Guelph is a city situated in the southwestern part of Ontario, Canada. The city is well known for its efforts in modernizing municipal services. Andy Best assumes the position of a Service Design and Innovation Advisor for the Guelph City Council. eGovernance Digest had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Best and discussing his role in the city’s progress of adapting technological change.
Tell me about yourself, how did you start working for the City of Guelph?
City of Guelph happens to be my first experience working for a city government. My diverse professional background encompasses roles in the federal government, non-profits, and consulting. This breadth of experience has provided me with a chance to combine the elements of these roles and industries into meaningful work that can have a positive change for my own community. While working abroad, I realized that I was craving that missing link to people who are affected by your work and the work that you are doing. I am really passionate about Guelph, I think this is a great town for my wife and I to raise our kids and build our careers. Working in a local government is a perfect combination of all of my skill sets and passions.
What is your current position and responsibilities?
Currently, I am responsible for the innovation file of the city. This means supporting the process of technologically modernizing the work of our local government and the services we provide to citizens on a day-to-day basis. But, we are typically late to the technology party. When something becomes cutting edge in the private sector, it takes time to absorb it and to learn how to harness it for our own operations. We also need to consider process ideas like lean business models by analyzing the operations of the private sector and startup culture and adapting it in an appropriate way to our work. We have various specific programs and tools that we use, but the main goal is trying to support our departments in modernizing the delivery of great public services to local residents who rely on them.
Which services are available online for residents of Guelph?
Right now we are in the middle of a major digital modernization push. About 25% of our services can already be accessed digitally. One active project that we hope to launch in 2018 is a Citizen Relationship Management software, which will serve as a single point engagement platform with government representatives. This program will provide residents an opportunity to make various payments, register for recreation programs, contact city officials and receive many other public services. It will allow us to create a digital one-stop shop for whatever it is that people are looking for from the city. We have been laying the technical foundation for 18 months now and the public will start to see these services by Mid-2018.
How would the City of Guelph benefit from this project?
This is a great opportunity to modernize our internal systems and processes in harnessing these new tools to give a better experience to the resident. In terms of customer service, there is potential for huge time and ease of use wins for the public. Internally, it makes our work easier, because we are better equipped and empowered with the information and tools that help address citizen needs and problems. One kind of stereotype about public servants is that they are not hard workers or that they do not care about doing exceptional work. The reality of this, however, is that we are very constraint a lot of the times by legislation, a lot of the times by old computer systems or any other number of reasons. These are great people and you need to give them the tools to do great work and that is the biggest part internally as far as what it will bring to us. In terms of the budget, I believe the CRM cost us around $250 000. There is a whole range of them on the market, but we have purchased the Microsoft product, which is called Dynamics. We went with a slimmer model because our needs are not as complex as that of a multi-national corporation.
Do you collaborate with other cities in Ontario in order to learn and exchange your experiences?
We have neighbouring cities that have 5 to 10 years of CRM experience. Windsor, Oakville, London and Brampton are some of the major cities that have already implemented this system. I’m on the project team, but I didn’t do a lot of the outreach. However, we have gathered the requirements and learned from their experience. Partnering and meeting with other local governments have assisted us in analyzing how they use this particular tool.
Can you talk about the city’s experience with Internet voting?
For the first time, we introduced Internet voting as an option during our last municipal elections in 2014. There was an uptick in voter participation of about 13,000 people, however, we cannot yet indicate that online voting was the cause. The role of the staff was to evaluate the process and make recommendations to city council about what they should do for the 2018 elections. Based on their findings, Council was advised to keep the online option, but they have directed otherwise and so it will not be offered as an option for the next elections in October 2018.
How do you imagine the City of Guelph in 10 years?
Completely different from today and in ways that we cannot even imagine because the pace of change is so rapid. I believe artificial intelligence and automation bots could play a big role in furthering digital modernization of our services. Our ultimate goal is to be in a place where you can get equally satisfying and robust customer service experience, whether you walk in the front door, pick up a telephone, send in an email or access the online portal. There is some standardization that I think will start to emerge, and in part be enabled by programs like the CRM and related projects. For the most part, as an institution, we are not yet technologically net together. Different departments use different systems, which are unique to their particular need, however, there is still big room for improvement in terms of consolidating everything that we do.