Oracle OpenWorld 2018 - City of San Jose reimagines the citizen experience with Oracle

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 23, 2018
The City of San Jose has over a million residents and is home to 85,000 businesses. It has developed an app using Oracle cloud, which gives citizens visibility and control over what’s happening in their area.

City of San Jose Rob Lloyd on stage at Oracle OpenWorld
City of San Jose Rob Lloyd on stage (middle) at Oracle OpenWorld

Every now and again we come across a local government case study that sparks the imagination. The City of San Jose did just that this week at Oracle OpenWorld, where CIO Rob Lloyd explained how he and his team are reimagining the citizen experience by putting residents and businesses in control of services in their area.

The City of San Jose is the largest in the Bay Area, home to over 1 million people and supporting over 85,000 businesses. The City has created an online portal and a mobile application - dubbed My San Jose - that allows citizens and residents to submit requests to the relevant government authority to take action, providing them with insight and authority like never before. It is using Oracle Cloud to provide the service technology and Integration Cloud Service to connect to a host of back-end systems.

However, the underlying technology is less important than the way that Lloyd and San Jose view their approach to development. Lloyd said:

So just at a high level, the conversation we're having with our vendors and our partners is that the city of San Jose is no longer looking for products and solutions, right? We're actually looking for platforms and ecosystems because we have this large tapestry of technologies that we're trying to weave together and that's through integrations.

The fact of the matter is, is we have an increasing level of complexity, so many devices, so much data, so many services, that you have to abstract that difficulty and complexity at some point. We need that platform and an ecosystem of partners to be able to tie together those things in a way that's coherent enough that we can train around it.

First you break down the silos of the organization, so it's not just a finance thing or a transportation thing or a public works thing, but a city effort. My San Jose was intended to be exactly that.

However, the key aim is:

We are in charge of being stewards. We inherit this community, this beautiful wonderful community, and our job is to pass it on to the next folks, more beautiful and wonderful than we received it.

Not something you’d expect to hear from a CIO. But it’s key. The portal and app are changing the citizen expectation and experience of San Jose as a city. For example, previously, if a resident had seen a pothole in the road, or a broken streetlight, and had wanted to report it to the Council, it would have required a call to a contact centre, or a written complaint, that would then be handed over the wall and never seen again.

Now, a resident can report a pothole via the app, mark the location, submit a picture, that request is directly routed to the relevant department, and in some instances has seen the relevant person at the location within fifteen minutes. Not only that, but the person that submitted the complaint is able to view its progress online from start to finish.

This project, which the team called ACE (Amazing Customer Experience), was centred around a number of principles that the Council feels are important - safety, inclusion, sustainability, and being allowed to fail fast and fail forward.

In addition to this, ACE was centred around three approaches - championing the customer, learning through data, and iterating to improve.

Having a defined focus on outcomes, and what you want to achieve and why, is fundamental. Lloyd explained that the City of San Jose needed to be smart about how it approached this. He said:

We have some world class problems that are going to require some world class talent. We are one of the leanest big cities in the country - San Jose’s IT’s budget and staff looks like Albakerky, New Mexico. We have to see around a few corners to make those services last and perform, at that resource level.

Our families and businesses also struggle against some massive weights of cost. It is exceptionally expensive to do business in Silicon Valley. The least we can say is, we want our community to be engaged and be a part of our government.

Amazing Customer Experience (ACE)

Lloyd explained that My San Jose, or ACE as a project, was architected around the philosophies and principles highlighted above. He said:

We said we wanted an elegant user experience that is that digital front door. It’s an app, it’s an online portal, it’s calling, it’s direct chat. We are going to be as welcoming as we can of all those community members. Number two, we want that platform to perform that CRM platform. We want it to be able to route, instead of just spraying emails around the organisation. We want it to integrate with the work management systems of the city. When someone sends something in, it gets immediately referred to the team that does the work, as the work gets progressed, it immediately communicates those facts to the community member.

And then the analytics around that. As this platform works, we for the first time as a city, have this data layer of information that shows us everything that our community is requesting of us. How powerful is that? You can see what is top of mind for your community, what that resource picture looks like.

Lloyd said that everything that ACE has done thus far has been about engaging and reengineering the process. He said that the project and the tech was “going to be really hard”, but that was still the easiest part. The harder part, Lloyd added, “is actually the process reengineering”. And that’s an organisational challenge. He said:

The harder part is...the sense of ownership, breaking of those silos, making the data driven decisions. That constant process reengineering is going to be the difficult aspect of ACE.

However, this too was tackled by embarking on an engagement process, but this time internally. For example, he met with the Council and engaged with the community to find out what were the most used services, to begin with those (of which there are five). He said:

What are the requests you receive the most? Let’s build our first set of solutions and do what we call ‘nailing it and scaling it’. Once we get those things down and we learn, then we are going to be more capable. This is going to be the tip of the spear project, but we want to be able to come out the other end able to do more of it, better at it. Not to be the exception, but to be the mode.

Changing expectations

As far as progress goes, My San Jose has been a great success for the city. For example, in the first month it had 17,000 users and 40,000 requests. This has grown to about 220,000 service requests in the first fourteen months, 94% of which were completed successfully.

However, Lloyd does note that the introduction of engagement technology has led to one direct outcome that needs to be managed - changing citizen expectation. He said:

Our residents see government as a monolith. When they report to us a state problem, or a water and district problem, the last thing they want to hear is ‘sorry we can’t handle that’. They can actually get pretty upset. They just see us as ‘Government’.

The second lesson we learned was that we uberized the consumer experience expectation. When someone submits a streetlight outage or a graffiti thing, if we don’t resolve within a couple of days, the feedback is that we failed them. We somehow changed the expectation set from normal to hyper. We are going to have to learn how to communicate that better.

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