May 30, 2012 By Colin Wood
Maybe it’s the beautiful scenery or the wine, but Napa County, Calif., CIO Jon Gjestvang says the government departments there have been cooperating wonderfully and it has been a key to success.
Napa County ranked No. 2 of counties its size (less than 150,000 population) in the 2011 Digital Counties Survey — a national awards program that measures technology usage in county governments across the U.S. Napa County is making changes that are common in local government, but if the county’s high finish in the survey is an accurate representation of the technology landscape, then Napa County is executing those changes better than most.
Cooperation within an organization might seem like an obvious goal to pursue, but Gjestvang didn’t downplay its role in Napa. “It’s everybody being engaged,” he said. “We have our departments that want to improve. It’s all of us working together. It’s not one group necessarily pushing technology; it’s more of the cooperation from the other departments.”
Traditionally, IT departments refer to other departments as “customers” for whom IT offers services. Napa County is trying to change that mindset. They’re not customers — they’re partners, Gjestvang said.
“The departments realize that in order to improve their procedures or processes, they are looking more toward IT to help them improve their business practices. It’s not us saying, ‘You need this system.’ It’s us working together,” he said.
Located north of San Francisco, Napa is internationally famous for its wine. Home to approximately 400 vineyards and rolling, picturesque valleys and hills, Napa is visited by more than 4 million tourists each year.
But like any other community, Napa County still has to serve more pedestrian, everyday demands.
One project Napa County has been working on, Gjestvang said, is mobility. Like many government offices these days, Napa County is at the point where email and calendar functionality is available remotely. But the county is readying for the next step, Gjestvang said. Allowing a county employee working in the field to directly access county systems is the kind of resource-saving functionality Napa County hopes to provide.
Handling the separation of personal and organizational data, and linking data input from devices with a system’s back end are two of many issues that must be handled as more employees want to use their personal Apple or Android devices at work. Napa County has been using Good Technology for mobile device management, and Gjestvang said it has been a good solution thus far.
But the evolution of mobile technology is far from complete. Tablets and traditional computers continue to converge, so the questions and answers surrounding the technology will change, Gjestvang said. “There are other vendors out there that are now stepping up to the plate too, so I think there are going to be more choices for people down the road.” The answer to mobility in government isn’t something that will go away anytime soon, he said.
Another big issue for Napa is document management, Gjestvang said. Many paper documents are being scanned into the county’s systems and many documents now begin their life digitally. A common misconception of document management, he said, is that everything should be filed and kept forever since it’s all digital. But that can quickly become expensive, especially when you include files used in an e-discovery system.
This means Napa County had to create new policies for digital record management that would ensure the proper life cycle of documents for every department in the county, Gjestvang said. “It takes a little time, but it’s going to be well worth it,” he said.
Similarly, Napa County is upgrading its justice management system and looking at its operations in a new light. The county decided to build its own system because of the work that would have been needed to connect the county’s various systems with multiple vendor solutions.
Whether it's revisiting document management policies or upgrading an aging system, one of the benefits of a technology overhaul, Gjestvang said, is that taking a detailed look at existing policies prompts everyone to re-evaluate how work is done — and sometimes provides an opportunity for improvements.
Again, cooperation and an open mind are keys to facilitating this, he said. “Change is hard. People are used to doing things a certain way,” he said. But if workers are able to go through the transition phase with an open mind and appreciate the benefits of technology, it makes the process much smoother, Gjestvang said.
“Like with the criminal justice project, being able to collaborate — having all of the criminal justice department working together and collaborating on a project like this — means so much,” he said. “I’ve heard of other counties where that doesn’t necessarily happen.”
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.