By: Dr. Samuel R. Staley

Now that Gov. DeSantis is moving forward with plans to re-open the Florida economy, it’s time to also think about what Florida’s governments can do to harness technology and remote work to improve productivity and efficiency. 

While some public officials may see remote work as a temporary, emergency adjustment triggered by a Black Swan event, in reality the public sector is lagging in adapting technologies the private sector has been implementing continuously. 

But the public sector will have to do more than simply adapt current and emerging technologies. The technical ability to move functions such as casework, building inspection, engineering plan review, budgeting, policy analysis, or editorial work is straightforward: make sure employees have access to high-speed internet and the software — sometimes available for free — needed to complete tasks. 

Technology, however, is only one part of the story and transition to greater efficiency. The other part is integrating technology in ways that improve service quality.

Take building construction and permit approval at the county or municipal level. In principle, this entire process could be moved on-line, improving efficiency, timeliness, and accountability. For many steps, the entire approval process could be monitored and implemented from an app on a smartphone. 

For example, suppose a builder wants to start construction on his land. He initiates the process on-line by submitting a permit application. Software could be used to automatically sort the request to a case manager based on existing workload (tracked in the system) and starting a review clock (e.g., 24, 48, or 72 hours). Once the site plan has been reviewed, the results including comments are uploaded to his case file. The builder is instantly notified that a decision and comments have been uploaded. They then access, via their smartphone, the file and begin making adjustments. 

Site inspections could be handled in similar ways. Once a builder is prepared for an electrical inspection, for example, they submit an inspection request to the city or county. The request is immediately assigned to an inspector (working remotely) who would then have 24 hours to set an inspection time with the builder. The inspector could sign off on the approval, or upload concerns, from a smartphone app that his supervisor and the builder could access. 

These on-line technologies allow managers and supervisors to track timelines and performance, triggering real-time interventions if necessary when a case falls outside established department guidelines. 

Thus, combined with the right technologies, remote work has the potential to improve transparency, accountability, and performance. Technology has the ability to give employees flexibility once performance benchmarks and guidelines are established by putting service providers in direct contact with their customers in real-time.

The key to improving productivity and efficiency is the way the technology is used and integrated into our jobs. Technology alone is not a panacea for inefficiency and lost productivity. However, when used properly, a technology-enhanced remote work environment helps move organizations to output oriented performance measures that implicitly provide more flexibility in achieving critical goals and tasks.

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