By Jim Lewis.
The last two decades have marked an enormous increase in our daily use of technology. Few can imagine living without it. For most people, technology is an integral part of how they interact with the world around them. Local government officials and staff now operate in a citizen-centered world where residents expect that their needs will be met immediately and without friction. As technology progresses seemingly at light speed, local government organizations are benefiting from technological advancements that make local engagement easier and the functions of governing and running a city more efficient. Technological advancements can be an effective strategic tool that help cities and local agencies provide essential community services to their constituents.
Many cities are using technology to improve the lives of the people they serve and to increase civic engagement by using parallel online and offline efforts to build a digital audience and relay important information to constituents. Technology increasingly serves as the backbone for providing local services such as clean and well-maintained streets, safe roads, synchronized streetlights to improve traffic circulation and even air and water quality. It is also increasingly imperative that public safety officials have access to new technology to reduce emergency and incident response times, thus saving lives.
Putting Security First
Public agencies, however, are under tremendous pressure to secure critical data, infrastructure and services. In today’s cyber landscape a constant stream of high-profile cyberattacks are creating a heightened sense of urgency about cybersecurity. Local governments must be constantly on guard and take precautionary measures to ensure the proper safeguards are in place. Unfortunately, many agencies take a perimeter-focused approach to security, which is no longer sufficient or practical. These agencies still do not have the necessary safety provisions in place and tend to fall victim to ever-changing malicious cyberattacks. In such circumstances, cybersecurity tends to be an unfortunate afterthought.
This concerns many local officials and staff because a security breach has the power to affect their constituents’ well-being, safety and quality of life. It is imperative that local agencies providing essential community services ensure that their systems are running efficiently and effectively so that constituents’ needs are supported appropriately. Across the board, municipal spending on technology averages roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of local budgets statewide; therefore, it’s critically important to ensure that the technology implemented is cost effective and that taxpayer funds are not wasted. Security is an issue that cannot be overlooked.
Smart Cities and Cloud-Based Operations
Smart cities are the topic of much discussion and a recent Western City article, “Making Your City Smarter,” which offered this definition: “Typically a smart city uses fiber optic and/or wireless networks to connect various components of infrastructure and share information that is used to deliver public services more effectively and efficiently, save money for taxpayers and improve the quality of life.” Technology deployed by smart cities includes smart parking, smart streetlights, mobile applications and gunshot detection systems.
Smart cities generally use a public engagement mechanism that encourages residents’ participation in government. This is typically done through mobile applications and/or website features that make it easy to provide feedback, submit service requests and access information about city services, events, road closures and more.
Many cities have recently started adopting cloud computing and/or hosted offerings as part of their operations. Cloud computing, in cases where it makes sense, can offer cost savings and ease of access. It can also help organizations be nimble and more responsive. Though often heralded as a key enabler of e-government capability, not all cloud offerings are cost effective. Cloud computing should be implemented only after conducting a careful cost-benefit analysis. Each scenario has pros and cons, so knowing if the cloud is “right” for a city or organization depends not only on the features and service offerings but also on costs and considerations. Such considerations include security, availability and the cloud service provider’s reputation. One size does not fit all, and local agencies must know which variables to study when considering or engaging in cloud computing options.
What to Keep in Mind
It is imperative that city officials explore various uses of technology within their organizations as technological advancements in engagement, cybersecurity, mobile access and cloud computing converge and drive innovation and efficiency in local government. Technology is often considered an operational need and generally functions behind the scenes; however, it should be an integral part of any organization’s operations. Local governments nationwide are on the path to offering a truly connected experience for residents and local businesses. The use of technology can increase efficiencies and potentially generate revenue — and should be a priority consideration. Replacing legacy infrastructure that is unable to keep pace with new technology and emerging demands should be considered an investment in the well-being of the agency and its constituents. Cities should consider technology a strategic tool and include it in the framework of the planning process.
Jim Lewis is city manager of Pismo Beach and can be reached at JLewis@PismoBeach.org.