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A “Stern” view of what’s next in citizen services

By Jeff Friedman, Director of Modern Government, Microsoft Corporation on March 9, 2017

Filed under Microsoft CityNext

Man with hat and laptop sitting by empty fountain outside a glass building

Stern Consulting logoIn my Microsoft CityNext work, I love exchanging ideas with state and local government customers and partners as well as thought leaders, such as Spencer Stern, principal of Stern Consulting, a boutique consultancy based in Chicago.

Having worked with city and county governments for nine years as the principal of his own firm and previously initiating Motorola’s 311/customer relationship management (CRM) practice, Spencer is known for taking a holistic approach to help city and county governments find the right solutions to engage citizens and deliver digital services. “We’re a vendor-agnostic firm,” he said. “We just help the clients make the right decisions for themselves” on software and processes to run efficiently.

Here’s a recap of a Q&A with Spencer on the future of citizen services.

Jeff Friedman: How have citizen services evolved and what are the big trends?

Spencer Stern: When I started in the CRM space a long time ago, it was typically all around service request processing—missed trash pickup or removing graffiti or fixing traffic lights. The next wave focused on knowledge; there was a big build-up of how to build and leverage frequently asked questions, making knowledge more accessible to the citizens.

Most recently, what we’ve been seeing over the past 18 to 24 months, is the desire for municipalities to find out more information on their citizens. We’re not collecting any proprietary information; it’s more how they want to be communicated with—phone, email, mobile, social media. Finding information about their preferences—are there affinity groups that they like to be engaged with, such as, community biking or recycling initiatives? It’s finding out information about people in their household—languages, so when they’re contacting the city, they’re going to be getting somebody that speaks their language. Also, understanding if there are seniors or children living in the home so we can push out information to them about senior programs or camp options and daycare. The more information we collect on citizens, the more information we can push out to them proactively to engage them and meet their needs.

Another big trend is self-help services, such as mobile and leveraging social media to communicate with people who want self-service.

Now the big one is AI, artificial intelligence. Municipalities are just looking into using these artificial intelligence devices to have citizens communicate, to get answers, to get services processed, etc., and they’re not even interacting with a human.

The other key thing is IoT (Internet of Things). We’re seeing some municipalities deploying IoT technologies (for example) to proactively change the traffic light before it goes out. That is going to be another big trend in the future. I know Microsoft is very focused on this area.

Friedman: What U.S. cities are leading the way with innovative citizen services?

Stern: Los Angeles and Boise, Idaho, are trying to build these very rich citizen profiles so they can better engage, better interact with the citizens than they have in the past. San Francisco has done a great job of leveraging social media to communicate with their citizens. Boston is one of the leading communities, especially around using mobile to engage their citizens. The City of Chicago is another that’s using texting and Facebook very well (for example) to help with snow removal and plowing. In some instances, they’re trying to pair up people who can’t shovel with citizens that are willing to volunteer to shovel. I think it’s an innovative way to engage citizens, to build a sense of community. Additionally, Los Angeles and New York City are exploring the usage of AI in citizen engagement.

Friedman: How can cities better engage citizens?

Stern: No. 1, start small, don’t try to bite off more than you can chew regarding citizen engagement. Find a specific department or a specific tool to utilize. For example, cities want to get on social media and they want to launch five channels simultaneously—Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest. That’s not the right approach. Start small, be incremental about it, build on the successes.

The other thing is make sure you’re getting the executive mindshare (which could be the mayor, city manager, county executive or influential department head). Those are people that have an enterprise-wide, executive-level view of the organization. Securing their support to be a champion of the project will help these initiatives move forward.

The other thing, I would spend some time experimenting with different platforms. It’s really important to work with platforms that are open and can integrate and share with other platforms.

Friedman: Have you worked with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform?

Stern: In the work I have done, the clients have been very pleased with it. It’s easy to use, it’s easy to get trained on and it’s becoming more prevalent in the municipal space, which is leading to greater traction.

Thanks to Spencer for sharing his views on what’s next in citizen services; please learn more at Stern Consulting. Microsoft CityNext and our partners share an interest in empowering cities to better engage citizens and deliver personalized digital services. Current projects include working with AvePoint on IoT initiatives, Adoxio is implementing our Dynamics CRM platform in multiple cities and 3Di in setting up Microsoft Azure for LA’s 311 system. For more information, please visit Microsoft CityNext and the following partners that are focused on citizen services:

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