By Caroline Smith

In 2014, Howard County partnered with SeeClickFix to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance communication for its 290,000+ population. Since then, Howard County’s app “Tell HoCo” (powered by SeeClickFix) has made the county a leader in providing county public services.

Need

Before 2014, Howard County had a communication problem: both internally across departments and externally to their public.

Like many counties, there are many moving parts and active departments involved when addressing public concerns. “You’re talking about a county,” said Rob Slivinsky, GIS Coordinator of Howard County, “So there are many different departments and different groups that respond to different public requests.” On top of this complexity, each department had a different system of addressing concerns. “We really didn’t have a centralized system,” said Slivinsky, “Public Works had a system, but it wasn’t modern, and some had nothing — just pen and paper.” Therefore, not only were a confusing variety of systems being used (making it more difficult to work across departments), but even within one department, the systems were outdated or even nonexistent.

We really didn’t have a centralized system. Public Works had a system, but it wasn’t modern, and some had nothing — just pen and paper. ~ Rob Slivinsky, GIS Coordinator of Howard County, MD

In addition to needing to improve internal communication, Howard County needed a way to enhance external communication. Although they had heard about cities using technology to communicate with the public, they had heard less about ways counties were using tools. What they had heard about was a growing number of municipalities committing to openness and transparency — and they wanted to be among the first counties to join this movement.

Solution

After a brief pilot program, Howard County saw how SeeClickFix was working to address many of the county’s largest needs. As a mobile app and website tools, SeeClickFix provided Howard County public with a free, easy-to-use tool to report requests and concerns. Then, with SeeClickFix request management backend tools, Howard County could direct these requests to the correct department or individual. SeeClickFix was fully implemented in 2014, with the app branded “Tell HoCo” for the public to see and begin using.

The implementation process was simple. “We started having meetings with departments to see if [SeeClickFix] could solve the ways they handle tickets coming in,” said Slivinsky, “It really didn’t take long for people to really start liking what they saw.” Soon, multiple departments were on board with SeeClickFix, tailoring service requests types featured on the app to their needs:

“[SeeClickFix] was able to solve just being able to offer as a county solution Tell HoCo to most departments, creating a centralized system,” said Slivinsky. He continued: “Now, every department can administer their tickets and manage their own work in one system; while also being able to create reports and see everything all at once.” Slivinsky was particularly impressed by the initial and continual speed of implementation: “You can use [SeeClickFix] so quickly too — departments or staff can be trained easily and begin using the system as soon as possible.” Plus, as Slivinsky notes, with SeeClickFix, Howard County didn’t need to develop any other applications or platforms to supplement the system: “After purchase, it’s all already there.”

Results

“As an administrator,” said Slivinsky with a laugh, “[SeeClickFix] has totally taken the load off me.” With so many departments using SeeClickFix, tickets can easily be directed to the appropriate individuals and departments. “All the tickets that come through are triaged to the right person, which streamlines our workflow and creates a lot of value for the county,” Slivinsky continued, “The right person gets the request immediately and there is a lot of savings in time there.” And the platform is built to be simple to use which works well for Slivinsky and his team: “As an administrator, it’s been so easy to use that I don’t often have to go in the backend a lot; my team uses it well!”

A desktop view of the Howard County SeeClickFix app, showing a list of all reported requests.

Tell HoCo is a terrific internal management tool. Our public works department and recreation and parks staff regularly use it to track their work and monitor their progress…eliminating paperwork, and making our crews more efficient. ~ Allan Kittleman, Howard County Executive

In addition, Howard County can easily send requests that are not the county’s responsibility to the right outside organizations. “Columbia [an unincorporated town within the county lines] takes cares of parks and open space management,” said Slivinsky, “If something happens in the parks in Columbia, we can easily send the reported request to our contacts there to have them fix it and report back.”

Along with the powerful backend tools, Howard County has launched SeeClickFix mobiles apps branded “Tell HoCo” for constituents. “Tell HoCo is a great tool to help our communities connect better with their government,” said Kittleman, “I like to say it’s helping us crowd-source a better county.” Although many of Howard County’s field workers use the app to report requests out in the field, Kittleman loves how the county’s public provides the bulk of information: “We know our employees can’t be everywhere, so this engages our residents to be additional eyes and ears for us.”

Different mobile views from the Howard County SeeClickFix app.

The Tell HoCo app ensures that Howard County public have a smooth, simple experience reporting an request to the county. “From a GIS perspective, it is important that our public sees only Howard County information on the app and website when they are within county boundaries,” said Slivinsky.

Lastly, Tell HoCo affords Howard County the ability to be a part of the growing movement towards an open more accountable government. As Kittleman said: “My administration is committed to openness and transparency, and Tell HoCo allows our residents to see how quickly we are responding to the requests that are being reported.”

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