Ann Dunkin is the Chief Information Officer for the County of Santa Clara. She has been there for nearly three years now. She oversees the Information Technology for the entire County. Approximately 90 percent of the IT resources in the County are part of her team. In this interview, she talks about a government’s desire to improve the quality of life for its residents and how technology can be leveraged to attain that goal.
"Public sector entities that directly serve residents, such as cities and counties are hearing the pubic’s desire and shifting to mobile first strategies"
In light of your experience, what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening in the Public Sector?
Trends in Public Sector are different for Federal, State, Cities, and Counties. If we look at counties, they have a need to collect data from different points of contact with the residents to serve them better. For instance, being able to gather and, to the extent the law allows, correlate information from an individual’s interaction with public safety and justice organizations, the healthcare system, and social services might help a county identify better ways to improve the quality of life in the county.
As an example, a county could leverage information from their justice system to identify repetitive patterns between ambulance calls to a particular address or crimes committed by repeat offenders. They could identify patterns and intervene to avoid any escalation in the future. Similarly, data collected from different sources such as social services, hospital, and justices systems could be used by counties to identify patterns and early inteventions.
Like all sectors, counties are implementing new technologies to better serve residents. Governments are leveraging AI and Machine Learning and implementing robotic process automation along with IoT in more devices and networks to streamline their work and improve the resident’s experience.
Public sector entities that directly serve residents, such as cities and counties are hearing the pubic’s desire and shifting to mobile first strategies.”
Citizens should be able to communicate via an online platform, web portals, and phones. Some residents only source of technology is a smart phone. Consequently, counties are making an effort to be more mobile-friendly
Could you elaborate on how the need for digitization has impacted the public sector and safety space?
Digitization is not just about automating existing processes, but rather redesigning them to take full advantage of the technology that is available. As a simple example, instead of automating a sequential paper workflow, the solution may allow several parties to work on the document at the same time.
Of course, digitization can leverage new technologies as well. From providing chatbots to helping people navigate systems, to using machine learning for data matching to learn more about populations or individuals, governments are creating that are more user friendly and robust. AI and machine learning can help individual staff members do their jobs more effectively. As the tools get smarter, they will help employees on a day to day basis to accomplish their jobs more effectively and make better use of taxpayer funds.
What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?
I believe there are a few important points that people who want to work in the government, and the present officials who want to make improvements need to understand. First, they should have a deep desire to serve and improve government. Changing government is difficult, and unless they have a passion for their work, their efforts will likely stall. Second, change starts with people, not processes. To build a stronger foundation, governments need to focus on improving the work culture, encouraging their employees to drive the change in a positive direction.
Lastly, simply taking out a manual process and automating it is not helpful, or it’s not as helpful as it can be. Governments really need to understand what they’re trying to accomplish, which means talking to end-users rather than stakeholders to understand their needs when designing solutions. Being aware of the needs of citizens and will ensure that the right solutions are implemented.