Public agencies and parks districts throughout the country have had to learn about technology since first hearing the term “e-Government” in the late 1990s.
Perhaps a main point is that technology represents change and growth, a change in the way agencies conduct their business processes, and growth in service offerings and methods for delivering those services.
But change and growth pose both challenges and opportunities. Implementation of technology can improve the connection with a community and its understanding and appreciation of service offerings. And technology can also pose a risk, as the very nature of the service processes and business rules is affected.
So imagine when changes e-Government brings to an agency take place in the midst of tremendous changes already underway. Such was the case last year for the City of Kyle, Texas, a thriving community located near San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos.
Welcome To Kyle, Texas
Kyle had already been experiencing growth and change at an unprecedented level when it began looking into e-Government technology. In recent years, Kyle’s population exploded from 5,000 in the year 2000 to more than 27,000 residents today.
Certainly this population boom brought with it unique challenges--primarily the need for more facilities where classes and activities could be offered. But an internal challenge for parks officials was how to manage this increase in customer base that would bring about more activities.
In 2005, the need for new technology to manage operations was underscored further by an exciting development for the growing municipality: a new City Hall.
In the older building, the Parks and Recreation Department was located next to the Finance Department, where all payments for classes and facilities were made. In the new building, Finance is on a different floor.
This change in physical proximity from what had served as the cashiering counter prompted the Parks and Recreation management team to speed up the search for a system that would allow for execution and tracking of all financial transactions.
Kyle officials had already spent over three years researching e-Commerce systems. The City Manager’s Office had been looking for a Citizen Request Management (CRM) system, and the city had already researched and implemented an online utility-payment system.
Officials had reviewed other city programs through the years and noticed an unfortunate trend of systems initiated but no longer used by staff. Newer web capabilities were added to systems built on old technology. So while some immediate online goals were reached, the internal management solution quickly grew outdated and staff reverted to old (even manual) processes.
Another downfall has been technology that was too rigid for future configurations by staff. Thus, when changes in the internal process or department protocol took place, either the system could not change to reflect the new rules, or the change required costly reprogramming.
Kyle officials made a point to avoid this outcome for any solution they selected. They also decided that in addition to finding flexible software to grow with the city’s needs, they would involve staff at all levels in reviewing and implementing a new system.
Settling On A Solution
In late 2005, the city purchased the ReservePartner and RequestPartner systems, offered by the e-Government firm, GovPartner, (www. govpartner.com) and implemented in Texas by its regional consulting firm, Bureau Veritas.
Kyle selected ReservePartner because it is fully web-based and built from the ground up on the Microsoft .NET platform. The new .NET technology allowed the city to self-configure many of the settings, and permitted staff to make changes of those settings-- revenue account labels, receipt footer text, promotional campaigns and language on the homepage-- as needs evolved.
Staff can now access the web-based system from any place with an Internet connection in order to register the public for classes and activities, as well as to manage facility reservations. And the public can also register for classes and reserve facilities using the system via the city Web site (www.cityofkyle.com).
RequestPartner is also web-based and allows the city to manage any request for service via a centralized database workflow system. Regardless of which department receives a call for service, the request is entered into a central system with questions and prompts for specific information about an issue.To that end, the GovPartner solutions offered the flexibility and ease-of-use that allowed the City to quickly implement and continue to customize.
Kyle has utilized RequestPartner CRM since January 2006, with more than 40 unique web forms that allow the public to submit requests via the city Web site and check citizens’ status in real-time. The Parks and Recreation Department uses the CRM system for receiving and tracking requests on issues like maintenance for facilities, parks, playgrounds and recreational areas, as well as landscaping and mowing requests.
ReservePartner fulfilled the most crucial need to handle all financial transactions, but city officials and staff soon realized there was much more that the online tool offered to help the department grow in its service capabilities.
Whereas the system was initially planned for basic reservations of rooms for events or meetings, it extended well beyond that. For example, Kyle recently held a BBQ Cook-Off and used the online system to sign up participants for the event, as well as for vendor booths, the poker tournament and even T-shirt sales.
Whether staff signed up people at the Parks and Recreation counter, or people signed themselves up from home via the Internet, all transactions were managed in a central system. This avoided over-booking and reduced long lines at City Hall or on the day of the event.
The response to the new technology has been very positive from the public, staff and management. Officials involved Parks and Recreation at each step of the process, and made certain that all system training was conducted onsite. The implementation consultant offered experience not just in technology, but also on issues dealing with change management.
As Krystal Loyd, the city’s Programs Coordinator, describes, “The flexibility that today’s latest software can offer parks and recreation departments is impressive. We have the ability to customize business rules and even specific questions in our CRM and recreation software, without any assistance from IT.”
“And what’s more,” she continues, “if we need to change a procedure or wording on a facility application or request form, we can do it in a matter of seconds. This makes all the difference for someone like me that has a very specific way of managing my programs and needs a system to reflect my processes.”
Such self-customization and advanced financial tracking were once only possible for agencies with large IT departments that could change software code as needed. But with new technologies like .NET, any department staff person can be trained to make changes to fee schedules, system settings and business rules for managing class configurations or facility rental protocol.
It is possible now for positive change and growth to occur in parks and recreation departments on a daily basis, as established systems are reconfigured and updated to keep up with an agency’s overall evolution. This leap in technology is being met with enthusiasm from managers and staff who have learned to apply advanced online systems in their own departments and communities.
Kerry Urbanowic is Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Kyle, Texas. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com