Considering a SaaS Platform for Citizen Request Management? Here are Some Key Questions to Ask

Local governments are continually looking for ways to streamline their operations. But with increasing citizen demands for more modern and accessible digital services, along with limited and declining budgets, bridging all of these needs can be a challenge. A growing number of municipalities are moving to manage these challenges by adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms for core operating functions.

In this article, we take a look at some of the key things to consider when selecting a SaaS solution specifically to underpin your citizen request management process.

Does the Service align well with your operational needs?

The answer to this question obviously needs to be a resounding yes, however when evaluating cloud-based citizen request management solutions it is critical to start with a clear understanding of what your true needs are – both immediate and longer term. First and foremost, preferred solutions should be designed from the ground up with the needs of local governments in mind for the best chance of a successful implementation. Where not the case, adaptation to your process requirements will likely be more difficult and prone to failure. Be equally wary of solutions that offer feature functionality that you can’t or won’t actually use as this will normally drive unnecessary cost, and also lead to sub-optimal usability and poorer uptake by staff. To fully benefit from the cost savings promised by moving to the cloud, also look for solutions that include tools that can be used by trained administrators within your organization to configure and customize the SaaS solution to your specific requirements without costly custom software development.

What considerations exist to keep the citizen fully engaged in the Service Request Management process?

In all aspects of local government operations, citizen engagement as a strategy to create better and more livable communities is seeing increased emphasis. Yet too often citizen involvement in the service request management process takes a back seat to internal tracking against the municipal assets that the requests relate to. Solutions that keep citizens at the forefront will leave them feeling well served and more compelled to contribute to the process. For example, a well-designed citizen request management platform should support multiple channels for the purpose of accepting requests so that citizens can interact how and when it works for them. Solutions should also be mobile friendly, automate communications for real-time status updates, respect WCAG guidelines for accessibility, and include on-line capabilities for citizens to view and comment on the requests they raise.

What do the SaaS vendor’s track record and reputation look like?

As is the case with any product or service purchase, an understanding of a vendor’s previous experience is a great leading indicator or whether their offer is right for you. When it comes to citizen issue tracking, look for companies that have been around for several years and that can demonstrate success with local governments having similar operations to your own. Speaking directly with appropriate reference customers should be a given. Credible software review sites like G2 and Capterra are also highly useful to gauge customer experience and success and to compare the different options that are available to you.

What happens to my pre-existing data?

If you are currently using an on-premise system for citizen service requests or have other sources of data that you have invested in over time, it is worth understanding the potential and ease with which this data can be preserved. Ideal solutions will provide administrative tools to simplify the data import process. And where source data needs to be cleaned or transformed to make this possible, your SaaS solution vendor should be able to provide professional services expertise to support required ETL efforts.

Can I take a graduated approach to switching over?

Setting aside the many benefits of a cloud-based solution, new technology will always involve change for your staff and, for this reason alone, you might be interested in starting small and evolving the use of the new platform over time. For managing citizen service requests, solutions that you consider should easily support adoption by a single department or limited number of users in parallel to other departments continuing with existing processes. This can reduce risk, provide an opportunity for user feedback and help to validate the business case for other departments.

What assurances can the vendor provide regarding security, performance and resiliency?

Continuity of your operations and security of your data are critical considerations, and a cloud approach necessarily involves placing trust in your selected vendor to have these in hand. For vendors with any significant customer base, the good news is that these requirements should have received a lot of attention and certified experts will likely have been involved in architecting and securing the hosting environment. But given the nature of citizen request data, you will want to make sure that an acceptable privacy policy exists and that handling of personally identifiable information is understood. It is also important to know what safeguards exist against DDOS attacks or other malicious behaviours, and whether redundancy exists for high availability and disaster recovery purposes. And finally, you will want to ask questions about data backup procedures that are in place, including frequency and location.

How well is integration with other systems supported?

