Keeping Track of Capital Projects in the City of Topeka
This month, the city of Topeka partnered with Socrata to launch a Capital Project Explorer, which will allow businesses, citizens, and government staffers to readily view the status of ongoing and proposed capital improvement projects. We spoke with Sherry Shoonover, the Deputy IT Director, on the city’s goals, implementation process, and next steps for the Capital Project Explorer.
Socrata: Congratulations on your launch. Can you tell us how this project came about?
Sherry Schoonover: This is a joint project between Finance, Public Works, and IT. We continuously receive requests about the status of capital improvement projects, and we wanted to use a tool that was easy to navigate and provide basic project information. This dashboard is designed to offer insight into cost, spending, and timeline information on the city’s capital improvement projects.
A Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), is a short-range plan, usually four to ten years, which identifies capital projects and equipment purchases, provides a planning schedule, and identifies options for financing the plan. Project performance measures depict the cost and schedule status compared to the goals established at the beginning of the project. The object of this project portal is to not only provide information on all active, but also budgeted projects. Citizens are able to see what investments are being made in what categories and locations.
Socrata: What other benefits can citizens expect?
Schoonover: This will allow citizens to see the timelines and expenditures for each project, while also showing the location. Constituents are able to see what projects are in a district or neighborhood. We were looking for the best way to allow users to analyze the information using their own questions and selecting what they want to know.
Socrata: How do you think this program might make your community more business-friendly?
Schoonover: Providing information on existing and future projects allows for a systematic evaluation of all potential projects at the same time. It also provides an opportunity to foster cooperation among businesses, organizations, and other stakeholders and an ability to inform on the city’s priorities.
Socrata: What internal processes or tools do you hope this program can streamline or replace?
Schoonover: Gathering the information for the project portal showed us how many different steps and processes there are depending on the type of project, funding type, category, and/or department.
To update the portal information automatically it is necessary to define a standard process and application that holds the data. With this in mind, we gathered a cross-departmental team to standardize the process of managing CIP projects and the information needed. Streamlining our methods will not only save us on resource time but will also eliminate the problem with duplicate and incorrect information.
Socrata: How does this data program interact with Topeka’s other systems and programs?
Schoonover: This information is connected to our financial data. We are also working on integrating operational information. The information required for the project dashboard comes from four systems.
Socrata: What advice do you have for other governments considering rolling out a program like yours?
Schoonover: The biggest challenge is identifying where the information is coming from and who is responsible for the data. The next step is to standardize data and agree on an update schedule. If the data refresh is handled manually make certain the information is updated regularly. Citizens are very annoyed and it is also very embarrassing when the information provided is outdated.