Two simple tricks to make city employees more productive

Thu, 2013-09-19 06:06 -- Jesse Berst

These two related techniques from Government Technology Magazine are not earthshaking in any way. But they do illustrate three important but often overlooked aspects of the smart cities movement.

The first is the idea of employee productivity. With all the hoopla over Open Data and citizen apps, it's easy to overlook city staffers. Yes, we want to help city residents, but it makes financial sense to help city employees too.

The second is the notion of standardizing and sharing across departments. When I talk to ICT executives from cities, they almost always complain that they have all sorts of separate systems running in separate departments. As you will read below, St. Petersburg and Tampa found centralized solutions to pesky access issues.

And the third is the idea of incremental progress. If you can make employees 1% more productive with one project... then 2% with another... and another 1% with a third... pretty soon you will get to a significant aggregate number. Smart cities don't have to be about giant redevelopments or massive rip-and-replace projects. Provided you've got citywide standards, policies and processes, you can get where you want to go one small step at a time. -- Jesse Berst


Noting that identity and password management have been a hot topic for a number of industries, Government Technology reports that government agencies have been taking a look too. It examines how two Florida cities – St. Petersburg and Tampa – have gained efficiencies through more streamlined approaches to user identity and access management for city staffers.

In St. Petersburg, with approximately 3,600 full and part-time employees, password reset requests were out of control, bogging down the city's IT help desk. So managers took a two-pronged approach:

  1. They instituted a self-serve password reset tool that involved end users choosing a series of challenge questions and providing answers; once done they simply click a "Forgot my password" button, answer the questions and reset their passwords themselves.
  2. The average user had to remember eight username/password combinations to access internal systems, so the second phase of the project involved reducing the number of passwords with a commercially available single sign-on  solution provided by the same vendor that provided the password reset solution.

The result? IT staff went from more than 10 password reset requests a day to about zero.

The issue in Tampa was deployment of a new HR/financial system that required every employee to have an Active Directory account to access it. Other programs the city was using exacerbated the issue given the number of employees joining and leaving the city 's employ.

The solution was to automate processes to create accounts for new employees and to automatically disable accounts when employees leave. The city also implemented a web portal where employees can request access to different groups, applications or roles.

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.