Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Beginning in October, some of San Antonio's neediest residents will have a new way to apply for assistance with their utility bills, thanks to a collaboration between the City and a local tech startup.
Kinetech Cloud, one of two San Antonio-based startups chosen to work with the City of San Antonio as part of a 16-week residency, developed an app that allows low-income or other qualifying households to apply for the Utility Assistance Program from anywhere using their phones. The process currently requires plenty of paperwork, and the cost to print pages and take the bus round-trip to the Willie C. Velasquez Learning Center, where the applications are filed, can cost up to $10.60 for applicants.
Successful applicants are then provided credit toward their CPS Energy and San Antonio Water System bills.
"The minimum viable product to determine was this program a success, is this going to improve the service that's available to the citizens of San Antonio?" CEO Michael Guido said. "That box is checked, because instead of having to take public transportation to San Antonio Public Library, that's one trip; print their documents and take photocopies of their identification, that costs like 20 cents a page; and then they have to travel from there to the Willie Velasquez Center and then home, in addition to probably taking time off of work. That cost is eliminated for them and they can do it digitally from their phone for free ... so that's a success."
The residency program began in April with Kinetech Cloud and Reckon Point, a local robotics company that aimed to provide indoor navigation services at the San Antonio International Airport. Before they were selected, Kinetech Cloud and Reckon Point were among several invitees given the chance to pitch their technology solutions for seven municipal challenges.
One of those challenges came from the City's Department of Human Services. According to the City, about 9,500 households receive emergency assistance for paying their electric and water bills. That equates to about $2.4 million worth of credits, the City says.
Not only does it cost residents to apply for the assistance, but it also costs the City time and money to administer the program.
In trials with prospective users of the digitized application process, Guido said the time it takes to process the paperwork has decreased from 45 minutes to about 25. He expects that number to drop to anywhere from five to 10 minutes when the company implements another layer of automation.
When emergency utility assistance applicants file paperwork, the City is legally obligated to retain those records for a certain period of time. Volumes of applications, along with other documents, sit in warehouses until their retention period expires. If fewer records need to be stored, that could produce another cost benefit to the City.
Jose De La Cruz, the City's chief innovation officer, said the CivTechSA residency program, which started this year, brings an entrepreneurial mindset into local government that expands the City's capacity to innovate.
Kinetech Cloud's private-sector customers run the gamut from construction to finance and the health insurance industry. Guido said there was a slight learning curve involved in understanding certain regulations and adapting to the bureaucracy of local government, but working with the City was not unlike his experiences with other clients.
Founded in 2014 with fellow Churchill graduates, Jon Lamb and Richard Volz, Kinetech’s team is spread over four cities: San Antonio, Houston, Charlotte, and London, where Guido currently lives with his wife and son.
But Guido will be returning to his hometown soon and aims to work with the City again to craft software solutions that benefit San Antonio's residents, he said.
"When we started Kinetech our goal was to use tech as a transformative catalyst for good," Guido said.