The words ready and resilient have taken on new meaning in the years following a global pandemic and unprecedented natural disasters, especially as we stand on the precipice of a likely financial recession. Our CivicPlus® Citizen Relationship Management solution team had the opportunity to attend this year’s American Public Work’s Association (APWA) Public Works Expo (PWX) in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August. We leaned way into the conference theme of readiness and resilience.
We’re privileged to work with 12,000 customers, over 7,500 of which are local governments, who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe, clean, and prosperous. We feel a sense of responsibility to support our customers in their continual quest to stay nimble in their ability to respond to the unexpected and remain impervious to the questions, concerns, and—we’ll say it—complaints that are an intrinsic reality of public service. Our commitment to continual education and evaluation took us to Charlotte to learn alongside our customers from leaders in the public works space.
Three themes were prevalent in this year’s education sessions and the conversations we held at our exhibitor booth. Those themes were:
- The rapid evolution of technology on pace to automate critical resident service interactions
- The challenges facing leaders in positions to act as agents of change in their departments
- The need to continue addressing remote work needs as public works teams future-proof their workflows for the next generation of employees.
Here’s what we learned:
Smart Service Request and Asset Management Technology is Outpacing Current Infrastructure, Making it Time to Switch to Cloud-Based Systems
At a time when you can pause live television and track your food delivery down the driver’s exact GPS location, residents expect to be able to see the status of their service request at any time from any device. This resident desire for transparency is putting pressure on public works teams from two endpoints. First, not only do teams need accurate and collaborative service request technology, but more imminently, they also need cloud-based applications for field workers that feed that service request system. Put simply, clipboards and paper forms are no longer cutting it.
The various sessions on stormwater management and the session Smart Work Zones underscored the need to arm field workers with cloud-based technology that allows them to document issues, repairs, and progress on-site, with photos, notes, and geotagged data and feed it directly to their service request and asset management systems.
For those administrations whose infrastructure is not yet optimized to support cloud-based fieldwork, we anticipate seeing rapid adoption in the next 18 months to two years to continually remain ready and resilient for ongoing natural disaster and community repair challenges.
Community Leadership and Change Management will Redefine the Relationships Between Local Governments and Residents
Not a news flash: the world is changing. We’re more reliant on technology, more physically diversified, and despite our geographical separation, we’re more interconnected than ever before. What this means for leaders of public sector teams that have been operating using in-person interactions and workflow modalities, and with the same paper-based systems, and from the same office, for years (maybe even decades), is that moving residents and staff along the digital transformation spectrum won’t be easy. However, we left PWX feeling inspired and ready to tackle the challenge.
Our inspirational leaders at PWX taught us that what challenges us changes us. We were inspired by the session, Learn to Better Manage Conflict and Reach Collaborative Strategies, not to feel apprehensive or try to avoid challenging conversations with staff who are resistant to change.
We were further inspired by the session, Digital Education Campaigns: 6 Strategies to Effectively Communicate the Importance of Infrastructure Improvements, as we think about how we can support our customers seeking broad community adoption of large-scale projects and initiatives.
Governments Must Ensure they are Supporting the Next Generation of Public Works Leaders with Communication Tools and Work Environments that Fit their Evolving Workplace Expectations
One of the most impactful PWX sessions we attended was, Navigating what’s next: Leadership Insights for the New World of Work. As a company with multiple global offices and a diversified workforce, we still felt impacted by the abrupt shift to work-from-home realities caused by the pandemic. Working with our customers during that time, we saw public meetings that have occurred in person for generation go entirely virtual, we saw parks and recreation departments offering a full line-up of virtual and online classes and activities, and we saw public works teams trying to keep field workers safe while facilitating traditional office work from home offices.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, Millennials, defined as those born between 1981 and 1997, became the largest generation in the U.S. Labor force. Unlike any of the generations that preceded them, Millennials and Gen-Zers grew up in a digital world with the convenience of the Internet and Wi-Fi-enabled devices at their fingertips. According to the State of the Connected Customer survey from Salesforce, 71 percent of workers expect their employer to provide the same level of technology as they use in their personal lives. A study further found that 49 percent of Millennials believe new technologies will augment their jobs.
To retain the highest quality Millennial staff and give them the tools they want to excel in their positions, public works departments should provide their personnel with enterprise mobility solutions that will allow them to work collaboratively, efficiently, and impactfully.
Such technology access should include cloud-based software solutions allowing field workers to monitor and track work they complete in the field, on-site administrators to check in service requests, analyze resident request data to identify trends and track assets based on work order frequency to budget for supplies and equipment.
Thank you to this year’s organizers of APWA. We feel ready, resilient, refreshed, and recommitted to doing everything we can to make government work better. We look forward to seeing you all next year for more learning and networking. Until then, if we can partner together to help you solve your communication or cloud-based software challenges, contact us any time.