If you find yourself in a position where you need to integrate the citizen request solution with other back-office systems, ask how these integrations can be supported for your unique use case. The principal needs are for the vendor to provide open APIs that allow for secure data exchange between systems, along with professional services to support these efforts. If a vendor has created pre-built connections to leading application integration hubs like Zapier even better as this could greatly reduce the effort and cost involved.

What onboarding, training and support resources are provided?

No evaluation would be complete without gaining a high-level of confidence that onboarding will go smoothly and that your vendor will be there to support your success with the selected citizen request management platform over the long term. Mature vendors will employ a customer experience team and provide a proven process to get you up and running quickly, train your administrative personnel and end users, and guide you through branding and configuring the solution to meet your specific needs. Also look for a searchable online knowledge base where answers to common questions can be found, and a robust and responsive ticketing process for situations where additional vendor expertise is needed.

What are the details of the pricing model?

A clear benefit of moving to the cloud is that it avoids any upfront CAPEX spend when municipal budgets are tight, however the SaaS solution that is right for you should result in lower total cost of ownership over the long term. Costs for available citizen request management solutions are highly variable so, first and foremost, look for a service that is priced right for the operating scale of your municipality. Depending on the simplicity of the pricing model, costs may vary based on metrics like user counts, data storage requirements, transaction volumes or number of modules included. As discussed above, your use of the platform could very well expand over time and any potential price increases should be easy to understand and reasonable.

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Being aware – situationally aware

Our world has always been in a state of perpetual change. Now more than ever, it is perceived to be doing that at an ever-rapid pace.

Positive changes such as economic growth, and technology advancements to note a couple. Unfortunately, with the positive, comes the negative. A continuous cycle of persons who wish to do harm.

Safety and Security experts inform us that violent events will continue to happen. The violent extremist motivated and driven by an ideology, to the targeting of individuals, place of business, worship, acts of violence that permeate into every vertical, sector of business and government.

Active safety and security programs are continuous reviewed, modified to face existing and the new challenges of tomorrow.

To make your safety and security programs more effective, the program needs ambassadors, staff.

Ambassadors need to be aware. Situationally aware.

Situational awareness training provides your staff with valuable intelligence & time when facing safety and security situations of potential harm or danger.

Being situation aware is truly a change in mindset.

It is a way of thinking that will focus a person’s behaviour, their outlook, and their mental attitude. People that are aware are no longer vulnerable but capable.

Capable individuals are always prepared. Capable individuals are not complacent, they use technology to enhance their preparedness and response and their planning always includes a contingency plan.

Situationally aware staff improve the effectiveness of your safety and security program.

Situationally aware individuals enhance the workplace and enhance their personal safety and security.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance in Situation Awareness training, contact Michael White Group International today, and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Michael White Group International is Arcuri Group LLC approved Situation Awareness Specialist Certification Training provider.

 

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How to Find the Budget for a Municipal Project

Have you ever received an RFP that doesn’t have any budget listed?  It makes it hard to truly understand the scope of the work requested, doesn’t it?

Municipalities have their hearts in the right place, but often they throw more “wants” into an RFP than they have the budget for. When the bids come in way over their budget, they have to start the whole RFP process all over again – wasting everyone’s time.  

Worst yet, those who bid the first time may not bother to submit a bid the second time around and the municipality may receive fewer bids and ultimately higher pricing.

In defense of municipalities, however, I’ve been on both sides of the argument on whether or not to include the budget for a project in an RFP.

As a CAO, I didn’t want to put the budget number in the RFP either, because I was afraid bidders would simply submit bids right up to the budget number. This is still a common misconception.

But now, experience has taught me, when bidders know the budget number, the reality is they more often submit bids lower than the budget, to try to win the work.

From the Bidders’ perspective though, it’s incredibly frustrating not knowing the budget number because you can’t accurately price the work without understanding the municipality’s expectations.

So, to connect the dots, here’s a tip for Bidders to find the budget for a municipal project.

 

In most cases you can, through good sleuthing, find the budget a municipality has set aside for a specific project.

  • Provincial Announcements

Often when Provinces announce funding for municipalities, they will have a press release and a link to find out which municipality received what amount for specific project(s). That’s the easiest way to find the budget for a project.  

