Advances in technology are playing an increasingly outsized role in democracy, from social media providing direct connections between citizens and elected officials, to purpose-built apps designed for reporting outages and civic disruption. But many stakeholders are still asking, “Why is technology so important in local government?”
When technology is successfully leveraged by local governments, it can facilitate grass roots applications and communication, improve efficiencies and security, and avoid skill and knowledge gaps while encouraging innovation. Keep reading to learn more about each of these benefits and why technology is so important in local government today.
Why Is Technology So Important in Local Government?
Disruptors and startups have revolutionized systems and services in the private sector. Consumers can find slick and user-friendly applications for accessing large pools of information, locating and comparing products, and signing up to services and payment systems. All too often, local government has been somewhat left behind.
For example, ordering groceries and consumer goods, booking flights and hotels, and identifying and comparing restaurants in unfamiliar cities is a frictionless, speedy process now. Meanwhile, consider the processes for basic and essential government interactions like paying for parking, filing taxes, and reporting burst water mains. These typically remain disorganized, inefficient tasks that involve a patchwork of agencies and departments with ambiguous portfolios.
The question “why is technology so important in local government?” is really about closing the gap in efficiency between civic systems and their for-profit equivalents. Local government is being left behind, creating frustrations for stakeholders (including civil servants, third-party contractors, elected officials, and citizens alike) and leaving individuals with outdated systems.
As well as resulting in needlessly lengthy and costly processes and suboptimal user experience, local government agencies which have failed to embrace contemporary technology are at risk of hacking and other types of data breaches. This makes technology even more important in local governments looking to maintain information assurance and avoid data leaks.
3 Reasons Why Technology Is So Important in Local Government
1. Grass Roots Applications and Communication
With an entity the size of a mid-level American city, there is the requirement for a vast amount of communications between its citizens and the administrators and officials tasked with running the city. Historically, this has become bogged down in bureaucracy, failing to deliver efficiently for various stakeholders.
When a citizen becomes aware of an instance of infrastructure failure, such as a series of broken streetlights, the process to have them fixed has often been lengthy and overly complex. The citizen might discuss the issue in a meeting, like a neighborhood watch, and then call the city. They would probably be passed between different departments with little accountability or ownership of the problem.
Once the correct department was notified, it would then be a question of either notifying the correct facilities team or private contractor. It isn’t uncommon for a request or complaint to “bounce around” the bureaucratic system and the citizen to feel that their need is low-priority and unheard.
It is essential that local governments embrace technology to revolutionize this patchwork of processes. In the contemporary city, a citizen could take a photograph of the failed lighting with their smartphone and share it on a Facebook neighborhood page or the Nextdoor app. If their city has the right technology, the citizen could upload their photo directly to an easily navigable civic works portal, which could create a ticket for the responsible department.
The same citizen could share the image on the city’s social media accounts as well, interacting with the city directly and looping in the media to create accountability. Technology is important in local government for facilitating this type of communication, enabling civil servants to share real-time updates with citizens and make information about solutions available via a portal, direct text messages, or an interactive map.
2. Efficiencies and Security
Legacy System Inefficiencies in Local Government
Increasingly, civic processes on all levels are becoming antiquated, at the expense of user efficiency, value, and security. There is abundant anecdotal evidence of dated and lengthy legacy systems existing in the public sector.
There are forms and applications which need to be downloaded and printed before being mailed back, face-to-face appointments which need to be booked over the phone during regular working hours, and fishing licenses which are still issued on paper and in person. By contrast, countless for-profit businesses have embraced real-time signups, appointment bookings, and application submissions via Facebook, Zoom calls, and e-verification.
With local governments struggling under legacy systems, often officials and agencies end up using a patchwork of applications, with expensive bespoke workarounds. Data is not readily accessible, and end users are required to navigate byzantine processes.
From a front-end perspective, this means citizens having to create multiple online accounts to make payments, for instance, and holding numerous accounts for government services. A user may submit information and payment to their local government across multiple platforms for health, education, housing, tax, refuse collection, and law enforcement, for instance. This is not only frustrating for users, but also costly in terms of staff processing.
Legacy System Security Issues in Local Government
In addition to the inherent inefficiencies when a government operates using a patchwork of legacy systems as opposed to a cloud-based integrated system, there are additional security risks. Many government departments at all levels store sensitive citizen information on in-house mainframes which haven’t been updated for years.
