Connecting with Citizens

The City of Boston uses savvy IT strategies to get the most value from every taxpayer dollar.

by Molly Rose Teuke, August 2009

Like most U.S. cities, the historic city of Boston, Massachusetts, is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges. Overall revenue sources are shrinking as fixed costs rise. Healthcare costs alone have risen 128 percent since fiscal year 2001, and other costs have increased 34 percent, while net state aid has shrunk from 29 percent of revenue in 2001 to 19 percent projected for 2010. A projected US$140 million budget shortfall for 2010 has been remedied in part by dipping into the city’s financial reserves. With an outspoken and engaged customer base—the taxpaying residents of Boston—such woes are a source of high anxiety for many elected officials.

Not so for Lisa Calise Signori, Boston’s director of administration and finance. Observing the maxim “If you can measure it, you can improve it,” she has championed data-driven decision-making and spearheaded a variety of initiatives to make city government hum in spite of budget pressures. Encouraged by Mayor Thomas Menino, who has made improving performance, responsiveness, and customer satisfaction the cornerstones of his administration, Signori is leading a by-the-numbers campaign for excellence supported throughout city government, from top-level managers to finance people to frontline public workers. She recently shared the Menino administration’s strategies for achieving management excellence at the Oracle CFO Forum.

It’s All About Results
Collecting and publishing performance data is nothing new for Boston. Performance measures have been included in the mayor’s budget book since the 1980s, but only recently has that data been collected and utilized in such a robust manner. In 2002, the city shifted from manual data collection to electronic collection. In 2006, it raised the bar again by adopting an online performance management system under an umbrella program dubbed Boston About Results (BAR). Relying on the Oracle Hyperion Performance Scorecard application, BAR is the central mechanism used by the city for setting, measuring, and revising performance criteria. City department managers set their own performance standards, integrating their specific mission with available resources, strategies, and measurable outcomes. It’s a good example of how cities, like savvy corporations, are using IT strategies to work smarter, not harder.

It’s a process of continuous improvement, says Signori, who notes that departments are given the opportunity each year to revise their performance measures. “It’s never a status quo environment,” she notes. “We’re constantly striving to improve data capture and feedback loops from the data capture we already have, and that process keeps getting better with the use of better tools, like Oracle Hyperion Performance Scorecard. The goal is to use information and analytics to squeeze the most value out of every taxpayer dollar.”

The result is a sustainable performance management infrastructure that engages decision-makers and helps them marshal scarce resources to provide efficient and effective services. Signori cites a public works pilot program launched in 2008 to divert a portion of residential solid waste into single-stream recycling (with all recyclable materials collected in a single bin). Based on Oracle Hyperion data from pilot neighborhoods, the program will improve service while cutting costs, and Signori expects to see it rolled out citywide by the end of 2010.

Two-Way Street
Tools such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system and advanced call center technology are starting to make a huge difference in the way the City of Boston benefits from the multitude of data it collects every day. “The original approach of BAR was a terrific concept that made the city focus on data to make decisions,” says Bill Oates, the city’s CIO. “We’ve now reached another level with some critical enterprise systems for gathering that data and integrating it with BAR, which is enabling us to go down the path toward additional BI tools that are going to be really helpful.”

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