  • Agendas & Minutes

If the municipality received funding for the project, Council will most likely have recently passed a resolution to approve the project.  By searching the municipality’s Agendas/ Minutes section of their website, you can usually find the resolution about a month or so before the RFP was issued.

Personally, I start by looking at the Agendas and searching keywords, related to whatever the RFP has been issued for.  (i.e. Service Delivery Review, Parks & Rec Roof Repairs, etc.).  The Agenda will help you narrow down the minutes that contain the resolution Council passed – and the resolution will normally have the dollar amount approved for the project.  

  • Budget

If the municipality did not receive funding for the project, you may not find a resolution approving it. So, another way you can sometimes find the budget for a project is by finding the municipality’s annual budget on their website.  

This is a bit harder to do if you’re not familiar with how a municipal budget looks, but look at the proposed expenditures for the current year, in the appropriate department and you may see the project noted separately in the annual budget. 

For example, you would most likely find the budget for “Service Delivery Review” in the General Administration part of the budget, or “Roof Repairs” in the Parks & Recreation part of the budget, etc.  

You can also check out the Special Budget Meetings of Council (again in the Agendas/Minutes section of the municipality’s website), and you may see mention of the project and how much Council wants to budget for it. 

It takes time, and it’s not always easy, but in most cases, it is possible to find the budget the municipality has set aside for a project. 

Happy Sleuthing Sherlock! 

Got questions?

Contact Susan Shannon, Founder & Principal, muniSERV.ca

855.477.5095 or [email protected]

 

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How have the pandemic adaptations affected your Physical Security?

Well into the COVID19 pandemic, organizations, governments big and small have had to take measures and make changes to their environments to adapt to the needs of their staff, customers, their service delivery model, requirements of health science, government agency regulations and perhaps “new” industry best practices and of course the ever-changing virus.

These measures have evolved into many different things. We’re going to specifically focus on physical security devices.

Two of the pervasive items that have been introduced in many environments are plexiglass and signage.

Organizations have installed plexiglass barriers at intersection points of personnel as they have the potential to interact with other personnel, customers, vendors, etc.

Informative signage itemizing physical distancing rules, self assessment health protocols have been placed all around in both strategic and random locations within the environment to ensure every opportunity for personnel and visitors to be informed.

Funny thing about all of this plexiglass barriers and signage.

In some cases, not all, we have inadvertently defeated some or many of the installed security devices functionality and purpose. That is, their ability to monitor, detect and alert (alarm).

  • Motion detectors blocked, unable to provide proper coverage
  • Cameras experiencing sun flare reflection off plexiglass
  • Nuisance alarms due to swinging signage on the increase
  • And other unforeseen affects

There are incidents where this is enough of this added material, that areas, although devices are active and functioning as per specifications, are unable to detect properly – leaving areas with no security detection or proper monitoring.

We have the answers.

Let’s go for a (physically distanced) walk and have a conversation.

Your security risk plans are more than just a motion detector or even a strategic camera placement.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance, contact Michael White Group today, and we will be happy to answer your questions or provide quotations.

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Municipalities Promoting Positivity During the Pandemic

As Ontario prepares to enter the second Provincial Emergency amid stay-at-home orders, many folks could use some positivity. Here are some lighthearted and fun projects that municipalities across Canada are undertaking to bring a smile to peoples’ faces. 

City of Waterloo

 

The City of Waterloo, Ontario has launched The Community Happiness Project. The Community Happiness Project aims to connect community members by sharing messages of hope, positivity, welcoming, and connectivity from community members and hopefully you!

 

From January to mid-February, residents can submit audio messages and images through an online portal. These will be assembled into signage that will be posted throughout the city and can be accessed through QR codes on mobile devices. Audio messages collected from the community will reflect Waterloo’s caring spirit and can include stories, poems, and notes to combat the feelings of isolation that have grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Town of Blackfalds

The Town of Blackfalds, Alberta is continuing the Lunch Box Pandemic Response Program into 2021. The Blackfalds Food Bank has now settled into their new home in the old Community Services Department Shop, at 5014 Waghorn Street, there is plenty of room to accommodate donations to support the Blackfalds Food Bank needs and the Lunch Box program.

