How Granicus Completely Modernized Their E-Forms Platform to Better Serve Over 6,000 Government Agencies Worldwide

partnership with STX Next
Ongoing from september 2018
Industry
Government Services
Country
United States

Introduction

Product development is a challenging journey that involves several phases, each with its own set of unique obstacles to overcome. From periods of rapid growth to moments of slowdown, businesses must always remain adaptable to navigate this constantly shifting landscape.

At STX Next, we’ve had the privilege of partnering with Granicus and walking alongside them through every stage of their journey, where we experienced all these phases firsthand.

As their needs evolved, so did our approach. Over time, we quickly scaled up from a few developers to several teams of over 40 individuals working in parallel across various project teams.

However, we also understand the importance of scaling down when priorities change. So when Firmstep was acquired by Granicus and the company had to shift their focus to other areas, we were able to help them adjust and refocus their efforts. With our support, they were able to pivot and continue to thrive under new ownership.

After the acquisition, we were able to expand our support once again and partner with even more departments of the parent company. Flexibility in leveraging external resources, rather than relying solely on internal ones, made this possible.

In this case study, we’ll take you through the entirety of our cooperation with Granicus so far.

About Granicus

Granicus is a trusted provider of platforms and services catering to local governments and housing associations in the US and the UK. With more than 20 years of experience, they’ve earned an exceptional reputation for delivering top-notch solutions that meet the needs of their clients.

Today, more than 6,000 government agencies worldwide trust Granicus to help them engage with their constituents and streamline their operations. Their suite of platforms and services includes tools for legislative management, agenda building, public meeting broadcasting, and more.

Whether it’s a small town council or a large metropolitan government, Granicus has a solution that can help anybody engage their community and build trust.

Granicus’ product: an automated e-forms system for streamlined citizen services

Granicus’ UK subsidiary offers a platform that includes an automated e-forms system, which is an essential component of their product.

This innovative system streamlines citizen services and internal council processes, enabling users to effortlessly create multi-page forms complete with workflows and integrated online payment capabilities, all without requiring any coding skills.

Customizable to cater to various needs, the forms allow citizens to make inquiries directed at local governments (e.g. service delivery dates), request services (e.g. garbage collection), and even pay local taxes.

With a comprehensive suite of cloud-based solutions for communications, meeting and agenda management software, government website design, records management, and digital services, Granicus empowers stronger relationships between governments and residents across the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Granicus’ business challenge

Granicus faced a daunting business logic challenge: inconsistent data fields in customized forms.

This became apparent as their customers began to express a need for generating reports on the data entered via customized forms. The case was, each council could design and name their forms differently, which resulted in data fields that were inconsistent and could not be used to generate meaningful reports.

For example, a single customer could have several thousand fields with varying names for capturing “postal code” data. This polluted data couldn’t be used to generate useful reports.

STX Next’s solution: a mapping tool for unified data fields

To overcome this challenge, Granicus approached STX Next looking for support. We recognized the importance of providing a reliable and unified solution to this problem. It was crucial for their clients, who wanted to use the data to improve the delivery of services to citizens.

Therefore, we created a mapping tool that allowed customers to map several source fields to a single field in the reporting database. This mapping tool enabled the data to be mapped in real time as it was being transferred to the reporting database, creating a unified model that could be used to generate reports that were accurate, reliable, and actionable.

Granicus-platform-UI-before-the-redesign

Granicus’ platform UI before the redesign

Granicus’ goals and redesign requirements

Granicus reached out to STX Next with an ambitious set of goals for their platform. Their top priority was timing, as they required a team of six professionals to work on their project promptly.

The company had specific requirements, including the use of certain technologies, which they expected to be utilized in the development of the platform.

The platform had to meet various criteria, including:

  • 1secure data storage,
  • 2accessibility for customers with disabilities,
  • 3compliance with regulations like GDPR.

Their e-forms platform was initially designed 15 years prior and hadn’t kept up with the company’s growth and customer demands, leading to increased complexity in its management and development of new functionalities.

What’s more, the platform lacked standard documentation, which made maintenance and development knowledge scarce.

To address these challenges, Granicus needed a reliable technological partner to help them switch to Python and a microservices/serverless architecture.

They also required assistance with achieving their product goals, which included modernizing the platform’s appearance, enhancing its responsiveness, adding missing features, and ensuring full GDPR compliance.

In addition to these product objectives, Granicus also sought to achieve technical goals, such as enabling modularity, facilitating effective development of new functionalities, and using the most current technology available.

How we’ve helped Granicus

Efficient communication and quick turnaround time

At STX Next, we pride ourselves on our quick and efficient communication, and ability to start working with clients fast.

