Push Governments Into This Century

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The Nassau County website is not as user friendly as other government websites.

I can get on a laptop or any handheld device and order anything from hundreds of menus to be picked up or delivered to my home. The idea that Joe’s Sandwich Shop can somehow pull this off but your village or town or city or county, with scores or hundreds or thousands of employees and backed by the full power of the state, can’t do it is becoming so absurd that it’s boring.

If I can pick my movie theater seat and have food waiting for me when I got there without breaking stride, without negotiating or begging, without worrying if the office has already closed, without waits and delays, without excuses, then every taxing unit in New York can figure this out.

Blind people can read this column digitally, but we have local governments who can’t grasp the concept of disabled-friendly websites. The time for tolerance is ending. Local governments must adapt to the 21st century or die. Soon, taxpayers will be looking harder than ever at what services stay and which go, and they’ll quickly figure out which ones don’t deserve space in the lifeboat.

Residents are sensitive to seeing the county executive’s name on every flyer, sign, truck and public facility, viewing the practice as self-promotion on the taxpayer dime.

The home page of the Nassau County website features the word “Mangano” 15 times, plus pictures of said Mangano. Look at the mess in the menu system. It’s all just another promotion gimmick, only on the computer thing. Check out the home page of King County, WA (www.kingcounty.gov). This is a tool to make taxpayers’ daily lives a bit easier. It changes and improves constantly.

 

Taxpayers expect more services. Many are burning to help.

The Open Source and Open Data movements among local governments pick up steam all the time, often drawing on citizens to create new cost-cutting applications. Nobody has to start from scratch.

The hottest phrase in government technology right now is “IoT” (“Internet of Things”), a phrase long-time readers will recognize from many columns about privacy and citizen tracking. I lost. Everything will be digitized and tracked. In local government, this can be a very good thing, like San Francisco’s SFPark.org, which tracks open parking spaces.

The Nassau County Clerk is now promoting with mailings and meetings its online database of deeds, mortgage satisfactions and other land records. Broward County, Florida’s online services providing these documents and virtually every other public document were discussed in this column of Dec. 14, 2005. And the Nassau site has major usability issues. We aren’t moving forward fast enough.

Location data. Situational awareness. Layered streams of data to learn new things. This is how government officials will talk.

Many government units, with budgets hemmed in by flat tax caps and assessed valuations, will share personnel and services. Then they’ll start shedding physical structures.

The cost of maintaining nests of computer servers in big, air-conditioned rooms and the inability of even top-notch local managers to keep up with the newest security requirements and design techniques will also be forces driving local governments “into the cloud.” Amazon, Microsoft and Google all have divisions offering comprehensive cloud services and various menus of pre-fab applications to governments at all levels, and I get emails from other major players in this field every week. Thousands of governments around the world are signing on. The Smart Money is talking. Government tech will be a growth field. Or else.

Eventually, clerks will pass the record to incoming clerks on a thumb drive, backed up to cloud servers around the world and available on every handheld device through an app.

It’s time to unleash the power of people in the community to create the smart governments we need.

Michael Miller has worked in state and local government. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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