Within weeks of the first COVID-19 shutdowns of businesses and government offices, Los Angeles County leaders enlisted their IT experts to build a tool to help with economic recovery. This act, in the form of a resolution by the Board of Supervisors, was the genesis of ProsperLA.
The stated goals of the board’s resolution:
- Streamline business services, processes, or contracting with the county.
- Have an impact on the community and benefit the public.
- Improve the public’s experience with county government through technology and services.
- Improve how county government uses and shares technology to better serve the public.
That April 28 resolution directed Executive Officer of the Board Celia Zavala to get the ball rolling on the “Los Angeles County Roadmap to Recovery.”
That’s when the Board of Supervisors’ chief information officer, Amin Almuhajab, and his team were enlisted in the effort.
“My story began with, ‘Let’s see what’s being developed elsewhere,’” Almuhajab told Techwire in an interview. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we went all over the place — we went to tech companies, looked at some samples online — and then we thought, ‘These solutions are great, but they do not achieve or meet our tailored requirements.’ So we ended up doing this internally, to see how we could streamline it.”
Using Microsoft’s Power BI tool, Almuhajab’s team began building a Web portal where people — anyone, from anywhere with an Internet connection and a desire to help the county — could log in and contribute.
“We developed the front-end website, but the jewel was on the back end of the website,” Almuhajab said. “It was a question of how, when you received this collection of information from various sources, can we make sense of it? We wanted to make it more structured, so our business people, when they present and curate this information to the Board, could make sense of it at a glance.”
The end result was a clean, easily navigable website, on a platform from DNN that the county customized, that went live on June 30, crowdsourcing solutions and ideas. Within six weeks, nearly 100 people had logged in and written up their ideas. Some were very specific, related to internal county procedures, while others were more general. Because of the data-gathering capabilities that Almuhajab and his team built in, the county was able to immediately harvest the information that came along with the ideas — respondents’ demographics, occupations and geographic location, sorted by ZIP code as well as by each of the county’s five supervisorial districts. And it also stores respondents’ contact information, so county IT and business specialists can follow up with questions.
In addition to standing up the website, Almuhajab said, county technologists also created their own infographics, populated by the ideas offered online.
“We wanted the content on the website to be really straightforward, easy to follow,” he said. “We wanted to eliminate any difficulties to understanding what the site is all about,” and to avoid making it too complex while still including accessibility in 10 languages and making it usable on mobile devices.
Once the site was up, the ideas — and the data — started flowing in.
“We broke it down into categories of improvement: business contracting, cost. Is it hitting the private sector, the public sector? Is this educational, is this health? Is it education? There was just a multitude of different categories,” the CIO said.
Once the data was compiled and the analysis began, it was time to categorize it and create visualizations — and an internal, fully interactive dashboard to help non-technologists in the county’s lines of business to explore and understand it. That internal dashboard (which isn’t publicly accessible because it contains individuals’ identifying information) features pie charts, bar graphs and heatmaps.
“We made the report much easier for our business folks. When they get it, we have a breakdown,” Almuhajab said. “We added some visual rendering of the data itself. How many ideas came from L.A. County? How many from small mom-and-pops? How many from the public sector? What sub-categories were hit on?”
Almuhajab said the technologists used Power BI and some GIS tools to tap into an internal county data warehouse.
“Within Power BI itself, there is actually a graphical mapping tool, so we integrated those APIs,” he said.
If you go to ProsperLA with an idea, you’ll be asked for some information: What type of entity are you affiliated with — county government, business, nonprofit, resident or other? Who are you? What problem are you identifying? What solution(s) do you propose? Ideas may be typed into a box on the website or attached as files.
“Ideas coming from small mom-and-pops, for instance, are different from an enterprise,” Almuhajab said. “Their struggle is different from big corporations.”
Almuhajab’s team was joined by the Internal Services Department, the county's purchasing agent, to discuss and identify potential improvements to existing procurement rules and procedures.
Viable ideas will be included in quarterly reports to the Board of Supervisors by the county Executive Office and the Quality and Productivity Commission, in consultation with the county’s Small Business Commission and Economy and Efficiency Commission.