Smart Management

How the Internet of Things Could Transform Public Services

Cars that can communicate with each other to avoid collisions. Thermostats that can be controlled from thousands of miles away with a smartphone. Industrial machinery that alerts its operators when maintenance is needed. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. All of these make one thing clear: The definition of a computer is changing, again.

The continued evolution toward cheaper processors and faster networks has enabled a shift from desktop workstations to mobile phones and, now, to everyday objects, inspiring the term "Internet of Things" (IoT). Almost any device can be Internet-enabled, linking it to additional computing power and analytic capabilities that make it "smart." READ MORE

The Importance of Listening to Public Employees Complain

One of the darker little corners of state and local human resources departments is the area of grievances. Here, in-house claims are filed by employees when they believe they’ve been treated unjustly by their government employers. Many employees’ claims stem from a belief that they were unfairly denied the chance to work overtime, that their pay is too low, that they have been refused an anticipated bonus or that they have been passed over for promotion.

States and localities set up grievance procedures to avoid the expensive and debilitating lawsuits that could emanate from angry employees who see no other means to settle their problems internally. And although most cities and counties are not overwhelmed by the number of grievances filed, the claims take their toll. “They consume significant amounts of managerial time and correlate with employee turnover rates,” according to a report from the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Government. READ MORE

The Uberizing of the Government Workforce

More and more, state and local governments are turning to temporary and contract employees in the wake of the Great Recession, which left their workforces shrunken by some 600,000 workers. Forty-two percent of human-resources managers surveyed this year by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) reported that they were hiring temporary or contract employees.

It's not hard to see why this is happening in government, just as it is in the private sector. One city manager put it this way: "Hiring contract employees is less risky if we have to downsize again -- and we don't have to cover their benefits." But governments have traditionally relied on high-quality benefits to attract and retain the stable workforces they need for the long haul. "If we're all Uberized, where do I get my benefits?" AFSCME's Steve Kreisberg asked at SLGE's recent Retirement Security Summit. READ MORE

Helping Doctors Go Digital

Over the last years, while interviewing state Medicaid directors and local health officials, we’ve heard that the use of electronic health records has the potential to be a great cost saver for governments. They let doctors from different departments or different hospitals easily work together with the same records with far less costly human intervention. Though there's a lot of potential here, the vision for what can be ultimately accomplished falls short in the implementation.

We’ve heard many doctors -- both journalistic sources and personal contacts -- complain about the negative effects of this technology. Among the issues most obvious to patients are delays from frozen screens and missing digital records. During our own experience with doctors at New York City hospitals, health-care providers told us repeatedly to carry our own medical records in old-fashioned manila folders in case the digital transfer didn’t materialize. When hospitals merge, the problems just get worse.  READ MORE

Dubious Surpluses, Questionable Savings, Beneficial Failures and More

Three years ago, Atlanta streamlined the building permit process in an effort to make up for increased building fees. That seemed like a rational tradeoff. But when the city auditor’s office took a look, it came up with a few unexpected -- and negative -- findings.

First of all, the Office of Buildings didn’t even bother to assess the costs of the new streamlined services so that fees could be set appropriately. As a result, it ended up with a $28 million surplus in fiscal year 2014. That’s equal to about three years of operating expenses. Fees really aren’t supposed to be a profitable enterprise, though; their simple function is to pay for services.  READ MORE