Wikis and Google Apps
The local government landscape is changing seemingly daily in this age of budget shortfalls, citizen discontent and a wariness of public spending. However challenging these times may be, there has been a marked increase in the organizational, cultural and financial value technology provides, especially for those of us in the public sector. As budgets and staffs are reduced, we must discover new ways to provide the same level of services our constituents are accustomed to, while simultaneously finding new and innovative ways to produce these services. Included in this conversation is the duty of local governments in finding new methods of reducing its overhead by using utilizing technology to improve its internal operations. After all, we can only be as efficient providing our services as we are efficient in developing and implementing them from inside our organizations.
During the Alliance’s February 23rd, 2011 Local Government Use of the Latest Technology Webinar, our panel of experts broached the topic of how local governments can more effectively use technology within their organizations to improve internal infrastructure, communication process, employee training, collaboration, service delivery and more. Mainly focusing on cost reduction, portability/mobility, and ease of use, the following article highlights the use Wikis and Google Apps and how they are helping transform the day to day operations of local governments.
At the opening of the February 23rd webinar, we posed two questions asking the audience to identify both their IT departments and overall organizations likely willingness, ability and desire to use new technologies. Our survey results indicated that approximately 80% of participant IT departments and entire organizations would be amenable to the possibility of using new technologies. While an enthusiasm gap existed (50% of respondents indicated they would be willing to test the waters slowly, whereas 30% of the respondents indicated a desire to jump right in), it is clear that local governments are anxious to find new ways to reduce costs and maintain or increase productivity through the use of technology.
One of the topics covered was that of Wikis, featuring work done in Virginia Beach, VA. A wiki is a website or webpage tool designed for collaboration, aimed at streamlining the collection of information by allowing for easy creation and editing by anyone with access to the wiki. Utilizing any number of wiki providers (pbworks, wikispaces, wetpaint, to name a few), this low learning curve tool allows for easier cross-departmental collaboration on projects. According to Nicole McGee, Municipal Librarian from the city, “When comparing wikis to the traditional email chain of editing/collaboration, wikis can greatly reduce inbox clutter and allow the participants in the wiki to always be working from the most up-to-date version of the document/project, since there is no need to exchange documents back and forth.” Aside from being a great tool for collaborating on a single project/document, wikis can also be used as a repository for documents, serving to provide a centralized location where a document (or documents) can be contained. While wikis are not right for every situation, there are a multitude of uses, as well as a large selection of wiki applications that could mold to your organization’s needs and aid in providing a collaborative workspace.
In the same vein as wikis, Google Apps provide you another great opportunity for re-envisioning the way you collaborate. Google Apps, comprised of various components such as Google Mail, Google Talk, Google Documents, Google video and more, can serve as a robust enterprise solution. The city of Westerville, OH recently switched to Google Apps, primarily for the Google Mail service. However, what they found was that Google Apps provides much more than just an email service. According Todd Jackson, IS Director for Westerville,
“We utilized the Instant Messaging features of GTalk (Google Talk) to instantaneously communicate with one another more easily and efficiently. We also used Google Docs for the creation and maintenance of internal documents, distributed training videos via Google Videos, integrated calendars using Google Calendar and shared project information with Google Sites.”
Westerville was able to implement all of these services while reducing their costs 42%, freeing up over 1 TB of data and freeing up 4 servers for different uses, as everything is contained within an online “cloud.” Google Apps provides local governments the possibility of consolidating their collaboration tools, while simultaneously reducing the costs associated with email providers and IT staff time that was previously required for server/email maintenance. And all of this is available through a system that thrives in a multitude of online environments, whether that be through desktop or mobile computing.
Through these examples, it is clear that technologies provide us a new window through which to collaborate & communicate. More than changing how we work, the advances in technology allow local governments the opportunity to find new cost savings and reallocate staff time previously spent working with older technologies. Of course, there are risks involved. It is important to understand each and every technology you consider using thoroughly: there may be unknown risks or limitations that are not visible at a cursory glance. But the more you know about one technology, the greater the understanding of what you are looking for will become apparent. In turn, you will feel a heightened comfort in your journey to become a more technologically aware organization.
As we move forward, we encourage you to look at the possibilities both Wikis and Google Apps provide your organization. While there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach, especially as it relates to the constantly evolving technology industry, if you are willing to test out unknown waters, the benefits can often be greater than you ever imagined.
To purchase the webinar on demand version of this event, please visit the Alliance store.