By Rob Sosnowski
Throughout history communication has provided people and organizations a means to integrate, organize, and promote information and thoughts. Within organizations effective communication increases the chances for success, improves morale and motivates people, promotes shared responsibilities, integrates business units, and is a foundational component for efficient business practices. “Like a human being, a company has to have an internal communication mechanism, a ‘nervous system’, to coordinate its actions.” (Bill Gates). Effective communication is essential for effective government.
Effective government can also benefit from clearly defined, understood, and streamlined work processes. Well-ordered work processes can result in operational efficiencies, improved customer service, enhanced product quality, flexibility within changing environments, and in general can ensure that business needs of an organization are successfully achieved.
The City of Meridian has to succeed at many different business needs; some of those needs include permitting and licensing land use and community activities. Can the City improve its communication procedures and work processes to better meet its permitting and licensing business needs? The short answer is yes.
In September 2010, the City of Meridian recently signed a contract with Accela to bring Accela software on site to address these needs. Accela provides a means to automate workflows, track activities, manage data input and review, share information, and generate reports. Using Accela, the City employees will easily integrate department information into a centralized location thus allowing for cross-departmental information sharing, improved responsiveness, and decision making support. No longer will employees have to call others to find a permit status or specific information, using Accela they will simply look up the information.
Accela also provides other capabilities, such as integrating with Meridian’s GIS system, extending capabilities into the field, and providing the public with a means through which to conduct over-the-counter services across the Web. These additional capabilities will improve an understanding of and the relationships between information, allow field staff to directly view, manage, and update Accela information, and improve public customer service. The public and contractors will have the option of applying for permits on-line, providing a faster process and removing the need for a sometimes inconvenient site visit to City Hall.
Since September, the Clerk’s Office, Code Enforcement (Police), Development Services, Fire, Information Technology, Parks, and Planning have been working hard to implement Accela. A kick-off meeting was held in October which was the first time many people saw the product being demonstrated; they were impressed with its capabilities. The basic Accela software and several modules were installed on City infrastructure. Department subject matter experts were identified. Datasets, forms, documents, and other resources have been identified and organized. There have also been many meetings.
Several weeks of business requirements meetings were conducted to capture Meridian work processes. During these meetings, department staff focused on further defining and streamlining work flows thus providing for more efficiency. The business requirements are now being converted into software configuration; the software is now taking on the identity of the work flows. An initial set of configuration meetings were held to show Meridian employees the first glimpse of the software as it will be used to meet Meridian business needs.
As they say patience is a virtue; in the case of Meridian there has been plenty of patience. About five years ago, the need for such an approach was first discussed by Meridian employees. Now, five years later we are close, oh so close. Although we have a lot of work to complete on this project we are targeting a go-live date of April or May, 2011; that is just a few months away. These are exciting times for the City of Meridian, as they say, “Good things are worth the wait”.