"We were able to quickly focus on what our customers were asking for instead of worrying about the technical issues. We spent our time providing value for customers, instead of fighting with the technology."
BasicGov builds cloud-based municipal services that are anything but basic
BasicGov, originally known as Municipal Solutions Group and then CloudBench, was founded more than 25 years ago by local government employees who wanted to use new technologies to make it easier for small governments to provide community services. Quick to see the benefits of cloud computing, company managers refocused their efforts on building cloud-based solutions with Force.com to give customers greater efficiency, flexibility, and cost savings.
Municipal governments are often slow to adopt new technologies. In fact, many budget-constrained small governments have no IT departments and still use paper-based systems to run basic services like permitting. According to David Roberts, BasicGov CEO, “A medium size city with 30,000-40,000 residents might need to spend between 100,000 and 200,000 dollars for a capital license solution, plus an additional 20% annually for maintenance. There’s also a cost for customization and professional services to get it up and running in the first place. This keeps on-premise solutions out of reach.”
For these customers, subscription-based products are more attainable—they are predictable and typically don’t require large up-front costs. Without IT staff, data security can also be a thorny issue for some small municipalities. Everyone knows security is important, but there may not be anyone on staff with the expertise to manage it. Implementation can be tricky too. Roberts explains, “The implementation times for enterprise software can take between 6 and 24 months. That’s a long time and a lot of detail work for these customers.”
After seeing the benefits of cloud computing, Roberts and team refocused their entire company around the cloud. Roberts says, “Many small municipalities have been left behind by advances in technology and are still managing services with pen and paper. With cloud computing we saw a way to give them something that is cost-effective, easy to implement, and easy and inexpensive to maintain. There’s a compelling case for leap-frogging on premise solutions and going straight from paper to the cloud.”
Municipal Solutions’s on-premise products were built on .NET, and when the company moved to the cloud it stayed with the status quo. Three developers worked for six months to build the first BasicGov module using .NET. According to James Wikkerink, BasicGov developer, “It looked great on paper. But we did some prototyping and testing – and it simply wasn’t releasable.” It was at that point that the company first encountered salesforce.com and the Force.com platform. The difference was dramatic.
“With Force.com our team was able to have a prototype up and running after just a weekend,” says Wikkerink. “It was pretty exciting. The hosting was taken care of. We didn’t have to program in a GUI as much. We didn’t need specialized staff that understood each separate piece of the dev effort. And, most importantly, it worked.”
Roberts adds, “We could see right away that Force.com is a more elegant way to bring up an application if you already have the domain knowledge that we did. Having the whole platform and framework already available was a big advantage especially as we were just starting up. Also from a business standpoint we would be able to get it done quickly. There were a lot of built-in features that would be much more complicated to assemble if we did it piecemeal.”
Over the next two months, three developers worked with Visualforce and Apex to convert the prototype into a fully releasable Permits & Inspections solution. The entire effort was completed in two thirds less time than the team had spent on the .NET-based product which was never finished. Just one month after the Permits & Inspections module was code complete, the first customer was up and running.
According to Wikkerink, “We didn’t have to build a reports tool because that came with Force.com. We used S-control functionality for our own configurable rules engine. Now we only have to configure what each unique customer would want. We were able to quickly focus on what our customers were asking for instead of worrying about the technical issues. We spent our time providing value for customers, instead of fighting with the technology.”
BasicGov has subsequently launched two more BasicGov modules – Code Enforcement and Planning. Release cycles have grown shorter and shorter—the last module took two developers just one month to complete. Wikkerink adds, “I’m excited now about our next release as it will leverage more Apex to add intuitive functionality without compromising ease-of-use.”
Force.com also simplifies implementation. According to Roberts, “We can focus on the essential elements. We don’t customize for customers – we configure. As a result we can do a much faster implementation. What can take up to 24 months in an on-premise world takes us less than two.”
More than 30 municipalities are using BasicGov today, including Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which is located a little more than an hour’s drive from New Orleans. BasicGov products are particularly attractive to municipalities in disaster-prone areas. According to Roberts, “When a town is hit by a hurricane, it needs to get up and functioning quickly. When disaster relief is flowing in and rebuilding efforts are starting, the community development department must be functioning. If city hall is damaged, it can slow down the recovery of a community in a huge way. With BasicGov, all you need is a laptop and an Internet connection and you can run your city.”
With two more modules launching in the fall, BasicGov is working to attract additional customers, while keeping its current ones happy. Roberts explains, “City officials pay a lot of attention to what their peers are doing. This isn’t like the business world, in which you don’t share information with your competitors. Cities are happy to tell their neighbors what products they are using – we have a bunch of customers in Pennsylvania. That all started with Beaver Borough, which remains one our greatest evangelists. With our Force.com-based product, we have very happy customers.”
Although there are several competing companies, Roberts feels that his company is well positioned for success. ”We’re the only Force.com-based offering in this space,” he explains. “Our competitors can”t boast the world class security that we can. Saying that our product is hosted by salesforce.com gives our customers peace of mind that the competition just can’t match.”
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