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Post-Vaccine, County Considers Hybrid Work, Virtual-First Offerings

With the COVID-19 pandemic easing somewhat, Alameda County Chief Information Officer Tim Dupuis discussed how his government hopes to bring positive change from it, at the recent Bay Area Virtual Digital Government Summit.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is having historic impacts on state and local government IT – but panelists at the recent Bay Area Virtual Digital Government Summit examined how their peers and colleagues can leverage the watershed event for positive change.
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In a discussion moderated by Alan Cox, e.Republic executive vice president and Techwire publisher, Alameda County Chief Information Officer Tim Dupuis, who is also registrar of voters, reviewed how his government has wielded technology in its response to the crisis, offering ideas to consider as entities emerge from lockdown. Among the takeaways:

  • Productivity has been good, but officials think something has been missing from remote work, the CIO said during “Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Workplace”: “It’s a little bit more difficult to explore and be creative in those spaces. We don’t want to miss that.” To that end, Alameda is exploring a hybrid work environment with “some mix” of on-site and remote that maximizes creativity-boosting “casual collisions” — depending in part upon staffers’ responsibilities. For some, Dupuis said July 7, that could mean two days a week remote and three onsite. Home to more than 1.6 million people, the Bay Area county was well-positioned from a technology standpoint to move everyone immediately offsite. Its IT Department had moved in 2019 to the historic former Crocker National Bank Building, embracing a collaborative workspace that eliminated cubicles, migrating staff to laptops and those in the facility to softphones.
  • Somewhat by contrast, at the county’s Registrar of Voters, it makes sense to continue doing a portion of the work off-site. The entity handles a good deal of paper, in part because ballots must be physical, but it also has a high interaction level considering Alameda has nearly 1 million voters. Staffers, Dupuis said, are still “very protected,” but while the election code requires many things remain on paper with wet signatures, other processes like onboarding candidates can be moved at least partially online. Poll worker recruiting, too, was able to be done via an off-site call center.
  • Officials are trying to pivot to a virtual-first perspective in an effort to leapfrog IT and innovation work forward. The goal is rather than simply automating physical processes, thinking instead about “how would we build that system so that (customers) can do things online,” Dupuis said. A key example, he noted is “virtual weddings,” a big success with more than 3,000 weddings conducted virtually to date. The county hopes to continue offering the service but is weighing how other processes such as permitting, social services interactions and criminal justice work might best go virtual.
    “Another thing that we’re looking at is we’ve been talking about going paperless. In the past, some of those transitions have been paper to what we’re calling digital paper. We’re now saying we also want to do away with digital paper, rethink those workflows and say ‘Do you really need a form at all, whether it’s electronic or not in order to work through that process,’ which gets us into virtual business,” Dupuis said.
  • The pandemic accelerated Alameda County’s technology maturity, but its leaders face two key questions as a return to the office looms. First, there’s the matter of de-cluttering desks, eliminating multiple devices and extra equipment to make staffers more flexible in the hybrid workplace where employees may move between fixed and hoteling spaces. Second is the ongoing change management and training needed to continue adapting to the new normal and to do business virtual-first.
    “It’s amazing how advanced things got out of necessity but now it’s time to take advantage of that as we’re coming back into this. ... The things that we were trying to sell and convince people they needed to use – they’re convinced. It’s an exciting time to be able to take advantage of all that as people are coming back to the workplace,” Dupuis said. Asked by Cox whether, given the sophistication of cybersecurity in the hybrid world, officials should stay in the DevSecOps mindset, Dupuis added: “I think that’s a fair statement, absolutely.”
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.