Miami’s self-service push is ‘never-ending’

Implementers of award-winning portal offer tips from the trenches

There’s no huge secret behind one of the most innovative government self-service portals, “A lot of analysis and homework,” says Miami-Dade County Senior Web Developer and County Webmaster Assia Alexandrova, referring to the ongoing effort to bring county services online in an integrated, easy-to-use fashion. “It’s still not enough,” she says. “It’s never-ending.”

The portal, which has won numerous awards and serves more than 60,000 visitors a day, got started a few years ago with proof-of-concept applications such as parking-ticket payment and a “buckslip” workflow application to track citizen requests and report them to the appropriate department, Alexandrova says. Working with IBM Global Services, Interwoven, and BPM (business process management) vendor Identitech, the County has since added many more transactional and informational capabilities and services, such as the ability to pay water bills, apply for occupational licenses, or schedule building inspections online.

“When you start doing the analysis, the desire is to have everything perfect ... before being implemented, but that’s not a reality,” Alexandrova explains. “You need legislation. You need to get everyone on the same page. We do small steps at a time, and they do end up as a nice service bundle.”

To improve user experience, the County conducted complete process and workflow reviews, Alexandrova says. One such review revealed that securing a building permit required as many as eight payments to three separate departments. The procedure has subsequently been streamlined to require only three payments as part of a unified process.

Another key challenge has been working with the many IT shops throughout the County, each of which has its own initiatives and often incompatible business processes and technology platforms. This has required support from the County Managers office and the creation of a County CIO office and an IT architecture committee. “The support typically comes from someone who has a handle on an operational level,” Alexandrova says. “And we’ve also had to demonstrate the utility of what we we’ve been doing to elected officials.”

Alexandrova believes that successful deployments involve questioning established processes (“OK, are all these physical signatures really necessary?”), making sure all applications have the same look and feel, and agreeing on requirements up front (“You need to have a firm grip on your processes and what you want to do with them”).

Alexandrova advises other counties to deploy services that are a combination of their own analysis and industry best practices. She urges them to work closely with vendors and to insist on knowledge transfer to avoid becoming vendor-dependent. She also suggests resisting the natural impulse to standardize and integrate all legacy systems content. “First create the business case as to what systems need integration and what makes sense to integrate.”