Corona, CA is pioneering a cloud based VDI model in the local government space for business continuity, improved services and workforce flexibility. The model opens up some interesting possibilities for the future of local government workers. It’s also a setup that governments of any size can copy.
Corona has been working on some pretty exciting things...one of which is an entirely reimagined IT infrastructure. In partnership with Citrix, Corona has pioneered a new cloud-based VDI model.
Like most local governments, Corona didn’t necessarily have an emergency plan for a global viral outbreak. But they did have protocols for another risk: earthquakes. If a natural disaster struck, the city’s IT infrastructure couldn’t be onsite. So when the pandemic hit, Corona was already well on its way toward making it easy for staff to work from anywhere. Read More.
Featured government: Corona, CA
Episode guests: Chris McMasters, CIO
Visit govlaunch.com for more stories and examples of local government innovation.
Welcome to the Govlaunch Podcast. Govlaunch is the wiki for local government innovation and on this podcast we’re sharing the stories of local government innovators and their efforts to build smarter governments. I’m Lindsay Pica-Alfano, co-founder of Govlaunch and your host.
In this episode I’m talking with Chris McMasters from Corona, CA. Corona has been working on some pretty exciting things...one of which is an entirely reimagined IT infrastructure. In partnership with Citrix, Corona has pioneered a new cloud-based VDI model.
Like most local governments, Corona didn’t necessarily have an emergency plan for a global viral outbreak. But they did have protocols for another risk: earthquakes. If a natural disaster struck, the city’s IT infrastructure couldn’t be onsite, near a faultline no less. So when the pandemic hit, Corona was already well on its way toward making it easy for staff to work from anywhere.
The model opens up some interesting possibilities for the future of local government work. Now, Corona’s population is only about 160,000 so it’s also a setup that governments at any size can copy.
Let’s hear more about Corona’s innovative approach to IT infrastructure...
Chris, thanks so much for joining us today. Tell us a bit about your role.
My name is Chris McMasters first of all. I'm the Chief information officer for the city of Corona. We're a population of about 160,000 and we encompass about 42 by 42 square miles in Southern California a little bit East and North of LA. So my job encompasses everything with technology. So from innovation and strategy to daily operations for the departments within the city, including public safety utilities, public works, economic development, you name it, it's our job to take care of them and to afford them with whatever technology we can apply.
Yeah. Awesome. How are things going in Corona today?
Well, minus the COVID situation, they're going pretty well, but obviously that was a big disruptor for all the cities. Luckily enough, you know, technology came to the rescue and were able to maintain city services and keep things operating smoothly for the public, which has been pleasant, that we've been able to sort of incorporate all the changes that we've had to do. And that everyone's adopted this so quickly.
Yeah. I want to dive into that actually. A lot of governments are working with cloud technology and many are also using VDI or virtual desktop infrastructure, but combining the two, like what you've done in Corona is pretty new. Before we really dive into the details. Can you give us some background about what these things are?
Yes, I think, I mean, I think everyone understands what cloud is. It's fairly ubiquitous nowadays. In the government sector, obviously there's been more and more of a forward push towards adopting cloud and SAS, you know, solutions. VDI two is sort of a legacy term, you know, virtual desktops have been around for some time and usually they are deployed in an on-premise sort of state where all of your servers and your infrastructure for storage are all on premise and then you deploy out to thin clients. And so we kind of took those two different technologies and merged them together, which is very different in the government space. It's not something that's really been done a lot or at all before. So we worked with some partners on that, both Citrix and Microsoft to work on a platform where we could actually put things securely up into the cloud, and still have, and maintain the security that government requires.
So for us though, it was, it's taking all of those traditional desktops that we have and encapsulating them, virtualizing those. And then instead of putting that into on-prem storage, like you would normally do with traditional virtualization, we applied that technique to cloud based infrastructure, to get kind of a much different effect, especially in terms of CapEx versus OPEX, where normally you'd spend a lot of money, spinning that stuff up on premise and a lot of time with that type of configuration. And we were able to change that model where we were able to apply basically the benefits of virtualization and the benefits of cloud infrastructure to the desktop and by doing that, it saved our bacon and a lot of ways with COVID, but it helped us to be able to expand dynamically as we needed and not have kind of the cost and the time associated with a traditional VDI.
