curves.”

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.