 

The Lunch Box Program started in March 2020 due to the pandemic and increased local families’ needs to provide food for their children. Initiated to provide school-aged children with healthy lunches and snacks for school, the program quickly changed when schools shut down and were then expanded to include any local family with children, of any age. This pandemic response program fed 3,877 children in 1,061 families from March through December of 2020. 

 

City of Barrie

 

The City of Barrie, Ontario is running a fun, new contest to name the snowplows. Barrie has 12 snowplows that need names and is asking residents to come up with some creative and unique ideas.

 

Between now and January 22, 2021, Barrie residents are invited to submit their idea for a snowplow name for your chance to win a City of Barrie prize pack. The winning names will also be featured on the City’s Plow Tracker app and will be added to the snowplow machines for the 2021-22 winter season.

 

We love seeing municipalities coming together to enrich the lives of their citizens! We also love connecting municipalities with the businesses that provide the municipal goods and services that they need. Learn more at www.muniSERV.ca and join today. 

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Code Enforcement with AccessE11

The mandate of municipal government is to provide access to civic amenities and to ensure that residents follow the local laws and ordinances adopted by City Council.

In general, there are operating processes in place to monitor and enforce these municipal codes. However, it is often the residents themselves that witness and report code violations, at which point the municipality’s responsibility is to initiate an investigation and resolve the situation. When this occurs, there are additional complexities involved, with many municipalities struggling to track and meet their service targets to address citizen-initiated complaints. Any departments responsible for code enforcement must triage citizen complaints across a diverse range of property maintenance, parking, noise, nuisance and other issues. Then, activities must be coordinated with officers in the field, all actions tracked, and any documents consolidated until compliance is reached.

Using the AccessE11 service request management platform, multiple municipalities have streamlined and automated their code enforcement approach, making it effortless for staff to capture citizen complaints, assign the right team, resolve the underlying issues, institute centralized tracking and record keeping, and easily report on issues individually or on an aggregated basis.

Capturing Code Issues

Increasingly, residents expect to be able to interact with their municipality in the same way they do private-sector organizations via multiple channels, and this applies equally to code enforcement.

In light of this, AccessE11 has created a platform that allows citizens to report their concerns online, by email, and using integrated mobile apps. Categorization of each violation by category (permit issue, graffiti, trash & debris, noise etc.) is completely flexible, and geolocation of the issue and inclusion of pictures/other details is simple.

Once reported, the software automatically creates a case to track the issue, acknowledges receipt to the citizen, sets follow-up and due dates, and routes the case to a specific staff member. Moreover, it immediately makes the information available in configurable dashboards, embedded maps and reports to provide a centralized, cohesive view of all past and ongoing code enforcement activities.

Processing Citizen Issues

Inspections are an integral part of the resolution process and, to that end, code enforcement officers are provided with an up to date and prioritized view of the complaints they need to follow-up with the AccessE11 mobile app for staff. Depending on whether or not a violation is observed, an officer on location can close the case immediately, or further document it with corrective actions and a date for a follow-up inspection if required.

Some municipalities also use code sweeps within delimited geographical areas as a proactive means of enhancing the safety, cleanliness and conditions of a neighbourhood. In this scenario, officers can create cases for tracking purposes directly using the mobile app. All relevant information is seamlessly and centrally logged with no need for the officer to visit the municipal office simply to enter data.

From the time an issue is reported through to closure, departmental managers, assigned staff and, to an appropriate extent, the reporting citizen are kept informed with automated, real-time notifications. Code enforcement teams are able to work seamlessly and avoid crossed wires. The reporting citizen can also get updates on their concern at any time by visiting AccessE11’s citizen-facing portal.

