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Social media, mobility shape business process automation in Las Vegas

CIO Joe Marcella, a seasoned practitioner of business process automation, talks about his approach and how the recession -- and social media -- have made BPA more critical than ever.

To say that Joseph Marcella, CIO for the city of Las Vegas, has thought hard about business process automation (BPA) and business process management (BPM) may be an understatement. As the Great Recession continues to take a toll on city services and employment, his centralized IT operations have focused relentlessly on finding ways for this hard-hit municipality to conduct business. A recent example is the Las Vegas municipal court system, for which, in anticipation of radical cuts to the courts' service counter staff, the IT department developed an automated voice service.

Joseph Marcella
Joseph Marcella

Marcella, who manages a total IT budget of about $20.4 million, is no exception to the belt-tightening: His department has dropped from 119 people a few years ago to 71 now. "It's like dancing through a food processor," he said. asked him about his approach to BPA. It's less about technology than one might think, and of course, it's always evolving. His latest point of pride? A mobile website that makes citizens part of the municipal workforce -- and city workflow. Here is a condensed version of our interview.

When you automate and improve business processes, do you run the risk of the automation of one system at some point causing inefficiency in another?
Marcella: Government systems are seldom integrated. There are multiple databases and some systems are very vertical, and there are anomalies in each. If you try business process re-engineering in government, it's almost like hidden time bombs. You peel back a layer and find something else. You can analyze the business practice, as we do, but when you finally get to the re-engineering, things will pop out and cause compromises. In government it is really tough to re-engineer in a wholesale fashion. You get to tweak, revisit and get to tweak again. In our case, sometimes you actually have to go the state legislature and change a rule, so that you can do things in a different fashion.

How long have you been at business process automation, or business practice re-re-engineering, as you call it, for Las Vegas?
Marcella: About 12 years. The city's organization needed to be addressed in the first place because every department and every division was vertical, each doing those things that they did best. But whatever they did before was how they did it forever.

However, there was a very wise city manager who decided that he ought to have all of the information of all of the divisions at his fingertips.

Now, if you look at our website carefully, you will realize that there is no real department presence. It is almost like we took a standard government website and turned it upside down. What you as a citizen are looking at is a whole city; and then virtually and electronically behind it is every one of our systems. So, we provide what the citizen is asking us for, rather than requiring a citizen to understand that that the Public Works Department does potholes.

This approach seems empowering for your citizens. Will this trend continue and, if so, how?
Marcella: You are keying on something that is going to happen with all governments. Or if they don't recognize it, they will have considerable problems. Remember that the economy has caused us to look at our services, and we don't have the people in the backroom anymore to do all the kinds of things we need to do. So, it has to be, not only self-service, but the citizen has to be part of the overall process. It is a different way of looking at things. In the past, citizens have always come to government -- "Give me the service" -- rather than being part of the process. Now we have the technologies that make them part of the process.

If we don't realign our processes internally and change the way we address citizens, we won't be able to figure out the kind of services they need.

Joseph Marcella, CIO, city of Las Vegas

How do social media come into the mix?
Marcella: Government has been reluctant in the past to use social media because first of all, what does Facebook have to do with what we do? But if you get right down to it, many of our citizens are of a different generation, and that is how they are now communicating. Not only are they communicating in that way, they are asking for services in that fashion. If we are not part of that conversation, if we don't realign our processes internally and change the way we address the citizen, we won't be able to figure out the kind of services that they need.

For instance, we just deployed our mobile website. It is the same standardized thing that most governments do: They call it m-something. It is Any device, any phone anywhere can report any issue, so I now have a new workforce, and it is called "the citizen." They are out there finding graffiti or abandoned cars, issues with roads. They are now reporting those things to us, at the site, when they see it; and we are fixing them while we are out in the field. Obviously there are efficiencies in having things this way. Now the citizen is not only part of the process, but also getting immediate satisfaction for helping solve problems.

And oh, by the way, while reporting something on our mobile website, that citizen might just as well take care of other things, like paying a traffic ticket. It is their connection to the overall city via their social media for this new demographic. I'm a baby boomer; I need to think their way, not my way.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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