May 11, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
New Lenox, Ill., hopes to cut costs of paper, printing and postage by communicating with citizens through a technology called Zumbox. Zumboxes are like e-mail accounts, except they're tied to physical addresses. Each residence in America has a Zumbox now, provided free by vendor Zumbox Inc. New Lenox is using these instead of e-mail addresses because maintaining an accurate e-mail list for citizens is time-consuming, explained Mayor Tim Baldermann.
"E-mail addresses change all the time. Then you have the burden of trying to get updated information from all of the residents," Baldermann said.
Citizens will receive utility bills, newsletters and other mailings in their Zumboxes as well as in paper form until they electronically opt out of the print versions. Currently the city mails out 10,000 pieces of mail each time it sends anything to all residences.
"If we go from sending out 10,000 pieces of mail to cutting that in half, just think of the savings we would achieve," Baldermann commented. "Depending on how heavy that piece of mail is, it might cost us a dollar for every piece we send out after printing and postage."
Zumboxes only receive messages from other Zumboxes. The vendor of the technology says blocking junk mail in Zumboxes is more effective than blocking unwanted e-mail messages. With e-mail, once a user blocks an unwelcome e-mail address, all the sender needs to do is establish a new e-mail address to continue sending those junk messages. Since each physical address only gets one Zumbox, an unwelcome Zumbox sender would need a new physical address to establish a new Zumbox in order to send more unwanted messages. The company has a system still in beta testing designed to enable individual residences to have multiple Zumbox folders so each resident can have his or her own Zumbox.
Sending Zumbox messages to select neighborhoods will be easy as well, said Baldermann.
"Say there is one section of town that is going to have road work done. We're going to resurface the streets in a particular subdivision. All we have to do is punch in the physical addresses for the subdivision, send that to Zumbox, and they'll all be notified. We can do that instead of hunting down e-mail addresses and hoping the e-mail addresses haven't changed," Baldermann explained.
The security technology protecting personal information of Zumbox users is compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat.
"If we're putting out information to our residents, we want to make sure it remains private -- water billing, vehicle tag information and that sort of thing. Zumbox has a bank-level security system in place. We felt confident our residents' information would be safe," Baldermann said.
The mayor recently got the word out about the Zumboxes through the local newspaper, televised village board meetings and area town hall meetings.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.