Hoffman Estates embraces tech for greater good
Rated as one of the top 50 "Best Places to Live" by Money magazine in 2016, Hoffman Estates boasts outstanding schools, a diverse population and a large sports arena offering residents a variety of year-round recreational opportunities.
Like many municipalities across the United States, the village of Hoffman Estates wants to improve citizen engagement and ensure it remains one of the nation's top places to call home.
"We're forward-thinking when it comes to integrating new technology and are constantly on the lookout for new ways to ensure fiscal operations are kept in line, improve our processes and better engage our citizens," said Anthony Fashoda, assistant finance director for Hoffman Estates.
Empowering residents to help themselves
Governments are under continuous pressure to maximize taxpayer dollars, often with shrinking budgets and staff. During the economic downturn of 2008 -- the same year eBay became an app and PayPal celebrated its 10-year anniversary -- Hoffman Estates implemented new software to help employees streamline processes and improve efficiencies.
One of the first self-service platforms Hoffman Estates introduced to its 55,000-resident community was E-Gov. The online portal allowed citizens to pay their bills, such as water and sewage, pet licenses and parking code violations, from their computers. This was a time when citizens were becoming more accustomed to using real-time, digital access technology to shop and pay bills, and many government agencies were lean.
"When we can let residents serve themselves and no longer have to take in a check, open the envelope and run it to the bank, it's amazing how much time that saves," said Cathy Errichiello, business systems analyst for Hoffman Estates.
In the decade-plus since introducing E-Gov, Hoffman Estates has continued to adopt technology to improve employee productivity and empower citizen engagement by providing self-service capabilities -- such as paying business licenses and taxes online -- that reduce the need for direct contact.
Let there be salt! Making snow-covered roads safer
Technology has opened the doors for internal procedural improvements, too. Hoffman Estates eliminated its manual requisitions-to-check process, which wasted both time and paper. In its place is a streamlined digital process that assures, for instance, that when a winter storm looms, citizens will have salt on the roads so they can more safely drive their cars. "Both employees and citizens benefit from an improved req-to-check process," said Fashoda, who was instrumental in implementing the new system. "A salt purchase for a snowstorm can be approved the same day instead of waiting for up to a week. When public works can get the salt on the roads right away, our citizens are happy." Under the old, manual system, an employee provided a written or emailed request to the department's administrator, who would then run it through the chain of approval using interoffice mail. Because the system lived outside of the digital environment, the requester lacked visibility into request statuses and, if articles were missing, it often took numerous handoffs and communications to rectify the problem.
Realizing the need to improve visibility and speed with process workflows, Hoffman Estates turned to Finance Pro, a cloud-based finance platform that combines finance, human capital management and payroll into a unified, easy-to-use solution. With Finance Pro, an employee -- in the req-to-check example -- enters the request into the online system, gaining access to available vendors, commodity codes, budget balances and frequently requested items. From there, automated workflows move the requisition seamlessly from one approver to the next, reducing up to 80 percent of paperwork and decreasing a process that took four days or more to one. The finance software makes items such as purchase orders and payments just as efficient.
Upgraded software enhances citizen experience
Hoffman Estates has been a CentralSquare Technologies customer for 20 years and has upgraded and implemented new technology solutions as budgets allow. More recently, the village started rolling out an automated community management solution called Community Development.
The platform provides custom, role-based dashboards and workflows for employees, allowing them to see only what's relevant to their job, department or group. Once fully implemented, Hoffman Estates citizens will have an intuitive interface that allows them to enter an online request, such as a building permit, check on its status and approval from a laptop or mobile device -- and will significantly reduce turnaround from weeks to days. By getting results from their local government faster, digitally minded residents are happier and more satisfied.
"Once it's operational, it will be a much more streamlined and efficient way to engage with our citizens," said Errichiello. Technology helps Hoffman Estates thrive
Ultimately, Hoffman Estates would like to eliminate paper completely and transfer all processes online -- whether purchase orders, licensing permits or traffic citations. The village plans to use technology to make employees' jobs easier and more productive while making constituents' lives better.
"We'll keep integrating new technology," Fashoda said. "We're trying to stay up to date, and if we find something to improve engagement for our citizens, we'll definitely take a look."
• Tom Amburgey is senior vice president and general manager of CentralSquare Technologies.