Digital services delivery relies on better broadband
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is working to upgrade broadband infrastructure to ensure residents can access digital services and government can deliver a more satisfying customer experience.
Network infrastructure upgrades and coordinated efforts at the local level will support better customer experience, panelists said during a Feb. 28 webinar.
Improving cities’ digital service delivery and resulting CX improvements will hinge upon ensuring that residential areas have access to high-speed, low-cost broadband, Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski said during GovExec TV’s Government CX Redefined episode.
One of the primary challenges Zielinski said he faces in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is upgrading broadband infrastructure, which varies across the metropolitan area. Northern portions of Dallas have been recently modernized, whereas southern areas are lagging.
Network infrastructure investments “are vital steps that will then produce an ongoing series of opportunities and the ongoing possibilities for economic growth, [so] it's important for us to make those investments,” he said.
Prior to the COVID outbreak, Zielinski and his department saw that many residents were accessing digital services at libraries, community centers and other facilities with reliable, high-speed internet. When those locations shut down during the pandemic, many residents were unable to access digital services in a meaningful way, he said. This helped officials understand that to successfully digitize government services, the city had to prioritize delivering internet access at residents' homes and promoting equitable initiatives.
“One of the things that we’re really super focused on right now is the issues in and around the digital divide," Zielinski said. "Not every portion of the city, not every resident in the city, has the same kind of access to digital services that other residents of the city do,” adding that he plans to use federal funding to tackle these challenges.
The Dallas-Fort Worth region also struggles with coordination. According to Zielinski, each of the five counties in the area have their own administrative governments, transportation jurisdictions and independent school districts. This limits local officials’ ability to solve common problems, as that level of coordination is often hard to achieve. The jurisdictions must make sure they are “not all attacking the same problem with the same kinds of dollars and leaving other areas out of it,” he said.
However, this problem is not exclusive to the Dallas region, Red Hat Chief Technologist David Egts said. City, state and local agencies do face the challenge of building out a “coalition of the willing,” i.e. finding those departments that have the capacity to contribute to digital services and integrating that coalition is how the biggest difference will be made, he said.
While he noted that cities and states are making improvements on this front, Egts stressed that agencies must look at CX from a citizen perspective, rather than through an agency lens.
“When people say, ‘Hey, I just moved to Dallas, where do I start? What do I do? What do I have to sign up for?,’ instead of leaving it up to the citizen to try and guess right, in terms of going to all the right different websites,” Egts said, processes for new residents should be intuitive.
Improving CX goes beyond computer or smartphone-based digital services, though. It's about making all city services better for residents.
Zielinski said that the Dallas Water Utilities Department is using artificial intelligence, internet-of-things and edge technologies to detect issues in water infrastructure before residents recognize problems in their homes. As an example, he mentioned that the water department is using sensors in its water metering infrastructure, which also helps monitor the flow and utilization of water and detect breaks or leaks early, saving residents from paying large fees.
“Services that we can be delivering digitally – things like gunshot detection or traffic flow patterns, those things … really put technology out into the communities, out on the edge, and allow for us to really improve the service delivery,” he said. Our goal is to be “able to use that network infrastructure to then deliver those types of digital services to our residents” in an equitable manner.
“The capability of our networks, the types of technologies that we can deploy, ones that are feeding us lots of information, and the use of artificial intelligence to actually process that on the edge provides us in the cities this opportunity to really flip from reactive to proactive in service delivery," Zielinski said. "And that is an awesome place to be."