Success stories

Milwaukee County Turns Daunting Paper Event Applications into Convenient Automated Process

less time to complete automated application
paper applications rolled into one online process
minutes savings in staff time per application
Increased Accuracy
capturing event data in one place
Too Many File Cabinets, Not Enough Time
For the special events department of the Milwaukee County Parks Department, paper had long been a burdensome way of life. Long paper event applications, paper trails for accounts, and all the file cabinets gave the department a reputation as the “File Cabinet Warehouse of the County.” As one of the first departments to take advantage of MyCounty, Milwaukee County’s new automated customer-friendly online portal, the department is shredding their paper past and trading filing cabinets for online efficiencies thanks to govService.
Residents don’t need to know which department does this or that. They just want to be able to get the information or service they need. The MyCounty portal has resulted in efficiencies and created a better experience for our customers.
Guy Smith

Managing a Paper-Heavy Process from Remote Locations During COVID

What stands out to Guy Smith, Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Parks and Recreation Department, about the previous work process in the special events department is the file cabinets.

“File cabinets, paper files, literally paper everywhere,” he said of the previous environment. “And then reminders on the desk of ‘I need to contact this organizer, this organizer reached out.’” He chuckled and added: “It wasn’t an efficient system.”

Handling requests for everything from weddings to photography shoots to local events, the department frequently deals with professional public relations and event planners, as well as local residents looking to use local parks for their special occasions. But long paper applications presented a cumbersome process, not to mention manhours to process, sort and organize, and field calls for status updates.

“It was fairly cumbersome,” said Smith. “It was paper heavy, and just so many steps and not necessarily intuitive for event organizers. You do have PR people and professional event organizers where, it just becomes second nature. But for the average resident, that process just wasn’t intuitive.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the number of events decreased as restrictions for public gatherings went into place. That reduction in traffic, coupled with funding from the federal CARES Act to help local communities during the pandemic, offered the department an opportunity to change.


A New Service Portal Offers Opportunity for Automation, Efficiency

Milwaukee County used funds from the CARES Act to develop “MyCounty,” an online portal powered by Granicus’ govService solution, that focuses on expediting access to county services. It’s part of what Smith called a “No Wrong Door” philosophy.

“Users don’t necessarily need to know that this department does this or this division does that,” he said. “They’re just able to get the information or service they need.”

The approach dovetailed into the remote access work that became a requirement during the pandemic. The development and integration of govService for the Milwaukee County team was done over four months, starting in Sept. 2020, and launching in early 2021.

CARES Act Funding offered the chance to develop solutions for many of the county’s departments. Laura Bahr, Business Analyst for Milwaukee County, said that over 60 IT projects were submitted for access to CARES Act funds. But the Parks and Recreation Department became an early target for development due to both their unique position as a revenue-generating department, as well as their reputation for daunting paperwork.

“2020 was brutal for Parks for actually generating revenue. The number one factor for bringing Parks in early was that they are a revenue generating department,” said Bahr. So when they said ‘Pack up and go home, see you in two weeks,’ that chaos was part of the problem for Parks, who are truly the file cabinet warehouse of the County. But they’re starving for revenue and are such a critical part of the County picture overall. So how are we going to make them okay?”

The targeted outcomes of the special events applications also made it a good candidate for the early portal rollout thanks to a moderate scope of work.

“We couldn’t implement a service that had a ton of integrations with other systems or was a super complicated process because of our timeframe,” said Linda Alexander, who worked closely with the Parks Department on the MyCounty integration team for Milwaukee County. “But we also wanted to look at something that was either very paper intensive or form heavy, as well as something that could potentially touch a lot of people—a lot of customers.”


Streamlined Processes, Fewer File Cabinets

Digital automation of the special events permit applications through the MyCounty portal has shown immediate impact. The new application process consolidates what was previously four paper applications into one online process that also helps track status online throughout the approval period.

Davina Anderson, Special Events Manager for the Milwaukee County Parks Department, said that the new system allows a much easier process both for applicants and for her as a manager.

“This came at the right time,” she said. “Because working from home with paper and everything? It would have been very hectic. At first, I was taking events on paper and then just emailing back and forth. Now they’re getting live updates as I’m doing things on my end. It just makes it much easier for everyone.”

As the pandemic subsides and normalcy begins to creep back into everyday life, the Parks Department is prepared for the upswing in requests thanks to the flexibility the digital system provides them. Anderson said that they are already seeing that new optimism reflected in an increase in permit requests for 2021.

“The system is great because I’m able to keep track of who I’ve reached out to, there’s a note space in the system,” she said. “So I know who I’ve contacted, and where they’re at with the COVID plans. I see this being great as we grow to something like 10 or 20 more weddings each month because I can better keep track of them and know what’s going on.”

For Alexander, the early success of the Parks Department with the MyCounty Portal not only shows the success of digital government, but encourages even more thought about how residents will be able to benefit from easy access to other departments.

“We currently have three services live, with a fourth and fifth about to launch,” she said. “But we’re looking at the long-term, when we have maybe 100 or even 200 services in the portal, how can we organize the portal in such a way that customers can find what they’re looking for? And, can we use the portal as a marketing tool? Can it spark some interest in someone’s mind to go explore the Parks Department even if that’s not what they were coming to the portal for? There’s some interesting opportunities for partnering and driving revenue.”

Smith also agrees that, even in the early days of the MyCounty portal, the immediate impact also opens the door to new opportunities and function.

“I think that we’re still kind of in our infancy where we now can think about how we could expand,” he said. “But this is making us a more mature organization. Our work order system used to be FileMaker Pro and paper, and there were seven different other work systems or more throughout the County. So, this pilot with special events opens the door for other program areas within parks where we can provide faster and more efficient services.”

Lynn Fyhrlund, Chief Information Officer for Milwaukee County supports the use of govServices to help deliver digital transformation/automation for Milwaukee County.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made government deliver services to constituents in new ways. Fyhrlund said. One of the keys to providing a high level of interaction with constituents is to provide alternative ways to provide access to government services. The creation of the MyCounty portal using govServices puts another tool in to the hands of Milwaukee County leaders to deliver services to constituents.”

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