The City of Elgin, Illinois

Giving citizens a direct line to city government

PROBLEM 

The City of Elgin exists to serve citizens, but like all cities, finding optimal ways to do that was a challenge. Interdepartmental collaboration was held up by a lack of centralized content. Small business owners were frustrated with red tape. Employees felt constricted by inefficient ways of getting work done.

 

SOLUTION

The city implemented several systems built on Cloud Content Management from Box. These included an automated, self-serve small-business application process; an app to connect residents directly to city services; and an upgraded case-management system for frequent service users whose needs had put a strain on city resources.
 

OUTCOME

Now, residents feel empowered. Employees do their jobs more efficiently, with simplified processes built on a single content platform. Teams like social workers and emergency services personnel collaborate to help those in need. And local entrepreneurs can start a new business entirely online, a hugely transformative change that will take a normally month-long process down to a week.

Most cities have a vested interest in promoting small business. It's good for the economy, good for citizens, and good for tourism. But you wouldn't always know it as an entrepreneur. The red tape involved in launching a small business can be daunting and the process aggravating. Applications, permits, licenses, zoning issues, fees — these are all hoops the average small-business owner jumps through to get a coffee shop or carwash up and running.

There are reasons for the lengthy process and the wait times. Within city government, information must be routed to a lot of different departments to ensure every business operates properly. Anything that can be done to streamline this process has a direct impact on small-business owners and benefits the city as a whole.

This was the theory when the City of Elgin, Illinois, decided to bring its small-business application process to the cloud. Using Cloud Content Management from Box, the city is launching a portal for small-business owners to help them navigate all the steps involved in founding and running a business. Soon, people will take care of paperwork, applications, and fee payments from home, and see exactly where they are in the process right on their screens.

"It will be hugely transformative for the City of Elgin," says Laura Valdez, Assistant City Manager. "Using Box will eliminate the need for business owners to be here in person scheduling appointments and waiting for people to respond. It will create a seamless experience between the City of Elgin and the applicant." Valdez predicts that the application processing time will go from more than 30 days to just a week.

 

One centralized content platform to better serve city residents

About 40 miles west of Chicago, the City of Elgin has 115,000 residents, making it the eighth largest city in the state. Its civic government spans 19 departments, many of them focused on public safety concerns such as police, fire, and neighborhood services. This focus on citizens is what drove Elgin's leadership to hone in on Cloud Content Management, and specifically on Box — a move that supports citizens way beyond small business.

"Our goal is not digital transformation, although we’re achieving that along the way," says Valdez. "Our goal is to make sure our residents have the best possible customer service experience when they’re connecting to us — whether in person or through a device. To achieve that, we’re creating a better environment for our staff to do their jobs, access information quickly, and ultimately serve our residents at an even higher level.” Valdez and other technology champions within the city are working to centralize all types of content and information, from resident contact information to mapping property, urban forest, water meters, fire hydrants, and all the other "assets" any city must keep track of. 

Valdez says, "Whether residents are doing business with us or simply interacting with us, we want them to know that the information they get is accurate and that we are here to help." By the end of this year, the City of Elgin will have migrated about 10 to 12 terabytes of data to the cloud. That centralization of content will enable many exciting use cases for the city.  

 

 "We have an overall vision of connecting the right people at the right time to the right information — both internally and externally. So we're creating a digital space where you can see and keep track of any information that is important to you — whether you’re a resident, a property owner, or an employee. It's huge. I don't think it's ever been done this holistically before."

 Laura Valdez, Assistant City Manager, City of Elgin

 

City of Elgin

An app that creates action citizens can count on

Five years ago, the city launched a 311 service to give residents a direct line to government, routing non-emergency requests through a call center. For example, a resident calls 311 to report a pothole on the street. The resident gives a verbal description to an operator, along with the approximate location. This puts a service request in motion to fix the pothole. But the city has no way of knowing how bad the pothole is, apart from a subjective citizen report, which makes it hard to prioritize accurately. And the citizen doesn't know when the pothole will be fixed. 

Because Salesforce integrates with Box, there's an upcoming solution: a resident snaps a picture of a pothole and uploads it to the city's Box-enabled app. With automatic geotagging, the city knows exactly where the pothole is and can visually determine its severity. This information is automatically routed to the right department, and a street worker who happens to be nearby is reassigned to fix the pothole right away. The app pings the resident when the pothole repair is scheduled or fixed.

City of Elgin

 

This type of functionality, made possible by an integration between Cloud Content Management (Box) and a Customer Relationship Management tool (Salesforce), will create a more gratifying experience for citizens and a more efficient process for the city. The city is also excited to connect Box with its recent move to Office 365: "Box is going to become the actual content layer," says Valdez. "We're looking for any toolset that's going to help us leverage Box as our primary content platform."

 

"The flexibility and capabilities of Box, coupled with the fact that we have both internal users and collaborate externally, gives us a level of transparency, expediency, and engagement that has never been available simultaneously. This is key for any city government."

Laura Valdez, Assistant City Manager, City of Elgin

Seamless, secure sharing for inter-agency collaboration

Building on the Box and Salesforce integration, the City of Elgin is also creating a case-management system to better assist those who are frequent users of community services. For example, one resident recently required hospital transport 77 times in one year for issues related to addiction and mental health, putting a strain on various services like the police department, fire department, hospital, and social services.

Multiple case managers and employees across government agencies need better ways of working together to help “Jane Doe” get out of the system. The City of Elgin is currently developing a centralized repository that leverages Salesforce and Box to set up use cases for frequent service users.

“In Elgin, we strive to create a safe and healthy community for all, including those who require frequent services,” says Valdez. “Centralizing content on a single platform and bringing together experts across multiple agencies will help ensure that Jane Doe has every resource pulling in the same direction to assist her into a more stable lifecycle.”

Of course, any application that uses citizens' personal information must carefully guard its data. With its powerful compliance capabilities and robust sharing permissions, Box is that solution. Soon, this system will connect any city service that a frequent service user might rely on. Multiple case managers and other stakeholders will be able to collaborate in real time to help residents who need extra support.

 

"There's no shortage of priorities in the community, but if we're not moving the needle with residents, we're not making the progress we need to."

 Laura Valdez, Assistant City Manager, City of Elgin

Leveraging all the security Box offers

In addition to relying on the compliance capabilities built into Box, "We take our permission set very seriously," says Jeff Massey, CTO, "and we've structured our accounts and folders to reflect that type of environment." Files and folders are set up so that only the right people have access, and Massey and his team provide hands-on training to the city's employees to encourage smart use of content. Users are taught to share files — not entire folders — whenever possible. But if something goes wrong, Massey and his team have the ability to revoke permissions at any time. "We're leveraging all the security Box offers," he says.

The balance of easy collaboration and frictionless security have made the move to Box smooth for the City of Elgin. This is critical for a future-forward city government in the age of digital disruption. "Gone are the days when technology understanding and use existed in only one department — the IT department," says Valdez. "If you have a forward-thinking, progressive organization that leverages technology to better serve customers or residents, every single person within that organization has the responsibility of using it and understanding its value." 

"As long as you're focused on delivering the best experience to not only your employees but members of the public," Massey says, "it's all going to move along. You'll always be able to find the right pieces of technology to help you in your mission, and for us, Box is definitely part of that equation."