When Granicus approached us, we assembled a full Scrum team in less than a month from our initial interaction and just 21 days after our first call.

Our team consisted of six highly skilled individuals, including a Product Owner, a QA specialist, and four developers with expertise in frontend, backend, and full-stack development.

Scaling up with ease

As the project progressed and Granicus’ needs grew, we were able to respond quickly and scale up our team size accordingly. Within nine months, we expanded to multiple teams totaling almost 40 individuals.

We provided development, product, and process management support, and also offered UI and UX design, mobile development, and DevOps services.

Building trust and delivering results

At the outset of the collaboration, Granicus relied on a scattered network of vendors, including freelancers, for their development needs.

Through our partnership, we demonstrated the value of a streamlined, integrated approach to development. Relationship-building and trust-building played a critical role in the success of this project.

Working with a client that had significant experience in application development required tact and diplomacy as we worked together to find the best solutions without imposing our ideas onto each other.

Granicus soon appreciated STX Next’s expertise and initiative in suggesting innovative directions for the development process, rather than simply following instructions blindly.

We recognized the importance of regular, face-to-face interaction to build trust and enhance collaboration. With this in mind, we arranged multiple visits between our teams and Granicus, including discovery workshops to refine the product vision. Our development teams also traveled to the client’s site to work together in person.

As a result of our successful collaboration, Granicus consolidated all their development efforts with STX Next, which is a testament to the quality of our work and the trust we were able to build with our client.

Technology and process

Collaboration played a critical role in ensuring that Granicus’ requirements were understood and optimal solutions were provided. To upgrade their platform, STX Next proposed a microservice modular architecture platform built with Python and AWS services.

However, as our client had limited experience with these technologies, we assembled a team of full-stack developers, a Product Owner, and a Scrum Master to guide them through the process.

Thanks to our expertise and collaboration, Granicus was able to delegate the task of upgrading their platform to STX Next while focusing on other priorities. This allowed us to create a successful solution that met our client’s needs and helped them improve their daily operations.

What services we’ve provided for Granicus

Background data processing redesign

When it comes to the services we’ve provided for Granicus, we were tasked with developing the Retention Processor—a crucial component of their platform that ensured GDPR compliance.

Although this module was invisible to end users, it played a vital role in managing consent messages and privacy policies, as well as enforcing complex data retention policies.

Since all of Granicus’ customers use the Retention Processor, it had to provide flexible options that were adjustable not only at the global, EU, and country level but also to local regulations.

Additionally, to comply with EU law, the processor needed to recognize different data types and remove them according to a retention policy. That same law states that data must be stored only for as long as it is needed.

For instance, a request to pick up a missed bin doesn’t need to be kept for as long as a citizen’s local tax filings. The Retention Processor had to accommodate robust configuration options to support such flexibility.

Moreover, the Retention Processor needed to handle the removal of other types of data, such as unconfirmed accounts or “right to be forgotten” requests.

Our team designed the Retention Processor as a comprehensive one-stop shop for all data retention needs, supporting not only citizen form submissions but also handling the removal of other types of data.

Thanks to the Retention Processor, Granicus was able to ensure GDPR compliance and provide flexible options for data retention and management, making the platform more adaptable and accommodating for all of their customers.

Performance and usability improvements

STX Next’s work for Granicus didn’t end there. Our team went above and beyond to revamp a workflow management tool for counselors, which made it easier for them to streamline their caseload organization. Furthermore, we also made updates to the self-service portals and widgets to improve their functionality.

One of our primary objectives was to enhance the platform’s usability and performance, which was achieved by incorporating filtering options, more powerful search functions, and flexible viewing experiences. The interface became more user-friendly for inexperienced counselors.

Granicus-platform-UI-after-the-redesign

Granicus’ platform UI after the redesign

We also worked tirelessly to improve the platform’s consistency and visual appeal, resulting in decreased page load and render times while accommodating the tool’s current level of demand.

The mobile version of the e-forms was improved by integrating Amazon Alexa, which made form completion significantly easier for users, as they could use voice search to access information from their local governments.

Leveraging our experience and expertise enabled us to improve both the user experience and the backend design. This comprehensive approach not only made the platform more usable but also positioned it for future maintenance needs.

Supporting the acquisition process

As we’ve mentioned at the beginning, the remarkable success of our client’s business caught the eye of Granicus—a government services provider based in the US—who recognized the potential of the company then known as Firmstep and subsequently acquired it with the aim of expanding its portfolio of products. While this acquisition brought about a new set of challenges, we were up to the task.