In Corona, you’re really all the pioneers of this cloud-based VDI set up. What made you decide to pursue this approach?
That's a great question. So when I got into the government space about four years ago, it was very traditional. We had a lot of legacy architecture. When we started talking about continuity because that was one of the first questions I had that kept me up at night was so what happens if something, you know, goes down here and the answer was, you know, we're backed up five miles away in the same city, right? In a different building. That's our traditional backup method and how they maintain continuity. The city had a single internet line that came into it that ran all the city services and within my first three weeks, that line went down. So I got to experience what that was like having your whole infrastructure tied to a single point, which was very unpleasant.
And so it just exacerbated my anxiety. So it was very quickly after that, we started exploring like, how can we be more continuity in this space? I came from the private sector and we operated, um, multi-state. So the way that we conducted continuity was to establish, you know, data centers and other States back up to those States, you know, test fail over the kind of the traditional method and the private sector. We didn't have the funding, obviously within city to do that type of thing, and we couldn't space it out far enough. So we started looking at cloud based infrastructure, like how could we push more of our stuff into the cloud? And so we quickly began implementing and transitioning to the cloud to the point where within two years we were about 80% cloud-based and we'd removed a lot of our legacy stuff, multiple internet lines for redundancy and sort of built everything around this hybrid cloud model, um, for continuity sake. The desktop situation came into play because once we started putting everything in the cloud, you quickly realize, well, how do I access it?
There's no desktops right there included with that. So how do we start virtualizing that type of an infrastructure? And when we reached out to kind of the big players in that space, they were tinkering with this idea that, of that possibility, you know, there's a lot of technical challenges to doing it normally, but in the government space, even more so because of the security that's involved and where we have to store things. So it was a more complex issue with them. And so we actually went up to Silicon Valley. We met with these two very large companies, you know, which I won't name and began starting to sort of probe and work with them on is this actually feasible? And what we found was that, that it was, it was actually feasible.
And we did have to take a lot of arrows in the back and jumped through a lot of hoops to make it work, but there was that possibility of actually making this come to life. And we ended up working with Citrix in the end, and then Microsoft on the cloud side of it all the way up to the top, which was, it was also very fascinating, I think for me and the private sector, it's very hard to get that type of attention from very large players. And in government sometimes even more so where it was so much more of a niche. And so the fact that they actually took interest in this, and it was very valuable to them, you know, a partnership was created very early on in that to the point where, you know, they augmented our staff and then we had engineers that would fly in from both companies.
I guess the vision was how do we maintain a continuities city if everything collapsed and because of where Corona's located, we're located not too far from the San Andres. And that's something that always sort of looms over our heads. So it really began as a solution to the problem of natural disaster and how we were going to handle that in a cohesive way so that if the city lost infrastructure, we could literally set up shop anywhere and connect the door infrastructure anywhere because it was located in multiple data centers across the United States.
Well, I know that business continuity is top of mind for a lot of local governments that didn't have to really be thinking about this before, but you bring up a good point for anybody located in an area where you have these natural disasters. And then I know something that California governments could relate to is just the cost to operate these data centers. It's very intensive for energy usage and the bills for that can be astronomical. You mentioned the partnerships with these big companies, but they saw the opportunity too, you know, if they could use you all as guinea pigs, like how do we really figure this out? The opportunities would be huge for how they could be helping other local governments. And I think the fact that they partnered with a medium sized city, like Corona is very strategic because you can relate to these smaller communities, but also have a lot of services that mimic the much larger local governments too. So obviously the pandemic hit, how did that affect your implementation? Because I know this was more of a pilot that you'd been working on for the past few years.
Yeah. So yeah, the interesting part, right? It's all about timing sometimes. And we were deep into our piloting of that particular system. And we had, I think about 30 instances of it stood up and piloting within the city in different departments. And so it was fairly mature in the piloting phase. We were actually very close to full implementation. So when COVID hit, it was rather sudden for us, you know, you sort of watched it like a domino effect occurring through the country. Southern California was a little bit late to the game. In some ways we thought maybe we got out of it or maybe it was just, you know, we weren't going to get it as bad. But as the numbers started increasing and the county got involved and state got involved, um, you know, they're mandated to stay at home order at which effectively shut down everything.
