How Customer Experience is Disrupting Government Technology

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Better service delivery is changing the way implementers and users view technology.

City of Las Vegas Chief Information Officer Michael Sherwood remembers the early days in his career when public sector IT shops were mainly charged with helping users print documents—he pressed Control+P a lot—and fixing broken computers.

Those days—at least for Sin City’s tech shop and its 2.5 million resident customers—are gone. Instead, tech officials accommodate the kind of service delivery its citizens have come to expect from their everyday-interactions with modern companies and applications.

“The transformation for the city of Las Vegas and IT, in general, is more IT shifting from break-and-fix or keep-the-lights-on mentality to knowledge-based work,” Sherwood said on March 27 at an event hosted by Nextgov.  “What we’re actually doing is providing data and results to departments so they can make the best decisions based on actionable information.

What we look at today is not only our IT providing tech solutions and innovation for the city, but more being helpful for economic development.”

People tend to move to—and stay in—areas they’re generally happy with. Sherwood said Las Vegas uses technology to make it a more attractive destination for permanent residents and tourists alike.

For example, Las Vegas recently introduced a unified login for residents, allowing citizens to perform a number of actions or access a variety of services without jumping through multiple portals. Residents can pay parking tickets, sign their kids up for baseball camp or report problems through one platform, which Sherwood likens to Amazon’s Shopping Cart feature.

“Shouldn’t government be open 24 hours per day?” Sherwood said. “When it comes down to it, this is what society wants.”

The city is also partnering with private entities and other public sector agencies to create tech-based destination areas in the city, such as its Innovation District. The Innovation District housed a project where the city installed kinetic sidewalks that allowed foot traffic to power streetlights.

“Why is government not using technology to unleash the power it has to build amenities here in our region that attract new people to our society?” Sherwood said, noting that new people equates to new revenue and potential new services.

The city’s proactive approach to serving citizens also has it positioned to deal with a number of burgeoning problems that emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and automation are bringing to the fore. These technologies could dramatically impact places like Las Vegas, where the most common occupations among its 2.5 million people in its region are in the food service and preparation, bartending and cab driving industries.

The most obvious example are ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, which are battling the region’s taxi industry for supremacy at the cost of some blue-collar jobs.

Thousands of other jobs could be at risk. Automated hamburger flippers are being installed in Los Angeles, while Las Vegas already hosts the nation’s first automated bartender, The Tipsy Robot. Sherwood said Las Vegas became the country’s first city to launch an autonomous vehicle in mixed-flow traffic last year, another harbinger of shake-ups for what were once-stable jobs.

In proactive fashion, Sherwood said the city’s tech wing has taken on the role of “educating the population, providing opportunities for the community to get involved in tech.”  

“The Uber economy is a very real thing,” Sherwood said. “What is that part of the society going to do when the disruption comes? Do you want to be playing defense like Kodak and not innovating or do you want to be on the forefront as a disruptor?”