Transforming the Future of Public Works
Govciooutlook

Transforming the Future of Public Works

By Yazdan T. Emrani, P.E., Director of public works, City of Glendale, CA

Yazdan T. Emrani, P.E., Director of public works, City of Glendale, CA

The biggest asset of any government, be it at the local, state, or the federal level is its workforce. It's the human capital that drives the effective management of the existing network of infrastructure systems as well as the implementation of the significant capital improvements projects. Currently, we are experiencing a booming economy, where the challenge is to provide services to residents in  highly responsive and cost-effective ways, while being able to keep pace with the ever changing technology. Within that framework, our biggest challenge is to get the right talent onboard, train them, and seamlessly transition them into our workforce, without any interruptions to the existing levels of service that our residents and customers have come to expect. In addition to hiring and training the right talent, we also need to develop and implement a good succession plan. This will ensure that our staff have opportunities to grow and advance in their careers, by providing a stable and nurturing environment, which will also help with reducing turnover.

The Three Market Trends to Upsurge in the Future

Moving into the future, the three main are as in the public sector which will continue to gain significant traction are the concept of smart cities, geographic information system (GIS) integrated with asset management, and cybersecurity.

Smart Cities

With the rapid advances in all areas of technology, cities are moving towards the smart cities concept. This is taking shape by transforming cities into a comprehensively connected network of various systems and components, designed for collecting data and providing a framework for making real-time decisions that will improve the lives of the residents. This concept of the smart city allows city officials to interact directly with the community while providing real-time  monitoring of the infrastructure. Examples include automated monitoring of road conditions, networked lighting infrastructure, traffic flow management, smart parking meters, monitoring of public trash receptacles, and technologies that track water and wastewater operations. One such advancement is Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). With ITS, cities can achieve traffic efficiency, procure real-time transit-running information on buses or trains, and reduce commuter's travel time. In Glendale, we are embarking on building a state-of-the-art Traffic Management Center (TMC). TMC will be critical in providing mobility, safety, and congestion management to the vehicles travelling around the city. It gives us the resources to monitor and improve the overall traffic flow and helps with the right data collection, transmission, and analysis.

GIS and Asset Management

The integration of GIS and asset management has enabled tracking of infrastructure assets from roads and bridges to water, sewer, and storm drain systems, as well as facilities and fleet. Use of GIS and asset management have provided accurate data collection, critical analysis, as well as network simulations, which have enabled informed, rational and cost-effective decision making. As our public sector infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate, and our state and federal regulatory requirements become more stringent, having a robust decision making system that can provide optimum risk analysis and a targeted asset replacement is of utmost importance. However this and other similar programs can only be effective when there is an alignment between software, executive management support, and the team who will be implementing them.

Cybersecurity

The rising threats to a connected network of systems in a smart city, such as hacking, can cause wide-spread system failures including shutting down of electrical grids, or of water and wastewater treatment facilities. Introduction of and increased use of “ransomware” has caused havoc for many different public entities throughout the country. While continuing to improve the network of our connected systems, we need to ensure that any vulnerabilities are removed from these systems, thus making them as “hacker-proof” as possible.

The adoption of cloud computing has given us the ability for reliable backups and disaster recovery. However, cloud computing is more than that; it also increases collaboration, improves service delivery, provides us with the flexibility to work from anywhere, and achieves cost savings.  With cloud technology, the user can monitor the data 24/7, and it is significantly more efficient than a conventional in-house system. Besides, the data that is being transmitted over networks, can also be better secured. And of course the key to a better security is data encryption. By using encryption, information is less accessible by hackers or anyone not authorized to view the data. As an added security measure, with most cloud-based services, different security settings can be set based on the user.

The Transition from Old to New

The pace of advancements in technology has reached breakneck speed, and most public agencies need to move out of their comfort zones and ultimately upgrade their existing systems. The different legacy systems that exist need to be transformed into modern and more standardized systems. To accomplish this, we need to follow a systematic approach, including a needs analysis based on discussions and input from the end users, mapping our approach, and developing a flowchart of the 'why's, how's and where’s’, before deciding on the implementation of a software or a system.

As an example, let’s examine migration to a cloud based system. Like anything we do in life, the success of a major move such as cloud migration depends on proper planning and implementation strategy. Developing a Cloud Migration Strategy consists of three main phases, which are:

1. Before the Migration -  determining the use that the public cloud will serve, what are the factors that will govern the migration, such as critical application data, legacy data, and application interoperability, and determining which data needs to be migrated and when.

2. Cloud Data Migration Execution - once the environment has been assessed and a plan has been mapped out, it’s necessary to execute the migration with minimal disruption to normal operation, at the lowest cost, and over the shortest period of time.

3. After the Migration- once the data has been migrated to the cloud, it is important to ensure that it is optimized, secure, and easily retrievable moving forward. Last but not least, measuring access or download time, making needed changes, and staying one step ahead of any potential issues that may occur are absolutely critical to the success of this endeavor.

A Game-Changer Approach

Public sector agencies have to deal with situations where they need to adapt to an ever changing environment; be able to maintain a reliable network of computing elements, while forging ahead in terms of technological development, and make any necessary course corrections without disrupting the existing and expected level of service.

The best way to accomplish this is still by developing a comprehensive and targeted request for proposal (RFP). I'm a great believer in not reinventing the wheel. Utilizing the experience of other public agencies and entities that have implemented similar systems goes a long way in achieving this goal. Reaching out to and visiting other cities or agencies that may have implemented technologies similar to the ones you are examining, is a great way of seeing a technology or system in action. Gathering information about pros and cons of their system including impediments to implementation and satisfaction with the selected system or vendor, is invaluable information that will help in developing a very robust and targeted RFP.

But, how can we improve this process? Well one approach would be similar to the “Design-Build” concept employed in the construction industry. The RFP process could involve providing the vendors with a subset of your data and a requirement to design a prototype that would highlight the functionalities of the finished product. This prototype would then need to be demonstrated, in a controlled environment, during the interview phase. This takes the guessing game out of the equation and it also takes away the element known as “demo magic”, which means things look great in a demonstration but may not work properly with real world data or systems.

This is not a new process and there are many municipalities that have incorporated this as part of their RFP process, and for good reason. Although it may be a more time consuming and involved process, it will ultimately enable a more informed decision-making ability to select the right vendor for the project, as we continue our journey towards making “Smart Cities” a reality.

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