And, I remember the day that happened, we got called, I got called into a emergency operation center meeting. So that's usually what happens right? When you have a disaster they'll spin up the EOC. And usually what happens is either your police chief or your fire chief will then take control and then they basically set the priorities for the city and how we're going to tackle that situation. And then they put us on a cadence. So they deal with it just like they deal with a major fire or a major disaster, we dealt with COVID the exact same way. So department heads were called in and teams of people and that very first meeting, you know, the list of things that had to be done. I mean, it's just huge. And on the IT side, what I started realizing really quickly is this is mostly us, all the communications, all the data, all the, you know, analytics that go around it.
And then this huge problem of how do we keep running all these city services, if we're going to try to send everyone home. And some of the cities surrounding us, I mean, they literally were just closing the doors to everything, cause there's no way to do that. So quickly we're like, well, it's time to turn the pilot into a full blown implementation. So we had all the infrastructure was already built and since it was all cloud based, it was just bringing up those levels, you know, for servers and memory and storage, you know, that we needed and basically turning it all up very dynamically. So within about 24 hours, we sent hundreds of employees home after that meeting. And then after that meeting, we never set foot really in the EOC again for those meetings, those meetings were all been done virtually as well.
So yes, it sort of accelerated the process for us and we definitely used a bad thing to do some good, I suppose, for people, but it broke a lot of paradigms too. And I think if there's a positive from COVID, it would be that it created a catalyst for the city to change for people to adopt probably a lot more quickly than we could have naturally, you know, done it organically.
Oh, definitely. And we talk with a lot of technology leaders in local government and there's definitely a silver lining here. It's not only gotten staff more onboard with the use of technology, but it also is forcing citizens to leverage technology that maybe were resistant to that before. You know, as someone in local government that that's extremely valuable to the city, if we can try to get more people online and interacting that way. Beyond COVID, how do you foresee this remote capability changing the way local government workforce operates more generally?
So I think it's a huge opportunity. I think what we're finding, you know, when we start looking at the data and the statistics behind usage patterns, which I shared very quickly, I know in the private sector, telecommuting is sort of a part of life. We've done this for decades almost at this point. And it's a lot more sophisticated now than it needs to be, but in the government sector, it's still sort of, you know, handed out as rations right. To people. It was a gift it's, it's, it's not used very widely. And what we found was that, you know, you find users who normally start their day, let's say at 7:30, starting at 5:30 in the morning, you have users that are ending. You know, they normally end their day at 5, 5:30 ending at 11:30 at night, the patterns and behaviors of people and the way that they find productivity, I think drastically challenges the paradigm of traditional government, you know, and how, how we, I think employees add value.
I think the government, and a lot of ways we focus on the procedures and we focus on the policies regardless of what the product is or the outcome sometimes, right. We champion the procedure and this is one of those cases where geographically it doesn't really matter where someone is, as long as they're producing value back. And you could see that actually happening, like how, how employees engage. And they were happy to, they were happy to do their work. They're happy to be engaged and continue to work. And I think that was kind of the other motivating factor for us is just people be very excited to be able to be safe, and still have a job, and be able to serve the citizens and not really seeing a degrade in the quality of service that was being produced either. But I think too, it opens the door for a more flexible workforce, you know, a workforce that normally government hasn't had access to.
So there's, there's a lot of people who, for whatever reason, you know, cannot work sort of the normal eight to five schedule. So by accessing this type of event technology, it allows us to hire people sort of outside the traditional framework. And it also allows government to what I like to say on more on demand, right. That there's no reason why we can't work on your permit status in the middle of the night, if we're hiring people that can work from home and do those sorts of things. And I think that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in how citizens get their service, how they interact, and the quality of service they get.
And I think that people, for whatever reason, we kind of put government in a spot where we don't expect them to get any better or change or act like the private sector. And my, my feeling on that is that absolutely. Yeah, it has to change. We are in no different position. You know, we should be just as much demanded to change and meet our customers where they are, versus them coming into city hall and standing in a line in another line and waiting hours to get something done. There are so many ways we can automate that process and help people. And a lot of it depends on these types of technologies do that.
