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Government Software: Adoptability Is Always More Important Than Features

When I talk to people about what they want in a municipal operations management system, they invariably start by listing features. “It would be great if it did this.” Or “How about if it automatically did that.” But when you dig a little deeper, a greater need emerges. “You know what would be great? A system that I could actually get my employees to use.”

Around here, there’s a word we use to describe a technology’s ability to be integrated and accepted with minimal resistance from the people required to use it.That word is “adoptability,” and it’s at the core of everything we do when designing new Cartegraph technology.

Today’s municipal organizations are facing a real data dilemma. You have these powerful analytic tools and you want to make good decisions about how to spend your money, but any analysis you do is flawed because your underlying data is flawed. This is often phrased as ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’. The data about the work you are doing is being entered sporadically and inconsistently, so any conclusions drawn from that partial picture are invalid.

This isn’t the type of issue that’s solved by a large enough sampling, either, because those gaps in information are often pretty consistent. For example, let’s say the members of your streets crew refuse to use those “slow, clunky” mobile devices you’ve given them. Instead, each member prefers to work according to his or her own system of notes or what-have-you. That means each time they come back to the shop or office, they’re filling the system with approximations, abbreviations, and  best recollections about what they did, how long it took them, and what materials they used to complete the tasks.

The data in an organization is like a pyramid — wider and more granular at the bottom, all the way to the top where the sum of that data is being used in aggregate to plan budgets and work for the future. But if your base stones are shoddy or missing, you’re best-case scenario is an unstable peak that can’t be trusted. Worst-case scenario?  The whole thing collapses.

Accurate and timely collection of data from the ground up is the key to a streamlined and efficient organization. Field professioinals have better information to make day-to-day decisions, supervisors have better information for mid-term planning, and directors have better information for long-term planning and budget analysis.

This meant building government software that users in all parts of an organization could use and would adopt. Some of the words that we used repeatedly to test our design were: easy, friendly, intuitive, familiar, expected, and fast. As we laid out the design piece by piece, we quickly knew whether we were getting off-track when we no longer felt we could apply these terms. I believe you can see the application of these principles in every facet of the system, from the inclusion of ArcGIS maps, to support for consumer tablets and smartphones, to persistence in the web (stay tuned for a future post dedicated to the topic of persistence).

We have built a municipal operations management system that is so intuitive and familiar, it will allow the collection of the detailed municipal data an organization needs to operate, without being a burden on the people who need to focus on getting work done. A system that will be adopted.

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