Unfortunately, addressing problems don’t typically capture the attention of most county officials until “bad things” occur: a fire that forces evacuation of residents, a death because an ambulance couldn’t find an address (or were routed to a wrong address), people voting in the wrong districts, or someone picking up on the fact that “some” county residents haven’t been paying their fair share of taxes (or any share at all).
In the meanwhile, counties across the United States continue to struggle with the issue of addressing. Why? Because the addressing needs of a county tend to be managed on a department-by-department basis (instead of across the enterprise). Not only does this approach mask the magnitude of the problem, but the result is a mish-mash of processes, information management techniques, and data which, in turn, leads to wasted resources, lost revenues, increased risks, and poor customer service.
So what’s the solution? First, addressing needs to be viewed as an enterprise (rather than departmental) resource that supports the needs of the entire county. Secondly, technology, workflow, and business process solutions must be implemented in order to develop a true enterprise addressing model—one that can act as the central repository for all county business. Finally, because not every department will immediately support the enterprise approach, a project plan must be defined that incorporates these “slow-moving” departments.
Then county officials can start reaping the benefits of improved addresses: increased revenues, improved efficiency, decreased risks, better customer service, AND … “keeping your name out of the papers.”
From my earlier posts, you heard me discuss (a.k.a., rant) about the importance of enterprise repositories for managing critical information. In short, instead of storing the same information in multiple vertical applications, store and manage the data centrally.
But … this is only part of the solution. Some of the more advanced customers that we work with have already seen the benefit of enterprise repositories and are already moving in that direction. My response is typically “Great!!” But … this is typically followed at some later date by: “Have you thought about how you’re going to share that information with other downstream applications and/or users?”
An individual department, for example, may create an enterprise addressing repository but the tax department still manages their own addresses. What happens if the tax office makes a change to an address? Does the GIS repository know about it, and if so, how much manual effort is involved with making this change available to others?
Another typical example is that when a new plan is approved, often the next step is issuing addresses and building permits. The question is: How soon will that information be available to other departments, such as E911?
The key to all this is not just to create and manage information centrally but to be able to create the facilities to share those addresses with other applications.
One of the keys to designing and implementing large enterprise software systems is to put together a project plan that addresses the “big picture,” but breaks down the implementation steps into a series of “bite-size” projects that provide immediate benefit.
Let’s look at the implementation of an enterprise addressing repository as an example. Most everybody would agree that managing the same information in multiple applications by multiple people is a bad idea. Yet if you look at a local government, classically each department has been on their own managing the information that they need in order to do the work of their individual department (certainly including addressing).
This becomes a huge impediment to change in that the problem is so large that it becomes hard to even begin a project. Without apologies to my vegetarian friends, an old adage comes into play: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The extension of this to the IT world is to “design big” but break projects down on the basis of clearly defined “manageable” steps that provide immediate benefit. Going back to the enterprise repository approach that I mentioned earlier, the goal of establishing the county-wide enterprise repository may be noble, but you’ve still got the issue of how to get there.
One approach is to identify a key department or application and focus the energy on integrating the repository with their business processes, resulting in a manageable set of tasks, a solid proof of concept, and immediate benefit to that department by increasing efficiency and improving data. Once success is found, then you can begin to build upon this by tackling other components of the implementation.
I’m not exactly clear what generation I am. My Dad fought in the Pacific in WW2, and that probably should make me part of the baby-boomer generation (although being the youngest of 5, it puts me at the tail-end of that generation). My son came home from college one day, however, and promptly declared me to be a part of the X-generation. I’m not exactly sure why, but it appeared to have something to do with my views on life and my embracing of technology.
This is actually a bit interesting, since I didn’t grow up around technology – I bought my first PC in grad school to help me write my thesis (it was an IBM XT BTW, just for those of you who are “experienced” enough to know – remember the “turbo” button). I also remember marching across the quad with a box of punch cards to submit to the mainframe gods.
Now …. the interesting stuff. I have 2 sons, ages 22 and 23. These guys grew up with technology and couldn’t even imagine a world without it. They expect to be connected all of the time and use technology for everything they do. In addition, they will “never ever” consult a user’s manual. My kids seem to push buttons until they figure it out. They expect technology to be easy to use and to give them immediate and full access to everything (i.e., instant gratification).
Why am I getting into this discussion? This new generation is coming of age. My niece and her husband (also of the same generation as my boys), for example, just bought their first house. Because of their familiarity with technology and their expectations for instant access, they will never be happy running down to the county or city offices to get a building permit. They will expect local government-related information to be on the web and to be instantly available. In addition, they will show little tolerance for changing the same information in multiple departments (think addresses).
These folks will end up demanding changes in how cities and counties approach their business and their emphasis on instant access will challenge both local government technology and the vendor community. Public sector technology or private sector—it’s all the same to them. They want it NOW.
Everybody who deals with addressing seems to understand the problems – too many people/departments maintaining addresses in too many vertical applications. The result: bad addresses, inconsistencies, etc. that cause a slew of problems—including issues with public safety. There isn’t a single presentation I’ve given on the issues and problems of addresses where I don’t have people nodding their heads up-and-down in violent agreement.
So…why hasn’t this problem been fixed before? I think a lot of it comes back to the basic structure of local government. In local government, each department typically acts as its own business – if addressing is critical to their business than they’re going to take care of what they need first.
By the way, this type of issue isn’t restricted to local government; it’s more about human nature in general (and it’s also common within private enterprise). Both Mike Wierzbinski (a co-founder of Farragut) and I, for example, got our start at IBM designing solutions for a variety of large governmental and commercial clients. A lot of the solutions that we designed focused on creating repositories of information (oftentimes, huge databases) with the intent of reducing the need to manage individual “silos” of data and instead managing information as an enterprise resource.
Addressing is one example of that, but this issue affects other types of information as well, including streets, parcels, and land records. Any time you manage the same set of data in different databases, you run into problems with consistency and quality of information. Enterprise repositories allow information to be centrally managed and shared with other downstream users, thus increasing efficiency and resulting in better data.