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Southern California CIO Discusses Process Modernization, Going Digital

The technology leader has been at his city for about six years and is spearheading work to move many of its services online.

The city of Santa Monica’s push to streamline and digitize services has powered a major shift in the way the local government operates — and there is even more to come, the chief information officer says.

Joseph Cevetello.
Joseph Cevetello
When Joseph Cevetello came to the city as its CIO in 2016, there were very few digital processes in place.

“Everything was on paper,” he said. “Even to reserve a tennis court, there was a piece of paper that you had to sign.”

One of Cevetello’s first actions was to work with the city to develop a sort of digitization road map, working with a group of about 75 residents, business owners and staff from various departments.

The city made a goal to “design for digital first,” implementing digital signatures for both internal and external documents. Another goal was to strive to be cloud-first and mobile-aware whenever possible. And a third goal of the city was to have digital assets secure and accessible anytime, anywhere.

“Those three goals kind of dovetailed together and helped support the idea that we needed to move forward with digitizing our efforts,” Cevetello said.

The city had been working with Laserfiche since 2006, but there were additional capabilities that the city had not taken advantage of, like the integration with DocuSign.

With thousands of contracts making up a big portion of the city’s workload, making that process digital has saved the city both time and money since the city began the switch about four years ago.

Because of the close proximity and professional relationship between the company and the city, the collaboration process made implementation more efficient.

And the change management process in the city was also smooth, as Cevetello noted that city staff were amenable to eliminating written signatures. As he explained, when people see the personal value of a change, like time saved, there is little resistance.

With thousands of contracts making up a large portion of the city’s workload, making that process digital has saved the city both time and money since the switch about four years ago.

“We estimate we’ve saved something like 250,000 staff hours already and maybe even more, [and] millions of dollars of staff time no longer having to walk contracts around,” Cevetello said. “You can get higher value work from those city employees than just bringing [contracts] around the offices.”

Cevetello said the shift to digital processes was well underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, having already shifted about 90 percent of city staff from desktop-based operations to mobile operations, like a laptop.

And when City Hall closed, the city was well-equipped to pivot and provide services through digital means.

“I was just trying to enable flexibility for our workforce and then also meet the needs of our customers. It just so happened that those things were the ideal solution in [the time of] COVID.”

The question now, Cevetello said, is which services will remain digital and which services need to have an in-person component? He anticipates a mix.

“Along with digitizing your process, as Joseph did with his team, you automate, you optimize, and you look for ways to do it better,” Laserfiche CIO Thomas Phelps said. “Now that you’ve added this new layer of technology to [the process], how can you streamline it to be more efficient as well?”

And while the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the city’s transformation to digital services in some ways, it also slowed the city down in some ways, with layoffs creating a smaller workforce. Now that the city is working to restaff, other advances will come.

In addition to maturing processes, he said the city will look at other capabilities that Laserfiche has made available, like robotic process automation and cloud capabilities.

And as Phelps explained, the company is invested in providing process analytics — this will allow for individuals in the process of reserving a tennis court or applying for a permit to see where they are at in the queue and what’s next.

“I think it’s going to be important for users to have transparency in terms of where things stand in terms of the requests and the workflow processes and downstream decisions that are being made,” Phelps said.

This story first appeared in Government Technology, Industry Insider – California’s sister publication.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.