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A Year in Review: The Top 5 Advances in Civic Engagement

Now that Accela Engage is less than a month away, I find myself reflecting on what we’ve achieved as a community since we last met in San Diego. What’s most staggering is the number of new and upgraded customers joining the Accela community, including Seattle, Washington, the State of New Mexico, Dayton, Ohio, Chesapeake, Virginia, Queen Creek, Arizona, and Menifee, California. We now have over 800 customers around the world. Each new customer joins a strong and active community of their peers, combining the power of their solution with the knowledge other agencies have gained solving similar challenges.

Building this strong ecosystem means more than just onboarding new customers. We have to continue to innovate and ensure that we’re speeding that innovation to deliver the best-in-class experiences that our agency customers need and want. To that end, I’d like to recap the top 5 advances since Accela Engage 2013:

1) Launch of the Civic Platform

Accela’s vision as a company is to use mobile, social and cloud to help government agencies become more productive and better engage with the citizens and businesses in their communities. For citizens, this is how they operate on a daily basis now. To help bridge this divide, we have built the Civic Platform, which provides the functionality and services underlying all of our customers’ solutions.

For agencies, the Platform means more choices, more flexibility in how solutions are configured and greater scalability in what is available and how solutions are deployed. As a result, agencies can continue to innovate over time without investing in new technology. For citizens, it means greater communication, easier access to information and the services they need and want, and services provided how and when they want them through mobile, social and cloud.

Management Analyst Jason Stewart with Tacoma, Washington Uses the Accela Civic Platform
We’ve also made the Accela Civic Platform available as a cloud-based solution, enabling government agencies large and small to automate and streamline core civic processes and extend them directly to businesses and citizens in their communities. A few of our customers already taking advantage of the cloud include Palo Alto, California, Nogales, Arizona, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Cloud delivery costs Nogales (Pop. 20,750) only $10,000 annually and removes the need for servers or an Oracle or SQL database. The Center for Digital Government even released an issue brief on why the time is now to move to the cloud.

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2) Expansion of Solution Offerings

The flexibility and scalability of the Civic Platform means we can bring on new solution offerings for our customers with greater speed and ease. Conversely, this means that our customers can bring on these new solution offerings with greater speed and ease as well—and at a lower cost as they grow their capabilities over time. In recent months we’ve launched four new solutions to extend the value of the platform:

  • Accela Pet Licensing makes it easy for animal services officials and responsible pet owners to register pets and renew licenses directly from an agency’s website.
  • Accela Right of Way Management provides visibility and real-time insight into street projects and activities that occur within the public right of way.
  • Accela Legislative Management helps agencies manage their legislative and public meetings and engage the community while saving time and money.

3) Open Data and the Launch of CivicData.com

According to data.gov, 38 U.S. states and 46 U.S. cities and counties now provide visibility through open data portals. Now is the time to think about opening up your datasets (if you haven’t already), which types of data to make available and how to package and standardize that data. Developers and partners can then take this data to build innovative (and often unexpected) apps that meet the needs of multiple agencies. In October, we launched the beta version of CivicData.com, a free open data portal for agencies to publish and manage datasets, and for developers to build and deploy innovative applications to serve multiple jurisdictions. A recent McKinsey report even suggests that open data may provide significant economic value and generate more than $3 trillion a year nationwide. More than 25 customers have already started publishing select datasets. Take a look at what they’re doing.

4) The Civic App Challenge: Encouraging Developers to Create the Next Big Thing

Both agencies and citizens benefit from collective innovation on the Civic Platform. By broadening the ecosystem and making it flexible so that more people can play in the sandbox, we’re bringing to bear more diverse solutions than any agency could provide on its own. And we’re doing it with greater speed. The Civic Platform allows us to partner with smart, agile and new civic technology companies like Civic Industries and Open Counter. We’re working with these startups, and many others, to bring new ideas and new ways of doing business to governments across the country.

Agencies can take advantage of the flexibility of the platform as well. For example, Alan Holt, Manager of Data Services for the City of Framingham, Massachusetts, created Code Enforcement and Electrical Inspector apps for Apple, Android and Windows devices—in a matter of days.

To foster greater innovation on the platform, we launched the Accela Construct App Challenge to help identify the next set of ideas that will fuel tomorrow’s civic startups. We had over 40 participants enter more than 20 ideas and our panel of judges is currently reviewing the submissions. We’re looking forward to highlighting the solutions developed by our winners at Accela Engage in August and be sure to check back next week on the blog for more information on the winners.

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5) Supporting Our Civic Heroes

We think our customers are doing some pretty amazing things in their communities. In fact, we like to think of them as Civic Heroes. To better support them, we introduced our Customer Success team last year with the mission of helping them get the most out of their investment. The team has grown rapidly and is having a significant impact on our customers’ success.

This year, we're continuing our focus as a company on customer support and in the coming weeks you’ll hear more about updates that will enable us to better support our customers through every step of the process, from initial decision-making through implementation, training, maintenance and beyond.

Have I missed anything? These are what are top of mind for me. Are there any other accomplishments or trends that stand out for you when you look back over the past year? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking Ahead to Accela Engage 2014
What Does the Civic Platform Mean to Me?
 

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