Some of STX Next’s ongoing projects with Firmstep had to be put on hold or slowed down to allow for the merger process with Granicus. To address this challenge, our team worked closely with the client to scale down their teams and transfer responsibilities to their internal teams, reducing the number of people involved to less than 10.

Following the completion of organizational changes, we were able to start a new project focused on enhancing real-time reporting capabilities.

Real-time reporting introduction

The success of any business hinges on its ability to collect, process, and analyze data in real time. Unfortunately, the e-forms platform used by Granicus relied on nightly data dumps, leading to complex and error-prone reporting that was limited to delayed insights.

That’s where STX Next came in. We were tasked with creating a real-time reporting solution that would meet the needs of customers and provide reliable and complex data dashboards.

To achieve this goal, we called on the expertise of our data engineering experts, who assisted us in the architecture design phase.

Through meticulous comparison of several alternative technologies in terms of their scalability, performance, and cost, it was determined that the optimal storage solution was Amazon Redshift.

Collaboration was critical throughout the process, and we worked closely with key C-level stakeholders from Granicus to ensure alignment with the company’s technical vision.

Given that the data required for reporting was dispersed across multiple databases and systems, we utilized various methods to retrieve it when interfacing with existing solutions. In some cases, we leveraged Lambda to perform additional data processing and manipulation before pushing all data via Kinesis Firehose streams.

Technical solutions and technological stack we’ve used for Granicus

Here are the technical changes we made to Granicus’ product:

  • Back-office workflow tool for processing citizen inquiries was significantly improved
  • Data retention mechanism to anonymize or delete personal data after a preset period was built from scratch
  • Citizen portal to meet the WCAG AA standard was redesigned and adjusted
  • Amazon Alexa integration and configuration panel was added
  • A native mobile app for citizens was developed
  • A real-time reporting solution was designed and built from scratch
  • Release and deployment pipelines were streamlined on Jenkins for multiple environments and components

To achieve those results, we incorporated the following technologies to Granicus’ stack:

  • Backend technologies: Python 3.8, Flask, AWS Lambda
  • Frontend technologies: Angular
  • Mobile technologies: React Native
  • Database: MySQL, Redshift
  • Issue tracking system: JIRA
  • Version control system: GitHub
  • Chat/communication: Slack
  • CI tools: Jenkins
  • Deployment: Terraform, Docker, AWS
  • Other: Behave, ECS, SQS, CloudWatch, Redis, S3, Kinesis Firehose, Sentry

Next steps and future plans for our cooperation with Granicus

STX Next’s partnership with Granicus continued to flourish, even after delivering the Retention Processor and projects reporting system with immense success.

Through open communication and collaboration, we identified a new opportunity where we could provide value to Granicus: assisting Host Compliance.

Host Compliance

Host Compliance is a product that local governments in the US and Canada utilize to monitor short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

As an extension to the core team, STX Next took on the responsibility of redeveloping the frontend in the new tool and building additional API integrations.

This became an ongoing project that lasts to this day, and we’re thrilled to continue our journey with Granicus in the future.

After over four years of successful collaboration, we remain committed to working together to explore new opportunities and provide valuable solutions to Granicus and their clients.

What Granicus says about the project

Ensuring client satisfaction is of utmost importance to us at STX Next. Our clients’ trust and positive feedback are the greatest indicators of our success.

We’re proud to say that our Clutch testimonials speak for themselves:

“STX Next helped guide us through the initial process where we learned our ideal workflows to maximize productivity. They’re excellent at understanding requirements and delegating tasks appropriately. We never feel the need to micromanage their work. [...] They’re highly independent and self-sufficient, and they always keep us up to date on the project’s status.”

We also believe that communication and collaboration are key to successful project completion. Our team works diligently to understand the needs and requirements of our clients while providing valuable insight and expertise to enhance the end product. As stated by Granicus:

“Trust in their process. Give the team a degree of freedom to expand on the original requirements and make adjustments. If STX Next had stuck to our exact list of specifications, we would have wound up with a lower-quality product. They’re very experienced developers with a solid understanding of UI/UX principles.”

Can we help you the way we’ve helped Granicus?

Redesigning a platform can seem like an overwhelming task, but with the right approach and expertise, it can become a modern and user-friendly solution that meets user needs for years to come. Our success in revamping Granicus’ e-forms platform is a testament to this.

Throughout the redesign process, we prioritized the incorporation of new and future functionalities, enhancing mobility, and improving usability. Our mission has been a success so far, and we’re proud of the outcome.

At STX Next, we’re passionate about developing innovative solutions that empower our clients to achieve their goals. If you’re facing challenges in maintaining your current application or platform, or are considering a redesign but feel overwhelmed by the potential effort, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re well-equipped to work collaboratively with you and see your project through to completion.

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