The City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services (DHS) worked with Kinetech Cloud to develop the Emergency Utility Bill Assistance online application. It replaces the original paper-driven process of printing the paper application, photocopying supporting documentation such as a photo identification card, proof of income, and utility bill, and mailing the completed package or submitting it in person. City residents can now complete the application online, uploading documents via their smartphone or tablet’s built-in camera. Kinetech Cloud developed the utility rebate program application for the City to manage users applying digitally for the rebate—automating tasks, digitizing documentation, and providing real-time application status tracking for residents in the process.
“We have found that most of our clients today have a smartphone, even if they don’t have a computer,” Department of Human Services Director Melody Woosley stated. “We wanted to make it easy for residents to use that phone to apply for the assistance they need.”
The emergency utility assistance program helps San Antonio residents living within 125 percent of the federal poverty level avoid loss of power and water service whenever possible. For a family of four, the total household income must be less than $31,375 to be eligible for utility assistance.
Kinetech Cloud is a cloud-native company that combines full-service business consulting, agile software development, and enterprise support. San Antonio natives and former strategy and information technology consultants Michael Guido, CEO, and Ricky Volz, COO, founded the startup in 2014. The custom cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider has over 50 customers in 32 states and operates out of Geekdom, a downtown co-working space.
Kinetech developed the DHS online application while participating in CivTechSA, the City’s inaugural program linking technology companies to municipal departments experiencing challenges. The City of San Antonio launched the 16-week civic engagement program in late 2017 to identify different ways to expand its capacity for innovation.
There is a great need for emergency utility assistance in San Antonio as the average income of applicants is closer to $14,000, according to the Department of Human Services assistant director Edward Gonzales. DHS processes over 10,000 applications annually with the highest demand for assistance during the summer and colder winter months. Gonzales said DHS sought a tech solution because its paper-driven application process severely limited the department’s ability to help applicants. DHS annually administers about 2.4 million dollars in CPS Energy bill assistance and $400,000 in San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS) credits.
It was taking DHS anywhere from two weeks to thirty days to complete application processing, and users could not receive updates on the status of their submission. The digital solution will cut the initial processing time nearly in half for DHS client service specialists administering the program, from 45 minutes down to 25. Users will also receive alerts as their application progresses through each stage of the approval process.
“With a paper-process, it is physically impossible for our staff to provide real-time updates to our clients,” Woosley said. “Incomplete applications are further delayed by snail-mail requests for additional information, a big problem for a household hoping to prevent their utilities from being cut-off.”
Guido said the startup has developed an approach or “blueprint” as a result of its CivTechSA experience that municipalities can use to incorporate innovation in the future. While the challenges may be different in the public sector, “the methods to deliver a solution are transferable from the private sector,” Guido emphasized.“Our focus in working with DHS was to reduce the friction for an applicant to apply for assistance,” Guido said. “The City of San Antonio recognized they wanted to provide better service for its residents. We know tech can do that.” Click To Tweet
Over the sixteen weeks of the CivTechSA program, Kinetech assessed the customer experience and showed DHS the benefits of shifting to digital application files.
“I appreciated their agile software development approach,” Gonzales said. “Their iterative process has been so productive we were able to think of more features as we got more involved.”
Process improvements can help the public sector eliminate repetitive tasks that computers can handle easily so government workers can focus on higher-value services, Guido said. Working with San Antonio, “a top 10 city with a mature IT organization,” helped Kinetech Cloud create its blueprint for municipal digital transformation. The company is looking to help other more San Antonio departments and other municipalities transform their idea into solutions for better civic services.
“The bottom line is we are always interested in forming partnerships with forward-thinking leaders, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector,” Guido said. “Every organization has potential—tech can turn that potential into performance.”
Featured image is of Kinetech Cloud CEO Michael Guido (right) watching Jamie Obaya use the new emergency utility assistance online application using a tablet in the lobby of the Willie Velasquez Center. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.