Operational Effectiveness

Citizens demand services from municipalities, but they also expect them to use tax dollars wisely. Authorities have a duty to avoid waste wherever possible and act in the public interest.

To that end, they need systems that allow them to make informed decisions and measure the success of their activities. AccessE11’s platform allows code enforcement departments to visualize and report on valuable data, letting them make evidence-based decisions. Managers can prioritize tasks, collect data on current and historic trends, measure against service targets, and gauge the effectiveness of the municipality’s response to issues. This data-driven approach enables managers to get a better handle on the overall efficacy of their teams, as well as the productivity of individual members.

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Physical Security Risk: know how to assess it

 

Many small to medium sized business (and even large enterprise businesses)  and government, have limited budgets, let alone spending a lot on risk and security.

Before you do go and spend a lot of capital on risk and security mitigation measures (aka security cameras, access control, bars and locks, lighting, training, fencing, etc.), you need to know what you’re buying for.

That is, you need to know what risks you are addressing.

Risk dial

Having a Risk Assessment completed on your municipality narrows the focus of your spending and aligns your purchasing with the specific types of risk and security mitigation measures you need.

To get a little technical…Risk assessment is the overall process of risk identification, risk analysis and risk evaluation. It involves the process of identifying internal and external threats and vulnerabilities, identifying the probability and impact of an event arising from such threats or vulnerabilities, defining critical functions necessary to continue the organization’s operations, defining the controls in place necessary to reduce exposure and evaluating the cost of such controls.

That is a mouthful. Let us break this down a bit.

If you have a threat, but there is no vulnerability, then there is no risk.

If you have a vulnerability but no threat, no risk.

Perhaps something many can relate to, you went online and purchased some products, and they are set to be delivered to your home. And no, we are not going to discuss online security…a topic for another day perhaps.

The packages are delivered to your home. But because of your daily routine, errands, off to the office, or shop, you are not always home. The shiny object is the packages just delivered. The vulnerability or sometimes referred to as a gap, is you are not home, and the packages now sit on your front step unattended. The threat, someone will take those packages right from your front step.

So, going back to the assessment. The key is once you know what your largest threats are (and yes you need to be able to determine that), it is important that you take action (implement risk and security mitigation measures) to lower your vulnerability.

Why not eliminate the vulnerability?

Great question, thanks for asking.

Eliminating the vulnerability may not always be possible.

Some business sectors and industries simply have built-in threats. But, if we focus on lowering the vulnerability, we lower the risk of a loss.

The assessment is complete, and we have identified risks. The next important step is finding the risk and security measures that are going to be the most effective in mitigating the identified risk. These measures come in all different shapes and sizes, video surveillance, locks and safes, lighting, security focused training, etc.

Where in doubt, reach out to us or find your trusted Independent Risk and Security consultant.

Yes, we highlighted Independent. That is definitely a topic for another day.

It all starts with a conversation.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance, contact Michael White Group today, and we will be happy to answer your questions or provide quotations.

 

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Do you know what you want or need?

It is important that you know what you are asking for…so that it’s not risky.

You have asked for an Assessment. Stakeholders are concerned about security. Is the goal to look to identify your Security Risks, Threats, Consequences or Vulnerabilities? Or all of them? Collectively, there is a formula for that.

Risk = Threats + Consequences + Vulnerability

Do not be taken in by someone who says all assessments are the same.  A risk assessment, threat assessment, vulnerability assessment, security audit or even a business impact analysis are not the same as each other.

Square peg, round hole.

A Threat assessment looks to understand what entities may have an interest in creating a security concern or problem for your organization.

A Security Audit is a validation or verification that security measures that are currently in place are actually in place and doing what they intended to do. This audit focuses specifically on the effectiveness of security and determines if a known vulnerability is being addressed. It does not measure risk.

Vulnerability Assessments look to understand both consequences and vulnerabilities. Threats however within a vulnerability assessment are assumed to be at a high level. At the end of a Vulnerability assessment organizations quite often implement increased security measures to address the vulnerabilities and lower the consequences. This happens because the level of threat and the probability of an occurrence from happening is not actually analyzed.

