Right on the banks of the Hudson River with views of the Manhattan skyline lies Hoboken, NJ, a city packed with art galleries, restaurants, and museums. Known as the “Mile Square City,” the lively, walkable locale covers an area of about two square miles and is home to Elysian Fields, the site of the first organized baseball match. Rich in history, arts, and culture, Hoboken remains a popular destination for visitors from across the country.
GovOS Solution: Application Studio
Population: Approx. 60,675
Launched: March 2015
Like many communities, Hoboken saw an increase in demand for digital services during the pandemic and met challenges posed by COVID-19 with innovation and a clear vision for the expansion of online civic services. Caleb Stratton, Assistant Business Administrator and Chief Resiliency Officer for Hoboken played a vital role in the initial response as well as continued efforts to bring services online. Caleb recently sat down with us to share his experience helping the City lay the foundation for the future of its digital services.
What was the initial need that led you to GovOS Studio?
I started using Studio when I was in capital projects leading our “book of business” related to flood risk reduction and long-term capital needs. The City had already been using GovOS services before March 2020, but it was around then that our current business administrator and I stepped in to jointly act in the business administrator role.
When things shut down due to COVID-19, one of my priorities was to transition City services from an analog approach into the digital environment. We wanted to focus on providing a user interface and customer interaction that maintained the same level of service. At the time, we didn’t have the resources to monitor our website’s performance or its efficacy in reaching our constituency.
We turned to Studio to help us build process workflows and assist with tasks that we didn’t have the internal capacity to take on. Although we had previously been slow to transition into the digital environment, Studio helped us make the shift to online service offerings at a time when the health and safety of our residents and staff were our primary concern.
How do City services look different today than they did two years ago?
Our website is now our front door to municipal services. We had a major weather event during the summer of 2021, but we were able to embed disaster support resources and information related to recovery on our website so that it was easily accessible to residents.
With the workflows we’ve set up in Studio, we’re also handling processes, like records management, far more efficiently. There were a lot of antiquated processes in need of an update – even accepting digital signatures was a big deal for us.
Over the last two years, we’ve distributed millions of dollars through this interface for things like small business relief, not-for-profit relief, rental relief, etc. We’ve also modernized our entire approach to distributing and making information available to citizens. In addition to providing City services, we’re also a public information portal in terms of housing information for easy access at any time. Citizens can backtrack through all things related to our pandemic response, including testing and vaccination efforts.
How has digitalization impacted City staff and citizens?
Providing staff with access to Studio has generated some legitimate curiosity with employees who otherwise might not have wanted to change a process or workflow. There’s been a lot of looking over shoulders to find out how others are using the product. Employees are asking each other, “What are you doing? Could I do that with my own workflow?” There are simpler ways to complete tasks and they’ve found it’s easier to collate, do batch reviews, etc.
We’ve gained back hours of staff time by eliminating inefficiencies. We have more than 600 employees and 7-8 departments and, of those staff workflows, Studio is being used in everything from the Police Department for ABC renewals, to zoning applications and rental assistance programs – even how we distribute notifications for our public meetings on an administrative and council level. As the list of available services has increased, so has our online engagement with the community.
Hoboken Police Department Application for Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)
Work From Home
From an administration standpoint, being able to have someone submit a form but not having to do it in person at, say, the zoning officer’s desk when City Hall is closed to the public, is very valuable to enable processing of our administrative responsibilities. Studio was a foundational tool in facilitating this and helped us digitize forms and workflows to get the ball rolling.
Any advice for other municipalities looking to make similar updates to City services?
Sometimes there are a lot of formalities around government services that you have to cast aside in order to maintain actual efficiencies and services for your constituents. There’s a reason things functioned the way they did for so long, with people in cubicles moving stacks of paper, but there’s a real necessity now to train staff to be flexible enough to follow digital process workflows and to create workflows to serve the public and reach the folks whom we’re not currently reaching.
With tech advancements, there’s always the potential to widen the digital divide to some degree. As we move additional services online, we’re also trying to balance these between much-needed updates to services while considering the ways we can meet people where they are and help provide access to the digital services they need.