Local Government, Technology and Customer Service Lead to Success
Accessing county government is easier than ever in Harford County. All the things that seem to make good, common sense, actually do – like being able to track the status of your building permit online, getting bus schedules and updated routes through your phone, finding information at the click of a mouse on the county website or learning about development activity through a convenient app. The interactivity is part of the overarching theme of the Glassman administration: to make government more like your smartphone – smaller, faster and with better customer service.
“Our goal is to make county government more efficient and more transparent,” says County Executive Barry Glassman. “It’s a culture change that couples the use of technology with efficient systems, resulting in continuous improvement in customer service. A complete restructuring of the county website, online permit tracking and a series of convenient apps are just a few of the tools we’ve put in place to address those goals.”
These advances support the ongoing effort of creating a community where people live, work and play. Starting with a fiberoptic system that provides more bandwidth at greater speeds for businesses throughout the county, the Harford Metropolitan Area Network, or HMAN, added more than 140 miles of broadband fiber optic cables to existing networks, providing high-speed access to voice, data and video. According to Ted Pibil, Director of Information and Communication Technology for Harford County, the network offers the opportunity to connect the main administrative government buildings to each other and to ancillary buildings, use Cloud applications and modernize the county’s communications systems.
Over the last three years, the municipalities of Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air, along with local public schools, libraries, and volunteer fire companies, joined this network, creating a common communications platform that houses thousands of gigabytes of county data and makes thousands more available to businesses and residents. While Pibil says the county is not in the business of selling IT, the high-speed network is available as an incentive for businesses in Harford County who need extended coverage.
The system has provided the foundation for upgrades in various government departments. According to Paul Lawder, Director of the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, whose office is among the
most prominent to citizens and businesses, a new software and the fiberoptic network enabled improved service for everyone. “The Energov software put information for five different departments in one spot,” he says. “The data is historical, accurate and trackable. The service is one-on-one and allows everyone to have access to the data.”
Lawder explains the advantages of the new system: when a customer is applying for a building permit, for example, he or she is assigned a customer service analyst. However, everyone in the office, as well as
everyone on the applicant’s end, can access the permit’s status through a secured online portal. “If you need a question answered about your permit, you can talk to anyone in the department and that person should be able to pull up your information on the computer,” Lawder says. Businesses and citizens can also print out approved permits at home, eliminating waiting at the permit office.
Combining service and technology required breaking down walls – literally – Lawder says. Not only has the permits and licensing software changed, the physical office housing over 30 employees has evolved, as well. The team handles an estimated 300-400 calls each day in an open room, sans walls or cubicles. “Everyone can see what everyone on the team is doing, and it makes them better able to serve our customers,” Lawder says.
A 22-year employee of the department, Lawder acknowledges that this is a huge change from the last two decades. He says, “Time is money for our customers, so we keep looking for ways to improve efficiency. We’re molding a piece of clay and tweaking it to make it the best it can be. We know how important customer service is to the County Executive, so we provided a tool that will facilitate that.”
Likewise, the Department of Planning and Zoning, led by Director Brad Killian, who was brought on board in 2014 by Glassman, was instrumental in delivering fast, accurate information on growth plans to its constituents. HarfordNEXT, the county’s forward-thinking strategy for growth and development, was the first plan to be totally interactive online for citizens.
“One of the questions we consistently ask ourselves is, ‘How do we go out of our way to promote future development and be more transparent in providing information to our customers?’” Killian comments. “The answer is to deliver a customer experience that gives them immediate information, saves time and saves staff time.”
The success of the HarfordNEXT plan will be aided by the award-winning app called “Track-it,” a planning and zoning activity tracker that follows the progress of projects. Citizens and businesses can find project status quickly and easily. Killian says his team is working on several assignments that highlight growth in the county, and they are all accessible through the “Track-it” app.
“The county is not letting opportunity sit idle,” says Killian. “We are planning it. Growth does not have to happen at the expense of people. Quality of life serves both. This is not idealistic. It is achievable. We are pushing the expectation in that direction.”
Glassman says combining technology with efficiency has led to outstanding results. Every employee has been trained in customer service. Every employee has participated in a new human resources performance evaluation system. Balance is being restored to the previously debt-laden budget. Glassman says he is most proud, however, of the smartphone applications designed by his team to provide varying degrees of efficiency within the organization. Snow Plow tracker, Route Shout, Track-it, You CLICK We FIX, Maps & Apps, Rezoning Tracker, and e-Permit Center are among the apps implemented or devised by in-house talent. The graphics and creative design work for the county’s new website were also done by county employees.
“This is another area where we were able to save money, while using technology to make government more transparent and feed into other accomplishments,” Glassman explains. I95