With unemployment rates hovering around 10%, stocks subject to wild swings and experts unable to agree whether the country is likely to dip into a double recession, cities across the country are being forced to confront deeper and deeper budget cuts.
Located just outside of Los Angeles, CA, the City of Long Beach turned to technology to cut costs—and create innovative ways to improve citizen service delivery. In fact, Long Beach has been so successful at leveraging technology that it has just been named one of the top ten digital cities in the U.S. with a population of 250,000 or more by the Center for Digital Government.
“The City of Long Beach takes great pride in our use of technology to be more efficient and make City Hall more accessible and responsive to the community,” says Mayor Bob Foster.
According to Curtis Tani, Director of Technology Services, the effort to reduce costs without compromising service delivery has been three-pronged:
- Consolidate information and communication technology (ICT) services.
- Increase transparency and collaboration across the enterprise.
- Digitize processes, forms and workflow.
“The Mayor, the City Council and City staff understood the value that technology could bring the city and were open to change at the foundational level to allow Long Beach to become a technology leader,” says Tani. “They understood that the shortfalls in our budget challenged operational efficiencies and gave the Technology Services Department the freedom to lead initiatives to make Long Beach a digital community.”
IT’s Strategy: Consolidate and Standardize
Long Beach has worked hard to consolidate technology functions to create budget efficiencies while still providing enough flexibility for each department to run efficiently. “By bringing our IT staff into one office and centralizing IT oversight, we’ve been able to decrease overall staffing costs as well as the number of overlapping technology investments,” Tani explains.
For example, in 2009, Long Beach chose to replace its existing IBM FileNet system in various departments with a Laserfiche enterprise content management (ECM) system that could be used across the city. “We selected Laserfiche to create more consistency, efficiency and transparency, while saving the city many thousands of dollars in equipment and maintenance fees,” Tani says.
In fact, by implementing a single Laserfiche system, the city cut its annual ECM support costs by 50%. “Our strategy is to implement shared services to capitalize on existing funding and consolidate services,” explains Tani. “Our ECM system is just one example of this.”
Other cost-saving IT consolidation efforts include:
- A new, enterprise-wide Internet-based phone system expected to generate $165,000 in annual savings.
- Virtual servers and workstations expected to generate $100,000 in energy and hardware savings over three years.
- Cluster databases that have reduced licensing and hardware fees.
ECM and Open Government
In April 2011, the Long Beach City Council adopted an open government policy identifying transparency as a core function of local government. To that end, making information more accessible by staff and citizens alike has been a top priority.
“Long Beach is dedicated to fostering and promoting open and transparent government where everyone in our community can easily participate and be engaged,” explains Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera. “As one of the largest cities in California, we are committed to exploring best practices, adopting new technologies that simplify and speed up all work processes and providing a level of customer service that is unmatched.”
Herrera notes that the City Clerk’s office uses Laserfiche to streamline paperwork and processes, helping the city deliver higher service at a lower cost. “In 2002, we needed 28 people to provide the public with quick, accurate and effective answers to their questions about our community. Today, with a staff of 17, our level of customer service is better than ever before.”
Over the past year and a half, the city has spent approximately $120,000 for offsite record storage. Staff had to manually retrieve paper records to answer requests, leading to delays in service and extra costs. As more and more records are added to Laserfiche, information access is improved and storage costs are expected to decrease.
On a daily basis, the City Clerk’s office scans thousands of records into Laserfiche. Just a few of the document types available in Laserfiche include:
- City contracts.
- Campaign finance reports.
- Statements of economic interest.
- Council agendas and staff reports.
- Election ballots.
- Sample ballots.
- Voted returns.
Last spring, the city made all city contracts executed as of the first of the year available to the public through Laserfiche WebLink, a read-only public portal. With 24/7 online viewing access, city residents, contractors and employees no longer have to submit public records act (PRA) requests for these items, simplifying access and saving time for both requestors and the City Clerk’s staff.
ECM across the Enterprise
In addition to the City Clerk’s office, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) relies heavily on Laserfiche, using the ECM system to make information such as gang injunctions, citations, restraining orders, field interview cards and accident reports available to officers in their patrol cars.
LBPD Police Chief Jim McDonnell notes that since implementing an improved gang injunction system using Laserfiche, gang violence in Long Beach has decreased. In 2010, the first year of using the new gang injunction system, gang-related murders dropped by 53.8%. “By pairing technology with optimized policies and procedures, we’ve been able to reduce violent crime in the face of severe budget constraints. Our officers were able to spend less time on administrative tasks and reinvest this time to keeping the streets safe.”
According to Jonathan Stafford, Administrator of LBPD’s Records and Technology Division, “We were delighted when the city decided to standardize on Laserfiche. We were confident that the simplicity and flexibility of the system would enable us to be more efficient by streamlining our processes.”
Other departments that have undergone concerted efforts to digitize paper processes include:
- Financial Management.
- Human Resources.
- Development Services.
For example, in 2011 the city expanded the types of permits and licenses that can be obtained online via the Website to include garage sale permits, temporary preferential parking permits, oversized vehicle parking permits and pet licenses. Technology Services also developed an interactive Fees and Charges Web application that allows the public to easily search for fees based on department, activity or keyword.
Long Beach began streamlining its accounting processes by integrating Laserfiche with its business intelligence (BI) system. Through the integration, images of the accounts payable invoices managed in Laserfiche are available to authorized users through the BI interface. This streamlines the process of researching expenditures by eliminating the need to manually pull the physical copies of the invoices.
Long Beach City Manager Pat West explains, “Our goal is to virtualize and streamline the access and flow of records and information within the city, while ensuring security. We have been pleased with the Laserfiche system, because it easily expands and adapts to the technological and human factor needs of various departments while providing central control that is needed to ensure accountability.”
Elements of Success
According to Tani, “All the right elements were aligned for the success of our technology initiatives. City leadership, staff and citizens were onboard with the transition and willing to go above and beyond to make our efforts to centralize and standardize Long Beach’s approach to technology successful.”
In addition to the Laserfiche projects outlined above, a few of the innovative ways the citizens of Long Beach can now use technology include:
- Submitting service requests for sidewalk, graffiti and pothole repair through Long Beach’s Website or via the city’s iPhone and Android apps.
- Watching live and archived City Council meetings on the Internet, iPhone or iPad.
- Obtaining time-sensitive information such as road closures or missing persons from the police via Web, social media, live text and/or e-mail alerts.
- Using social media to access enhanced content including traffic and construction alerts, videos, news, pictures and other information.
Tani also notes that having buy-in from the community was essential to the city’s IT transformation. “We had overwhelmingly positive responses to different application launches—both from the media and end users.” He explains that the media provided ample coverage of different applications and technology tools for both public safety and general city services, and that the community was willing to try the new applications and processes and provide their feedback.
“Ultimately, increasing the dialogue between city officials and the community is what has given the city’s technology initiatives energy and poised them for success and sustainability,” he says.
As a result of the collaboration between city leadership, staff and citizens, Long Beach has used technology to position itself as a leader for the future.