In 2014, the City of Detroit was held to ransom after malicious agents accessed its database. It later emerged that the hack was only possible due to the city’s outdated Windows XP system, raising nationwide concerns about cybersecurity in local government.
Far from an isolated attack, the Detroit ransomware crisis has been repeated in data breaches throughout the country. From law enforcement records to medical information, financial data, and more, civically held computer files are a treasure trove to malicious actors. Keeping them secure must be an absolute priority and is a major factor in why technology is so important in local government agencies.
Modernizing Technology in Local Government
Securely migrating a local government’s various legacy systems to a state-of-the-art and future state ready unified system is not an easy task, but it is well worth it in terms of efficiency and security.
Creating web pages and applications which are easily navigated and allow citizens to access information, request services, sign up for alerts, and pay bills must be a priority for local governments. For a contemporary democracy to function effectively, technology has to be rolled out securely and expertly. This includes everything from apps which allow households to report power outages in their neighborhoods, to websites which securely stream city hall hearings.
Cyberattacks are rampant, and when it comes to technology strategies, advice is centered on modernizing:
- An up-to-date system is a more secure one, while a dated system is liable to attacks and failure.
- Fastidiously update firewalls, antivirus software, and licensed programs.
- Secure external emails and keep IT infrastructure secure.
- Wherever possible, make use of multi-factor authentication.
- Build a quality culture where the regular training of employees on cybersecurity is integral, rather than an optional add-on.
- If budgets don’t allow for building IT infrastructure to purpose from the ground up, then use trusted technology partners to update legacy systems.
3. Avoiding Skill and Knowledge Gaps While Embracing Innovation
Dated systems and legacy processes quickly come to characterize the culture of an organization, from a fast-moving startup to a regional civic office. In a business or government agency which has failed to modernize its technology, staff will become reliant on insecure workarounds and applications which are added on in an ad hoc fashion. A culture begins to emerge in which reactive fixes are used, rather than proactive investment in future state systems architecture.
For any organization looking to thrive in the current IT environment, this is disastrous. The department or organization will become sluggish and torpid, staffed with people who possess institutional knowledge about legacy systems, rather than attracting and retaining dynamic and innovative employees. It will become increasingly difficult to connect data from different areas, and as a result, efficiency and user experience will suffer.
In contrast, the local government agency which embraces technology is able to transform into a slick and user-orientated workplace, where decisions are made in the pursuit of efficiency and user experience. Technology transforms every aspect of local government, creating a 360° flow of information and communications.
Stakeholders can report failures and requirements back to the government agency responsible, and the agency can solicit feedback from the users. Payment systems and requests for information are handled frictionlessly. Departments are able to build up banks of usable data which they can process easily, making informed decisions which serve the people.
From coordinating refuse collection to paying fines, gaining real-time information about school closures after weather events to applying for jobs via a centralized portal with a single account, the entire experience of interacting with the government becomes convenient, straightforward, and mutually methodical with the proper technology solutions.
Why Is Technology So Important in Local Government? Ask Our Experts
Building modern, secure technology for your organization can be challenging. There are risks that key stakeholders get left behind, that costs or deadlines overrun, or that user data isn’t safeguarded during the migration process. It is critical to find a trusted, experienced provider with a history of successfully serving government clients.
Sentient Digital is a veteran-owned and operated business with offices in Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, serving clients around the globe. We provide government and commercial clients with the technology solutions they need in order to meet their objectives. With a flexible, agile mindset and experience across numerous delivery models, we apply a variety of technological solutions, management threads, and industry best practices to deliver effective, efficient digital solutions.
According to one of our clients, a U.S. Navy Expeditionary Communications Program Manager, “Without hesitation, Sentient Digital completed redirected tasks within one day while maintaining the integrity of the image, equipment, related documentation, and configurations which was a benefit to the Government. The overall quality of work was exceptional.”
Whether you’re looking to update your systems in order to keep them secure from malicious attacks, create a future state ready and efficient multi-department data system, or migrate your agency’s existing patchwork of dated processes into a unified and slick cloud-based upgrade, SDi can help. Contact us today to learn more about our technology solutions for your government agency.