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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How 'private-sector' technology shapes government administration

While governments and private businesses strive to achieve the same results, including increased productivity and improved customer/citizen experiences, the operational approaches and policies for running a thriving company have been considered incomparable to those needed to oversee a successful city.

However many government leaders are adopting concepts and technologies previously considered exclusive to the private sector to meet residents' needs. Today’s future-facing cities either have already implemented or are exploring how innovations such as internet of things, automation, mobile compatibility and artificial intelligence can improve operational efficiency and drive internal and external convenience.

The transition is natural in many ways, given the overlapping goals of and incentives for government administrations and businesses. Citizens expect the same transparency and ease of use in their engagement with government offices as they do their favorite brands. In turn, cities seek residents who can serve as loyal ambassadors and promote the area as a great place to live and work.

The adoption of new technologies can seem overwhelming for many public entities, especially amid shrinking budgets and limited resources. However, the change can be as simple as determining how technology can remove minor inefficiencies and create more consumer-friendly connections between governments and residents. Let’s look at a few examples.

Shifting from in-person appointment to app

Phones have emerged as trusted assistants. From ordering lunch to booking a flight, today’s tech-savvy individuals prefer to forgo drive time, long lines or hold times in favor of online alternatives.

Similarly, many city residents no longer want visit public offices for their government interactions. For forward-thinking governments, this creates unparalleled opportunities to offer intuitive alternatives that drive convenience and satisfaction.

With a digital approach, for example, citizens can pay bills, request added security and report potholes through a few clicks in online portals and civic-specific applications. Beyond saving valuable time and potential frustration for residents, this digital approach also can reduce the burdens on strained administrative teams who previously had to devote extra time to answering calls and processing paperwork.

Pushing paper … out of the way

Many agencies still use manual processes to complete tasks. Legacy systems may be comfortable and familiar for administrative employees, but they often fail to match the speed and accuracy that their colleagues and citizens demand.

AI-based technologies, however, can digitize and accelerate information exchanges by housing required documents and data points in a single, centralized platform. This allows employees to view and download documents and provide instant feedback, rather than waiting for papers to move from a deskside inbox. Digital content also streamlines workflows and eliminates barriers among complementary but often siloed teams, such as billing and collections and permitting and code enforcement.

Salt Lake City, for example, has recently transitioned to an automated, all-inclusive digital platform helped the city’s administrative team reduce the time required to compile, review and finalize its annual report from more than three months to less than two weeks. This new process not only revolutionized the city's reporting function, but it also freed employees to devote otherwise-lost time to more pressing citizen matters.

Similarly, citizens in Tamarac, Fla., are getting faster reviews of permits to cut down trees or improve their homes. With fully electronic permitting and planning-review processes, the city eliminated the complexities and time of manual paperwork, while empowering code enforcement team members to view documents on a smartphone or tablet, rather than a bulky laptop. Since making the conversion, Tamarac has processed more than 10,000 building permits while reducing turnaround time from 10 days to three.

Holding leaders accountable

Just as consumers demand transparency into their favorite brand’s operations, residents of future-facing cities also want insights into government decisions and spending histories. Online portals and apps, for example, allow residents to quickly view everything from expense histories to transcripts from recent board meetings, providing unprecedented visibility and building citizen confidence.

While some government details always will remain confidential, local officials can make great strides in building committed resident advocates through openness and honesty. Technology makes more information readily available, and inspires informed and meaningful conversation that ultimately can improve the overall community.

The next chapter

Citizen expectations are rising by the day. The communities that remain open to change and explore unconventional problem-solving methods will be best prepared to attract new residents and businesses. By eliminating boundaries and welcoming “private-sector” concepts and management styles, emerging smart cities can redefine expectations and thrive amid the changes.

About the Author

Tom Amburgey is senior vice president and general manager, public administration, with CentralSquare Technologies.

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