The Consequence focused Business Impact Analysis identifies the most critical of assets to an organization and sets out to build resiliency around these identified assets, most commonly as a business continuity plan.  Business Impact Analyses do not address threats or vulnerability.

The Risk Assessment is the most effective means of determining security adequacy as it considers all three elements of risk – threat, vulnerability, and consequence.  A Risk assessment should be the methodology of choice if you are seeking to determine your security adequacy and avoid the potential pitfalls of not having all of the information.

But all is not lost. It is okay if your organization needs to only conduct one or several of the assessments mentioned above. There may be cause for you to do one assessment over another, resulting in a more intimate understanding of that particular assessments output.

We can assist your organization in determining which of these assessments is best for you given your organization’s current security risk landscape.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance, contact Michael White Group today, and we will be happy to answer your questions or provide quotations.

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Risk Complacency

Why should you have a cyclical strategy to your risk and security?

Risk Complacency. You run the risk of being complacent. The one man-made hazard that is probably the easiest to avoid and the largest threat to any sized business, organization, government, event, institution, and book club. Okay, maybe not the book club.

 

So, what happened?

It was quiet. It was nice, there was a sense of security. Unfortunately, that feeling is usually supplemented with a lack of awareness. A lack of awareness of threats, dangers to your organization, those deficiencies that slowly creep up but yet can quickly hammer down all the previous work.

Plan out the work to get your organization on a cyclical strategy to address, manage and mitigate your risk and security threats.

Once planned out. Execute the plan. Do what you say you are going to do…and don’t stop.

Need help? We can Help.

It starts with a conversation.

As we say…Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance, contact Michael White Group today, and we will be happy to answer your questions or provide quotations.

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A Summer to Save Restaurants

With Toronto’s Phase 2, beginning on June 24th, restaurants are poised for opening dine-in patio service, but business will be nowhere near normal for our favourite city eats.

 

Restaurants are facing a summer of only patio dining and take out, cutting their normal guest capacity by 50 – 80 %.  With restaurants already closed for months, we can’t expect that a few patio tables will save them.

outdoor cafe and social distancing 

A plan that is bolder than CafeTO is needed,” said architect and urban planner Naama Blonder, principal of Smart Density.

 

To support one of Toronto’s favourite sectors, two local companies, Trans-Plan and Smart Density take a disruptive approach to CafeTO with “Summer to Save Restaurants.” Expanding patio seating, and allowing access to lots of business storefronts would be created through pedestrian-only use of city streets, every Thursday to Sunday.

 

“We’re in this together, and together we need to pivot to support each other make it through these difficult times. If that means we need to take some detours to help our restaurants out – I think that’s what we should do,” said Trans-Plan CEO Shadi Hagag. 

 

Toronto city officials, residents and tourists have the power to reconfigure and re-imagine local communities. 

 

“We are urban designers and transportation engineers who have opened up our creative toolbox to re-imagine our streetscape. It’s not the normal configuration, because this is designed to be the Summer to Save Restaurants,” said Smart Density architect, Naama Blonder. 

 

By redirecting pedestrian flow into the centre of the street, and enabling restaurants and storefronts to expand into the road – the plan encourages safe movement, service and experiences for all stakeholders. By limiting flow to only pedestrians, we mitigate the risk of confusion, flow disturbance and promote physical distancing.  And we bring back jobs and consumption to the economy.

 

 The Summer to Save Restaurants plan derives from the success of the King Street Pilot Project. For King Street, the priority was Transit – for the Summer to Save Restaurants Project – the priority is given to the Restanteur, the Customer and the Pedestrian.

 

Some cities have kicked off this idea early, encouraging both business owners and residents that safe experiences and business continuity can go hand in hand. The City of Guelph has pushed forward with making the downtown core pedestrian-only a few days a week, and St. Catherines too, has followed suit.

 

For support in ensuring your designs and plans can push forward, don’t hesitate to reach out to Trans-Plan for temporary design and conceptual plans!

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