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Vertical Industry Communications: State and Local Government

In this, the seventh and final in our series on vertical industry communications, we review communications technology requirements and applications for state and local government (simply “local government” in this post). As has been the case throughout the series, this post uses the term “unified communications,” or UC, to describe the evolution of communications technologies, though we see the term morphing into “business communications,” or BC.

For earlier articles in the series, see:

 

Local Government Highlights

Local government is a significant part of our lives. We depend on local governments for public safety and first responder services such as fire, police, and emergency medical response. They provide us with governance including laws, courts, and even parking tickets (wink). They provide us with parks, recreation activities, arenas, convention centers, libraries, health care, restaurant inspections, and other community services. They govern real estate development with planning, permits, and safety inspections. They provide us with infrastructure, including roads, street signs, lighting, and in some cases water and power utilities. Maybe there’s a public hospital or airport you use, too. And, public education is funded and operated by local school districts. Whew! That’s a lot!

Local government employs a lot of people to do all this for us. In total, state and local governments employ about 13% of the U.S. workforce, according to 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. About one-quarter of these are in state governments, three-quarters in local governments. Also, about half of these employees are in educational functions, but this post will exclude education since those communication requirements are so specific to the roles (see the prior post on UC in higher education).

Local government has so many diverse functions that I’ve organized this post around the types of communications rather than the functional areas or departments. Thus, we’ll review how each of these usage profiles is applied in typical local government organizations. It’s key to realize that the one-size-fits-all rule definitely doesn’t apply in a local government.

Usage Profiles in Local Government
Collaboration Usage Profile: Leadership, Law-making, Planning, Communication, and Creative Teams -- Yes, there is collaboration in local government. As with any organization, the leadership layer is in ongoing collaborative dialog about the current and future state of the organization. Also, the law-makers, i.e. the elected officials and their staffs, are a collaborative environment, as they assemble and shape the needs of the community into the laws, budgets, and other governance. Planning is collaborative as you would expect for IT, Infrastructure, building plans, etc. And there will be a creative communications or marketing function that needs to collaborate just like an ad agency in the private sector.
Typical solutions are found here, whether the “teams” types of solutions provided from the IP PBX, meeting, and office software vendors or the workflow-based collaboration tools from the project-oriented software companies such as Slack or Atlassian.
 
Field Usage Profile: Elected Officials, Parks and Recreation, Social Services, Health and Building Inspectors -- These public servants spend most of their days out of the office, but need to keep in touch with the inside teams. Thus, they’ll rely on a city-provided mobile device. In many cases, they’ll have access from that mobile device to an app or a website that provides information, schedules, and linkage to the internal teams. Note that this list doesn’t include the groups listed in the production usage profile below.
 
Best practices here are to have communications links built into the mobile apps or Web pages, so that the field personnel can find the support they need with one click on a “presence available” internal team member. If a process app or Web page isn’t available, then at least provide text-based (SMS, email, etc.) functions and click to call from the government directory so that the field personnel aren’t having to keep their own directories or dial manually.
 
Contact Center Usage Profile: Essentially all citizen-facing departments (e.g., utilities, community services, transportation, help desks, etc.) and the special case of the public safety (police, fire, EMR, hospital, etc.) -- The contact center function is necessary wherever citizens may call. The purpose is the same as in any contact center: to provide prompt responses to the customers (citizens) at the lowest reasonable cost and with self-service options. With the growing use of smartphones, Web pages, and Amazon Alexa-type voice-activated home appliances, it may be possible to increase the levels of self-service dramatically, yet citizens will still want an exit to live help during scheduled hours of service.

In most cases a local government will require a large number of small contact centers, sometimes even simple hunt groups with voicemail options. However, contact center capabilities are becoming much more affordable and practical, especially with contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) options from cloud providers, so the best practice is to use full-functioned contact center software for front-end self-service, management of service levels, and appropriate and cost-effective staffing.

Retail Usage Profile: (See the production usage profile below) -- Some places in local government, such as libraries and other counter-based services, are similar to retail operations. However, they’re more closely aligned with the production usage profile below.