City of Coral Gables, Fla.

Sep 29 2022

Smart Cities Connect 2022: Change Management Is Critical to Modernizing Processes

City officials agreed that even simple acts of digital transformation, such as going paperless, require complex coordination.

The city of Coral Gables, Fla., wants to be paperless by the end of next year.

Speaking on a panel Wednesday at the Fall 2022 Smart Cities Connect conference, Coral Gables IT Systems Analyst Rayza Collazo said her department talked with other city agencies about why they print paper.

“We asked them, ‘Why are you printing?’ or ‘What are you printing the most?’” Collazo said. “And sometimes they gave us these absurd reasons for printing all this paper. We went back and realized we can change that process very simply. And we just didn’t communicate before.”

Other panelists agreed that cities must set clear expectations and communicate them directly to support digital transformation initiatives such as going paperless.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Seven smart cities to watch in 2022.

Addressing the panel, Jason Cooley, chief innovation officer of Frisco, Texas, said something as seemingly innocuous as going paperless represents a big shift in thinking across an organization. Several years ago, Frisco adopted electronic plan review, which coordinates authorizations from multiple stakeholders for project approval online.

“We were able to do the electronic plan review, but you still have people who want to come in with big rolls of paper and still have people who wanted to mark up things handwritten,” Cooley said. “How do we get to that point to make everyone comfortable with this mentality shift? I think it’s one of our largest challenges.”

Cooley called for training and education on new processes while showing people the new procedures in action so they can comprehend how they work.

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Officials Agree Managing People Is More Challenging Than Tech

In the discussion, Tyler Marr, interim deputy city manager for Fort Collins, Colo., said many workers remain committed to the software systems they may have been using for some time. Change management is needed to engage them in new processes and become familiar with doing things in a different way.

“People tie their sense of worth up in an existing software system. Change management can get them on with recognizing that their value is not their understanding of a single 30-year-old system, in some instances, but that they are a confident individual who can work across systems and across processes,” Marr said.

DISCOVER: How Fort Collins uses data to improve customer service.

Chris McMasterson, CIO of Corona, Calif., emphasized the importance of people in creating a culture that embraces change. 

“For most of the projects that I’ve seen fail, usually it’s because of people. It’s usually not about the technology most of the time,” McMasterson said. “Technology is usually the easier part of what you’re doing. And so, it’s getting people on board. Generally, in the government, there’s not the same impetus as in the private sector. You’re not getting a bigger bonus because you’re selling a new system that works more efficiently. In fact, people are fearful over the status of their jobs: What happens to me? How am I still valuable to the organization under this?”

Digital Transformation Must Simplify Citizen Services

As for going paperless, McMasterson noted that citizens aren’t truly excited about going to City Hall to get things done. 

“You’d rather do it at your house or on your phone or at whatever time of the day when you get off work,” McMasterson said. “You don’t want to take the day off to go stand in line in a government office for a permit. So, how do we make that easier for people? How do we make that experience good?”

LEARN: Why state and local governments adopt identity and access management solutions. 

McMasterson called for digital input from residents on how cities can best serve them. And Marr stressed the importance of simplifying systems to ease processes for residents and government workers.

“Right now, in the city, for instance, you can have 45 unique accounts to access city services — recreation, utilities,” Marr said. “That’s absurd. But in order to get out from that, you really have to sort of start from the ground up in terms of what this is going to look like. And you need good data to do that. And I think it has to be grounded in equity. I don’t think we talk about it enough. Our digital tools are going to be a means to achieve some equity.”

Raul Rodriguez/ Getty Images

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