Well, I want to give you a round of applause for that answer. This is why I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. This is just, this is exactly what we talk about all the time at Govlaunch. Like how do we get this information in front of more folks and more people to be thinking about services in government this way. And I think the way it's been presented here as it's it's you did a big project. That was a heck of a lot of work, but at the end of the day, it was something like COVID that has brought really this understanding to more people in government that, Hey, these things are possible and really reimagining what local government services look like to its citizens. So I think it's awesome. So awesome. What advice would you give to other small to medium sized local governments who are interested in adopting this VDI cloud model?
I think with anything new and anytime you're trying to innovate it's to me, it's like pilot, pilot, pilot, pilot, as much as you can and it doesn't have to be these large gigantic projects. You can start very small. You can start with a few people, you can start with a single department, you can start with just a group of citizens working with you. Right. It's just taking the time and having a little bit of courage to investigate those things and initiate kind of that action to deploy.
And then reaching out to partners too. I think that was kind of the other big thing for us was, you know, if you can dream it, someone probably can do it. You know, there's a lot of smart people in this world. There's a lot of startups in this world and people that come with that, that desire to do something new. When you start finding those people, that's where it gets exciting, right. When you start working on that. And so whether they're big companies or guys that are just starting a business, there's lots of hungry people out there and they're just, they're looking to solve problems. And so when you're, when you're communicative and you reach out past kind of your, your safety net, I think you'll be excited to, you know, what you find at the end of that. And so for us, um, as an example, I guess I would say, you know, just take a chance to try to change things and you'll be rewarded.
So being devil's advocate, some folks in local government are afraid to take these chances, because what if it doesn't work? What if it fails? What would you say to those folks?
The things that we do that we fail at and, and, and, and have all those failures, right. That's where we finally find success. I could go on and on about how many failures we've had and all the things that we've tried that haven't worked, and we've learned how to fail quicker, how to recognize when something doesn't match up quite right or maybe when it takes, it's going to take a little more time. So you just have to kind of know your cadence and you have to know what your priorities are and what kind of the deadlines are, you know, if there are things that you have to do that are mission critical, sometimes you see, you know, you don't have the time to work with people to work out issues at other times, you do. And so it's not that we don't calculate sort of risk into the equation, but it's acknowledging that many times the reward is greater than that risk. Right. And maybe that's more of a private sector mentality. You know, sometimes we take risks because we know that reward is great. Where in the government, we're a little bit more risk averse, but I do think there's a healthy balance in there that we can learn from one another.
You had mentioned taking some more risks, but other than that, are there other things that you think the private sector can teach local government or how to operate better?
To be honest, like the biggest thing that I've seen I mean, besides like, I mean, there's obviously like technology differences. I mean, if you look at even like the cloud and how the cloud has sort of matured within the government space. In the private sector it matured much faster. You had most of the fortune 500 companies using it years and years ago before government really got into that space, which kind of tells you something, you know, about that about kind of the pace of how government changes things. So I think, I think one of the bigger things that they can learn, um, from my opinion is, is being more customer centric. I think back in the day, you know, when I was in the private sector, right, that was always our top concern is sort of what was the customer experience? How do we make our business more customer centric? You know, are we having the reach that we want? What does that look like out in the social space? You know, what kind of reputation do we have? All of those sorts of things really mattered. And when I got in the government space, it's sort of a monopoly and they're just, okay, you got to get a permit? Oh, you're going to stand in line. You know, if the, if, if the UI is clunky, well, we’re the government. And it's just sort of that it's just sort of expected, you know, and people expect to have a bad experience. But I see that changing and I think that's one of the big things that we can learn from the private sector is how to engage citizens, how to engage our customers, how to build better customer experiences for our customers, right? So that it, that it more replicates the private sector and how to make them the primary focus of the things that we do. Right. A lot of times we're improving processes for process sake versus really looking at it from who our customers are. And are we really doing these things for them, you know, to make their life easier and better?
