As COVID-19 temporarily slowed county government to a crawl, the Wright County License Bureau was quickly deemed to be the highest risk area in any county building for the potential spread of the coronavirus. Tucked in a corner down a narrow hallway, when the Government Center was constructed, the thought of a global pandemic or social distancing wasn’t in mind.
As the county prepared to re-open its public counters, the difficult decision was made to control the flow of traffic and, following the lead of other cities and counties around the state, the idea of creating an appointment scheduling system was necessary for the safety of both residents and employees.
The onus to get a system up and running in a short period of time fell on Dave Angell and Andrea Benedict of the Information Technology Department.
Fortunately, the pair had experience with scheduling prior to having the License Bureau assignment brought their way. They had been asked to do a similar appointment schedule in 2019 and liked what they saw in its ease of operation.
“We went out and did research and the found the product about a year ago,” Benedict said. “We implemented it for Planning & Zoning for scheduling appointments at the Recycling and Compost Facility. That was how we were introduced to it and we rolled it out for them and it worked well.”
While they were able to use the same scheduling software, which was a definite advantage, the comparisons between the two systems weren’t an “apples-to-apples” situation.
“I came into this with some familiarity with the software, but the two were pretty different when it came to setting it up,” Angell said. “The Compost Facility used just one calendar to schedule, so it was pretty straightforward. The DMV had four different calendars that had to be combined.”
Both Angell and Benedict learned from their experience with the Recycling Facility and the ease with which the links to the software could be easily introduced to variety of different websites and platforms.
The bigger issue both faced were two departments that weren’t fully confident that residents would use the website appointment schedule or understand it when they got to the site. However, both Planning & Zoning and the License Bureau staff came away from the launch of the programs as believers.
“We thought it would be effective, but one thing both departments had in common was that they were very change-averse,” Benedict said. “They thought people may be confused by the technology and they were both pleasantly surprised that it actually did assist them with what they needed. They’ve both been able make it work for them and the services they provide.”
The biggest issue Angell and Benedict faced was an extremely tight time frame to get the job accomplished. With less than one week to get everything finished so the appointment scheduling could go live May 29, a lot of things had to go right.
“When the decision was made that we were going to go by appointments, we had to move pretty quickly,” Angell said. “The final decision was made about a week before we were going to launch, so we had to get on it right away to make sure it was up and functioning. The experience we had with the scheduling for the compost facility helped. We had never done scheduling for DMV so that was the hardest part – trying to figure out how much time to put in between appointments.”
With concerns over the potential health risks involved with reopening public counters, the appointment scheduling limits the number of people that could be at the counter at any given time. There is the likelihood that even after COVID-19 fades and social distancing concerns lessen, the License Bureau is likely going to keep the scheduling system as it is. It is working so well because the employees like the routine being set up and customers don’t have the same level of concern they do at other venues, which was the goal of Angell and Benedict from the start.
“I think it works and makes people feel more comfortable that they’re going to be able to get in and get out relatively quickly,” Benedict said. “Before COVID-19, you could have extremely long lines and people there an hour or more to get to the counter. I think it just provides a better experience when people come in and are more relaxed than they would be if they were in a crowd and didn’t want to be.”