Smart government starts here

Bob Freudenthal
APWA President

  Bob Freudenthal

Most of us encounter technology many times throughout an average day. But in addition to our high-tech work, most of us also still do more than a little low-tech work each day. In public works departments, high-tech and low-tech collide for facilities managers.

Technology is transforming government, making it more efficient, more available, and more responsive to public needs. Today's facilities are gradually being transformed into knowledge resource centers. They can no longer be limited to the traditional uses. Citizens now require access to numerous kinds of information and expertise. The modern facility acts as a networking "hub" that collects, manages and disseminates information and knowledge beyond just providing access to typical records. Many cities have televised meetings and some are building studios for broadcasting. New facilities must address all of the current and future technology needs and old facilities must adapt. Facilities managers find themselves working closely with information technology staff and contractors to meet these changing needs.

Buildings themselves are even incorporating technology. Public facilities are becoming more energy efficient by incorporating complex, software-driven heating and air conditioning systems and computer-controlled indoor and outdoor lighting. Public safety is being addressed through many new types of security systems utilizing pass cards and metal detectors. Public restrooms even have their fair share of gadgets—everything from electronic, timed air fresheners to motion-sensing soap dispensers.

Navigating this sea of software and gadgetry is the same facilities manager who also has to make sure the grass is mowed, the leaky pipes are fixed and the fence has a fresh coat of whitewash. Actually, technology is easing a few of these chores with fencing materials that never require paint and other innovative products for floors, roofs and walls that need less maintenance. But, there are other trends besides the technology trend that are lightening the load and some of them are very low-tech. A greater understanding of the benefits of natural landscaping has reduced the need for watering, pruning and mowing. Some buildings are even growing those natural landscapes on their roofs for better stormwater management.

This evolution requires a new level of expertise and capability on the part of facilities managers. Typically for a municipality, the three largest expenses related to facilities are its employees, technology and facilities; and all too often, attention is given to only the first two. Facilities are the physical backbone for government agencies and the services they provide.

Public buildings are important both socially and economically. Municipal office buildings, courthouses, libraries, post offices and water treatment plants are essential components of a strong, vibrant and healthy government. These facilities draw many employees and users of public services. It is becoming increasingly important that the government support facilities make the experience for its constituents relaxing and enjoyable, while also allowing them to indulge in shopping, eating and drinking. And the fact that roughly 8% of our Gross Domestic Product ($250 billion) is spent annually for capital investment in facilities demonstrates the emphasis governments place on facilities and their importance for economic development.

Smart government happens when facilities incorporate integrated information systems to help agencies purchase, build and manage technology. APWA, through its strategic planning process, provides support for its members that fosters vitality, momentum and impact for facilities management professionals in making government smart. Smart government starts here, with the facilities management professionals. Facilities managers help design, construct, operate, maintain and, most importantly, optimize government facility resources. They are making a major impact on government efficiency by implementing energy efficiency and leading the way to sustainable operations and development while reducing costs to provide services. They use best practices while integrating the government, technology and business communities resulting in smart government.

It is imperative that public facilities are maintained and operated properly and efficiently. To that end, APWA's Facilities and Grounds Technical Committee develops strategies to assist those responsible for managing, operating and protecting these valuable assets. The committee is committed to increasing the quality of services delivered to our citizens, while increasing information exchange and professionalism within public works facility and grounds management. The committee welcomes your input and invites you to contact them with any questions, suggestions for future Congress sessions, articles for the APWA Reporter, or publications. Committee e-mail addresses can be found at