Well, and we think it's such an exciting time for a local government, because yes, everybody's on the same team and we should be sharing ideas, but at the same time, there is a little bit of competition, right? There's economic development, trying to bring people into your city drives revenue. And, you know, COVID sort of changes everything where you have people fleeing from some of the major metropolitan cities, maybe coming to little Corona, maybe they can get a pool. So we think it's a really neat time. And especially with so many digital services, it's kind of getting to the point where it's unacceptable if you don't have a flashy website with online tools to be, you know, paying for parking permits or whatever. So we really think it's an exciting time, especially for the smaller to medium sized cities who have been potentially a little bit further behind these big cities that are heavily resourced.
I think we're allowed that to be a little bit more dynamic than the bigger cities. And I think that's like when I talked to my counterparts who are in the bigger cities like Boston or Los Angeles or Las Vegas, right. It's harder to turn that bus. It's a much bigger bus. And so when they implement it's grander in scale and takes a lot longer to do. I think midsize cities, what's kind of unique is sort of like midsize business, right? Is that we have the ability to still be agile and still have resources to deploy. And so it puts us in a perfect spot to pilot for others. And I think that's what's so cool. Even like you mentioned competition and it is true, right. I think there is, especially locally, you know, the city right next to you it might be a little bit more competitive sometimes because you're sort of vying for the same people to move in or the businesses to come.
But what I found, like unlike the private sector, where I would say nothing to anyone, in the public sector, there is still a lot of sharing. And that's very unique, I think to the government world, you don't really see that in the private sector, it's a much more closed off. So even though there is some competition, there's so many good, just really good humans, I think out there that serve in the government space that truly are public servants and truly want to make things better for everyone.
And I think for us, it's that same thing, you know, like we do things and it's like, we want to share them because we want other people to adopt them because it will make them better. Right. Leaner, more efficient. I mean, for COVID, for instance, we built an app to take temperatures and things with our employees for monitoring purposes. And we built it on power apps. So it was sort of low code, you know, quick. Microsoft really liked what we did so they actually gave us all the licenses for free to do it until the pandemic's over basically. And then they said, you know, you probably could sell this. And I was like, Nope, we're not going to sell it. Anyone that wants the code to how we built it can have it because it's necessary.
Like that's how we help each other. You know, we build these things and if there's application and other places, I mean, that's the whole idea of being a public servant, right. Is to help everyone. And so it's things like that where we have those opportunities. And so I, as much as there is, there's some competition there and I won't deny that at the end of the day, like we're all, we're all trying to help people and other human beings. And I think that's, what's been for me, the, probably the greatest joy of working in government is just being able to participate and add to that conversation. I think part of that process is finding each other and, you know, Govlaunch helps with that, but there are ways of which we share information, which you wouldn't normally find in the private sector, but it gives us the ability to sort of collaborate, understand whether the people doing that are, is successful and is not successful in certain, in certain terms and get together.
And I think that's, that is what is, I guess, the silver lining of government, you know, for all those people who, you know, wonder what it's like, it is frustrating. You will pull your hair out or lose the rest of it if you have any. Um, but the, the end of the day feeling you get, when you're actually able to do something that changes people's lives, and you're working with others to do that, to make those sort of magnify or multiply those ramifications across the United States, um, there is no better feeling and it makes all of the, uh, arrows okay. It makes all of the, uh, you know, city council meetings. Okay. It makes everything okay at the end of the day because you've, you've actually changed something and made a difference to other people.
Well, and this sharing is so important to and you mentioned the United States, but really what you're sharing today is going to go beyond just the U.S. and hopefully impactful to governments in countries globally. So back to some of the companies that you've partnered with, or that you're really excited about, I want to talk about any specific companies, particularly startups you've been working with that you're excited about and why.
Yeah. We've worked with a number of both big and small and startups. One of the startups actually that I'm really excited about right now that we're working on a project and I hope it's not too top secret, but we're working with UrbanLeap on a different sort of avenue of their application. So UrbanLeap is a platform where vendors can submit solutions to problems that you have and then it creates a workflow around that. So as you pilot, you can, have metrics and things to sort of validate that proof of concept to make sure it works. Just recently, we've been having conversations about the RFP process that cities go through and how complex and just how burdensome that is.
