Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, technology has always fascinated me. From getting my hands on a new iPhone to being curious about the latest social media platform, I was always connected. I knew that at an early age, I wanted to have a career that took advantage of innovation and was at the forefront of technology.
Upon completing my Masters of Public Administration, I took a leap of faith and accepted a local government position in Texas. Great, I thought. I’m leaving the mecca of innovation and technology to go to a more conservative state. I thought I would never be able to do new and exciting things. Little did I know, I was so wrong.
Believe it or not, local government is a great place for new ideas! I would have never imagined that within a year into my career, I would have already been to regional transportation sessions planning for autonomous vehicles, explored the usage of Big Data in local government, and have flown Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for work. Two years ago, innovation was the last thing on my mind sitting through Dr. Hansen’s Organizational Theory classes. Yet, here I am at the forefront of many new and exciting things in not only local government, but in the world.
Automated Transportation Technology
In the past six months, I have been lucky enough to attend North Central Texas Council of Government’s (NCTCOG) sessions on Automated Transportation Technology. Whether you believe it or not, autonomous vehicles are coming and they are coming sooner than you think. While everyday citizens are waiting for cars to drive themselves, local government is bracing itself for one of the biggest technological advances since the move from horse drawn carriages to motorized vehicles. Instead of taking a wait and see approach, municipalities are preparing for this new technology – and even fostering its development.
Check out this video to learn more about the future of autonomous vehicles and the choices cities are faced with today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcCD3lXYlTk
One commodity that government has always had, has been data. Whether it is the data from water consumption to the deterioration of streets, cities have always had data and plenty of it. The problem is local government hasn’t been fully utilizing the potential of its most valuable commodity. In the article, “The age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world,” the authors discuss data in various industries, including the public sector in the European Union (EU). Currently in the EU, the public sector is only capturing between 10-20% of the potential of their data. There are two main barriers that the EU is trying to overcome: a lack of analytical talent and siloed data within different agencies. One could argue that the EU is currently more progressive than the United States (US), and if that is the case, one must assume that the public sector in the US is further behind. As municipal governments move to a more data driven approach, local governments are going to need more individuals who can analyze the data to allow for more informed decision making. The industry is centering around three main approaching right now: data partnerships, open data, and performance analytics. An example of a data partnership would be the Connected Citizens Program, a free data sharing program through Waze which shares traffic data between the private and public sectors. As its name implies, open data is the process of a municipal government sharing it’s data to the public. Performance analytics, or performance data, utilizes benchmarking amongst other tools to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operation.
Not sure what’s the big deal about big data? Check out this video to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMZKvGjOoAk
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
This past winter I helped develop our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Program, utilizing technology that has become more easily obtainable than ever before, drones. Although many municipal governments utilize UAVs for emergency management, fire, and police, our program differs by being housed in our Public Works Department. Information collected is being used to support and inform the city’s Equipment Services, Engineering, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Infrastructure Management, Solid Waste, Streets, Traffic Engineering, and Utilities Divisions. More recently we have utilized these tools to document the progression of Capital Improvement Projects and the city’s Street Bond Program through aerial surveys and traffic studies. Going forward we envision performing even more applications as we discover the programs true potential.
Check out how this local government is using UAVs to maintain infrastructure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzOBSHA2NzQ
The landscape in local government is changing, and for me, every day is a new and exciting one. As a young professional in local government you will constantly find opportunities to pursue interests that will benefit your community. Take advantage of any chance you can get as you never know what door it will open.
Aaron Zavala, MPA, is the Public Works Management Analyst in Mesquite, Texas. Aaron’s previous government experience includes service as a graduate intern in Fresno, California.
Aaron earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Sonoma State University and a Master of Public Administration degree from California State University, Fresno. Currently he is working on a Master of Science in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. Aaron has spent his short career active in several professional organizations including Urban Management Assistants of North Texas (UMANT) where he has served on the Executive Committee. He is also a member of ICMA, Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC), and the International Hispanic Network (IHN).