Building A "New Better" - Not A "New Normal" - With Government...

Building A "New Better" - Not A "New Normal" - With Government Digital Services

Ted Ross, Chief Information Officer, City of Los Angeles

Ted Ross, Chief Information Officer, City of Los Angeles

Ted Ross is CIO for the City of Los Angeles and General Manager of the Information Technology Agency (ITA).  c His department of 455 employees delivers enterprise IT services to 48,000 employees across 45 City departments and digital services to over 4 million residents.  Appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015, Ted has over 23 years of private and public sector technology experience, earning various awards along the way, including #1 Digital City, Top 25 Doer & Dreamer, and CIO of the Year according to LA Business Journal.  Ted has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, as well as, a presenter at many global technology conferences. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our world. From Zoom work meetings to virtual family gatherings, we have changed almost every facet of our daily lives to stop the spread. During this challenging time, governments have either dramatically redesigned their government services or shut them down to the detriment of their constituents. The City of Los Angeles has faced the very same challenges. Early in the pandemic, many facilities and public counters had to close. Over 18,000 City staff, not familiar with working from home, were quickly migrated to telework. City Council meetings were moved to virtual meetings and many business processes had to be changed so that basic government functions could operate. And while this virus has had many terrible consequences for governments and their constituencies, the pandemic has also been a catalyst for improving the quality and availability of digital government services. A catalyst that we need to nurture and grow.

COVID-19 Pandemic as a Catalyst for Better Government Services

If we take advantage of what we have learned through the pandemic, if we implement across our governments what was successful in a handful of departments, and if we enact good digital strategy... we will improve government services for decades to come. As described by famed UCLA professor, Richard Rumelt, “Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes.” At the heart of good digital strategy is identifying the few pivotal objectives that, if achieved, would be game changing for your government or business.  The City of Los Angeles believes we have found these and published them in our City of Los Angeles Digital Strategy: COVID-19 Pandemic & Beyond.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic grant us an unprecedented opportunity to create a “new better”, not just a “new normal” for online services for the public. In 2020, the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti formalized this concept under Executive Directive #29 (Contactless & People Centered City Initiative), under which City of Los Angeles departments must “facilitate remote, digital interactions during and after the pandemic -- saving people time, money, and frustration, while improving public health, accessibility, and convenience.”  The City’s Information Technology Agency (ITA) facilitated a comprehensive exercise for all City of Los Angeles departments.  The challenge was simple: review all department services that were paused or reduced by COVID-19 and identify methods to digitize and restore them.  After two months of reviewing 97 different City of Los Angeles services impacted by COVID-19, the citywide team identified 13 key technologies that, if implemented, would dramatically improve how residents and businesses digitally engage L.A. City government.  Those 13 technologies were adopted as a digital playbook and incorporated into a new digital strategy.

Establishing a Digital, Contactless Government of the Future

In our experience, building a digital government requires focus on two key goals:

1 Digitizing Our Government Workforce

2.Digitizing City Department Services for Angelenos

First, the digital IQ of our government workforce (employees and elected officials) has a direct impact on the quality and innovation of services delivered to the public.  Elected offices and City of L.A. employees are charged with planning, implementing, and improving the services that they provide to the public. So, an effective, tech-savvy workforce will directly result in better digital services for the public. At the City of Los Angeles, we have prioritized concrete actions to improve the digital IQ of our government workforce. This includes: upgrading our existing Google Suite (aka Google Workspace) to empower employees with a full suite of digital tools (e.g. Google Drive, Forms, Sites, ability to host webinars, etc) and providing virtual training in these tools, preparing supervisors with “Best Practices for Supervising Teleworkers”, and connecting 6,000 more City employees with smartphones while eliminating their landlines.  Known as the “Mobile Worker Program”, we began the switch to smartphones in 2018, saving money, empowering employees to access information anytime/anywhere, helping the recruitment of younger workers, and improving disaster resilience (as evidenced by thousands of City of Los Angeles has found as pivotal are the following:

Digitizing Paper-Based Processes

1 Digitizing Services Through Modern Websites

2 Next-Level Service with Case Management & CRM Systems

3 Contactless Contracts Through Electronic Signatures

4 Public Engagement via Virtual Meetings, Counters & Hearings.

5 Paying Bills Online with the Online Payment Portal

Maximizing User Experience

6 Easy Access to Apps Using a Unified Digital ID

7 Improving User Experience Using Net Promoter Score

8 Engaging Stakeholders with Effective Social Media

Improving Department Capacity and Efficiency

9 Establishing a Holistic Culture of Digital Thinking

10 Improving Government Services through Google Workspace

11 Transforming Call Centers with Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

12 Building Better Apps with APIs & Micro Services

13 Scaling Up with Cloud Computing

Building a “New Better”, Not a “New Normal”

Through good digital strategy, governments can position themselves to recover into a “new better” and not just a “new normal.” Leveraging our experience in digital transformation over the last five years and the urgency of COVID-19, City of Los Angeles departments are now strategically using the technologies listed above to realize our vision of a digital and connected Los Angeles. 

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