And so after several conversations and probably months of background talk, we're finally in this phase with them of development where we're looking at developing a system or a platform that uses artificial intelligence to help build the templates for RFP. So whether it's searching for the information and bringing it together, looking at the language that's involved in those sorts of things, understanding where you can piggyback understanding, you know, what your particular templates are for like legal ease and putting that all together, in a more automated fashion, with a workflow surrounding it versus sort of the traditional way, which, you know, for us would be, Googling, seeing what another city did, right. Copying, pasting, and trying to put all this stuff together and then sort of word craft it, right. You know, for what we're trying to do.
So, you know, that's, that's a lot of what happens in the background and they're not, we're doing them because it's a process that we're forced to complete. If we could actually take something like this, where that process was much more AI and automated driven to produce that RFP, it not only gets us to procurement faster and the solution provider, it makes everything easier kind of down the line, but we also benefit from taking the components from what others have done and building a better RFP from those things, which, you know, one guy on Google can only do so much. So I'm very excited about that because if it works, as we're expecting it to, I think it will revolutionize the way that we construct RFPs and RFQ and all of those things related to purchasing and the speed of which we're able to do that. And that to me is very exciting because that's one of our biggest constraints that I'm sure that every IT director, CIO can say the same thing, right. It's usually stuck somewhere between purchasing and legal we get stuck. And so anything to make those processes more efficient and effective, I'm a hundred percent behind.
Changing gears a little, I'd like to ask a few more quick, more general questions. If you're going, do you know any other standout innovation in another local government we should check out?
Oh gosh, there's all kinds of stuff going on. I could tell you that Mr. Sherwood over there in Las Vegas is doing some amazing things and he's setting up his own basically cellular network that they're deploying within Las Vegas, which is pretty dang amazing how he’s doing that. Um, so they're always up to, I would say no good, but it's actually really good stuff, but we're friends, so we laugh about it. They're doing some cool stuff. There's a few cities too, that I know that are doing a work with a drone, like drones as officers, or, you know, drones on patrol sort of thing. Um, that we've been looking at as well.
So you knew this question is coming. What's something you've tried that didn't work?
Oh gosh. Oh the last big one that I had was and I don't want to name names, but let's just say we were involved in a rather large HR payroll project with the city to sort of revamp how we did payroll services and taking more of a private sector approach to it where we outsourced some of the payroll and then on the HR side, making it a lot more modern. So as far as biometrics using AI, a lot more data intensive and pulling everything together and just creating more of a digital workflow for everything. Government again is sort of notorious for paper pushing when it comes to HR. The hiring process is just horrific it's just because we have a lot of procedures and a lot of policies to follow it, not enough bodies to fulfill all those things. So we really wanted to leverage technology in that space, a lot better and optimize it. Currently, we have just a plethora of legacy applications that pretty much everyone universally hates, you know, in that space. But we have to use them and it's painful. So we were trying to get rid of a lot of that. So we looked out to the private sector, selected a very large vendor. They promised a lot, we thought a lot of that. And when we got into deployment, it got really sticky, really fast because we found that, especially in that government can be very unique in certain ways. And local government particularly can sort of make it their own. Like we call it “Corona-fyingy” it. And so, uh, you know, where we've taken something and we make it work, but we've made it work the Corona way. And, uh, so when it came to sort of redoing all of that and trying to make it fit in sort of an off the shelf type of process or software, we just ran into issue after issue, after issue and trying to apply sort of a private sector solution to a public sector entity.
And, uh, it took us, it took us almost a year to figure out that this really cannot happen, you know, that we could bend in a lot of ways, but there were certain ways we just could not. And, uh, and so then we had to roll that back and luckily we had a good enough relationship with that particular vendor where we both, we both sort of realized that we failed each other. And so it was kind of like a handshake and okay. You know, part our ways we both have realized that we can't do this together.
So has the modernization of that HR process been taken off the table?
Speaker 2: (32:05)
No, I don't give up. So, yeah, actually, so we actually have money set aside in a CIP. We're going to go right back out to RFP and we're going to give it a try again. So because yeah, because I think, I think too, and one of the things I learned in the private sector was one of the places you can find value almost immediately is in that HR payroll process, just by streamlining that, you get so much monetary benefit, you know, from that, from doing that. And it just takes kind of that really monotonous mechanism that has to occur every two weeks away. And, uh, and then you can use the brain power of all these, you know, accountants and financial people that you have running the systems and other places. So we look forward to it.
