ST ALBANS TOWN-- What if Town residents had 24-hour access to their Town Hall, where they could pay their water bills, register their dog licenses, pay their property taxes and ask questions about their roads, parks and recreational facilities without the confines of Town Hall hours and staff in-house?
Soon, they will.
St. Albans Town is the first municipality in the country to pilot the groundbreaking new technology Polimorphic for Cities developed by a team of software engineers to optimize municipal operations and bring them into the future.
“This is going to change how people interact with Town government and ultimately how we handle those interactions,” said Town Director of Operations Corey Parent. “It will turn into better services and a better experience to live in our community. We have a new website, we'll have a new Town Hall, and now we’ll be able to make data-driven decisions and extend our Town Hall to serve our residents better.”
When asked about his inspiration for the technology, CEO and software engineer Parth Shah said he and some of his classmates -- while at MIT-- discovered that information storage and collection of legislation and operations at a state government level largely involved archaic techniques, like manilla folders and basic notepads.
“We thought, 'Can we make software for that?'” Shah said. “And we picked Vermont (to test our technology), because this was going to be the first pilot of our program. There are towns and cities we had to say no to. We knew we had to pick the right town.”
Shah and his team reached out to the Town to offer free access to their pilot technology, and for the past month and a half the zoning team, stormwater team and municipal government have been working to implement the technology so that residents can access their future customer portal with ease and efficiency.
“What we want to implement for the Town for years to come are data sets that the new municipal leaders can use for making policy,” Parent said. “Nobody else was building a customer relationship management specifically for government. But if we don’t measure and gather data then we can’t improve as a Town, and this will allow us to do that."
“Where is truly the future of government going?” Parent said. “Since the advent of the computer, most private businesses have had customer relationship management software. When I was in insurance, we would document all of our communications with our clients. Doctors do it with electronic records, heck even my dog has an electronic health record at the vet’s office...with software like this, calls get logged and it can be addressed much more immediately. This allows information to flow, and not die on a yellow pad.”
The communications aspect of the portal allows for Town officials to organize communications to the Town by topic and logging them with a tag so recipients can track what the email is in reference to.
“Then, we can start looking at trends,” Parent said. “That way we can go to the Selectboard and present our findings in terms of what people are concerned about when they’re making policy. It will allow us to be much more proactive with our decisions.”
Polimorphic also logs steps in permitting processes, so that residents and town officials can see where residents are in the process of permitting process.
“We can see how many days it takes to get through the process to, say, build a new house,” Parent said. “So in a couple of years we can draw the average amount of time that it takes, and then work to improve that process. We can start having those internal discussions about how to improve the methods we have in place.
"You’ll be able to pay online, submit documents online, and know what stage of the process you’re in,” Shah said. “You’ll have a portal as a constituent of the city, and see everything that’s going on, and for the Town it will be so much easier to process. You’ll be capturing everything digitally. It will all start to come together.”
“For the first time, we’re collecting digital payments for services,” Parent said.
Stormwater Coordinator Emmalee Cherington currently uses the tool to see who in the town -- currently municipal staff -- has paid their stormwater utility bill, because its tied to their profile in Polimorphic.
Parent said eventually all of their services will be paid online, including property taxes and registrations.
“People our age don’t show up to Town Hall,” Parent said. “The reason people don’t do things like register their dogs is because we’re only open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and we want to be providing services to constituents 24/7. People forget the government at its most fundamental level is still a customer service organization. This is a tool to improve that customer service. It’s something that businesses have been doing for 20-plus years, and applying it to Town government.”
With the use of Polimorphic, residents will be able to log in on their time instead of physically making it to the Town Hall for many of their currently in-person services, Parent said.
Municipal leaders will draw from the data extraction technology of Polimorphic when making staffing decisions to analyze where they may need reinforcements and to grow their teams.
“We live in a Town that looks to spend tax dollars wisely,” Parent said. “With this tool, we can get more out of the dollars we spend and then if we ever need to go for more dollars, we’ll have data supporting that decision. We’re not going to do it just because we feel like we need an extra body or service.”
By Kate Barcellos at the St. Albans Messenger. The link to the original article here.