automated processes (Nikolay Klimenko/


5 common mistakes of digital optimization

Ask citizens why they haven’t registered their dog with the city, signed their kids up for the town’s youth baseball league or read the minutes from the last city council meeting, and you may hear a common refrain.

“I don’t have time to go to city hall during business hours, wait in line and talk to someone.”

Digital optimization -- the process of taking paper workflows digital and enabling citizen self-service anytime, anywhere from any internet-enabled device -- has the power to change this dynamic. It can eliminate barriers to engagement, helping to boost municipal revenue and foster more informed voters. Local governments considering digital optimization must proceed with caution, however.  A rapid overhaul of established paper-based workflows could result in frustrated staff, confused citizens and lost data. Before municipalities embark on a digitization journey, they should consider these five potential risks and learn how to avoid them.

1. Not listening to staff members’ concerns

Now is the optimal time to begin a digital optimization journey, not only because citizens expect public-sector entities to deliver the same kind of digital interactions private-sector brands offer, but also because a new generation of local government employees is taking over. As Baby Boomers retire and are replaced by Millennials -- a generation that grew up with technology in their hands -- top talent is demanding modern tools to streamline work processes.

Municipalities should not take for granted, however, that every staff member will be comfortable using new digital processes. When dealing with older or change-resistant employees of any age, they should begin the digital optimization process by obtaining buy-in from impacted staff.  Only when key stakeholders and users are on board can municipalities expect optimal collaboration and success.

2. Optimizing everything all at once

Digital optimization journeys are marathons, not sprints. City leaders should give IT teams, elected leaders, department managers and citizens the best chance of having positive early interactions with new tools and workflows by converting them methodically and strategically. Attempting to implement too many software systems at the same time will overwhelm IT stakeholders. It also raises the possibility that individual departments will identify and implement siloed software systems that may result in data entry redundancies for both staff members and citizens. Instead, organizations must take the time to choose seamlessly integrated cloud-hosted software components or those that operate within a cohesive ecosystem to ensure future-proofed data sharing and integration.

3. Thinking if you build it, they will come

Digital optimization is about leveraging technology to improve service delivery as much, if not more so than about saving time and money. If residents are not aware that their local leaders have invested in digital engagement solutions, they can't be expected to embrace new tools and opportunities to take part in civic decision-making. Once new platforms have been confidently launched, municipalities should leverage all available communication channels to inform citizens about the new ways to get information they need.

4. Going it alone

The missions of local governments are too critical, and their financial resources too lean, to risk a misguided investment or implementation. Organizations that have little experience with digital transformation owe it to their citizens and staff to seek the counsel of proven third-party experts. Experienced consultants will collaborate with IT teams, department leaders and other stakeholders to assess the needs of the entire ecosystem, select the right software stack components and implement each strategically, leveraging data integrations when possible and ensuring proper training for all impacted staff.

5. Focusing on the wrong metrics

It can be easy to concentrate on year-one return-on-investment as the primary metric of success. However, for municipalities that lack the modern infrastructure and cloud-based software needed to execute a digital optimization strategy, an initial investment in the software stack will be critical. Under these circumstances, expecting a significant, positive ROI in year one may be unlikely. Organizations should focus instead on long-term ROI as they spend less on paper, storage space and staff allocations. They should also measure the shift in revenue from such key sources as parks and recreation activities and permits as part of the financial benefits.

Final words of advice

Municipalities using taxpayer dollars to deliver improved government services cannot risk a delayed, failed, inefficient or unadopted attempt at digital optimization. By taking time, getting proper buy-in, working with experts and monitoring key performance indicators, civic leaders can deliver  the best chance of a future-proofed, successful transformation that moves the community forward.

About the Author

Ben Sebree is director of research and development for CivicPlus.


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