Well, good. Can you share with us one or two govtech products you'd recommend?
Hmm. One of the ones that I really liked that particularly the government space is probably Zencity. I find that that was sort of one of those spaces where in the private sector, we have a lot of tools in the private sector to sort of monitor sentiment and social media and then change the course of direction of our marketing or product development. And when I got into the government space, like I said, about four years ago, there was like nothing. We had nothing. They just sort of like social media was sort of a beast that no one that you just sort of let it exist, you know, and whatever it did it did.
And government was sort of hands off, which I thought was crazy because, you know, you had a select group of, let's say people within your jurisdiction that sort of narrated your story for you. And you might like that story. You may not like that story, but they did it. That was sort of a problem that the city manager posed to me is like, what can we do? And it was like, we got to engage. That was the first thing. But the second thing is, you know, you have to listen and you just, you don't have enough people to listen to every single thing going on in your city. And so being able to use tool sets and artificial intelligence to listen and take in all that information and then apply some sort of sentiment to it is beyond valuable for us, I mean, it has helped us to change policy decisions. It's helped us to dispel bad rumors that occur sometimes and get ahead of the situation versus being reactive all the time to things that happen after the fact. So that as a tool set has been wonderful for us. It's worked in a lot of different ways. And it's great. I mean, they're a startup and they've grown quite a bit, you know, since the days when we first started using them and, uh, they continue to at least for us to add value to our operation. So that's a big one.
Yeah. It's a whole different component of these data driven decisions, right. When we're going with how the community feels about something. Um, so this is a type of data that local governments had a hard time getting a handle of before.
You know, it's like the whole concept of using data firstly. Cause people focus a lot, like on the visualizations, they focus on open data portals and stuff, right. At the end of the day, it's like leading and lagging indicators, right? So we have certain indicators that are lagging, which is after the fact, you know, and, and that helps us, but it only helps us to fix it after it's already broken. It's really like the leading indicators that we're looking for. And so if you start getting sentiment about something that maybe people don't like something, or, you know, maybe there's some misinformation out there that's a leading indicator for us to change before it becomes a lagging indicator of something. So we actually can be proactive about the whole thing.
What's something that excites you about the future of Corona?
I think that, and this might not be just particular to Corona. I think it's what got most of a, I think that at least the, you know, the IT people in my shoes into that space was that it's ripe for change. Government is a place where there are so many things that we can make better, let's just say. And so every day I never have a boring day. Like there's always something new, whether it's a new problem that pops up or new solution that we're deploying right. Every day is different. And so I think what excites me most though about it is this idea that we really can make government for people, right. And that it's something that not only that we can engage more like with the silent sort of majority that we have within the city, but also just to make things better, from parks to broadband, to services we deploy that we actually make an impact on people and how they live and how they play and how they work.
And so for me, it's the excitement of being able to apply technology to actually serve other humans. It's actually just helping people at the end of the day. And I think there's nothing more satisfying than being able to do that.
Well, this has been great. And I think your advice for others in local government and your enthusiasm, I think it's going to really resonate with a lot of our listeners. So thanks again for joining us and keep up the exciting work in Corona.
Chris and his team in Corona are forging ahead with strong partners to reimagine how government operates. Now, this is a pretty big lift. But the sentiment Chris shared today about taking more risks, taking advantage of the opportunities ahead, and continuing to think outside the box hopefully resonates with all of us. With the move to more digital government and new workplace flexibility, local governments are in the unique position to reinvent how they see service delivery.
Govlaunch has over 2500 innovation projects shared globally. Here, you can find examples of projects in cities like yours, what’s worked, what hasn’t. Come join us as we continue to map the innovation ecosystem and share more of the important work like Chris and his team in Corona shared today.
I’m Lindsay Pica-Alfano, and this podcast was produced by Govlaunch, the wiki for local government innovation. You can subscribe and hear more stories like this wherever you get your podcasts.
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