4 key points to consider BEFORE your city moves to digital services

Thu, 2016-08-04 11:00 -- Doug Peeples

As city leaders know, today's connected citizens expect much more from their government in terms of convenient, efficient and fast delivery of services than ever before, whether it's getting a building permit or reporting a pothole. It's something they've become accustomed to from their experience with other service providers and retailers. How can cities manage to meet those needs and get the most bang for the buck—and do it in a way that doesn't further strain already tight budgets? The story below outlines some of the key points cities should consider when contemplating a switch to digital technology for some of the services they provide. If your city leaders are looking for ways to reduce operating costs and remain competitive, digital services are quickly becoming the go-to solution. —Doug Peeples

1. Deliver services that are quick and easy to use. People expect more of their service providers in this increasingly connected era, and that includes their city government. When New York Mayor Bill De Blasio started working to deliver on a campaign promise to make pre-kindergarten programs available to every four-year-old, he found that the city's website for finding and applying for programs made the process of signing up complicated and time-consuming. His response was to make the process far easier for parents to find and apply for programs.

That was one experience that persuaded him to initiate the NYC Digital Services Playbook, a strategy intended to make all city online services easier to access and to encourage citizens to use them. As Statescoop reported, the mayor hopes city departments will be more receptive and responsive as more and more citizens use the city's online services and make suggestions for improvements. In short, listen to what your citizens are telling you—and act on their suggestions.

Singapore and Council Lead Partner Microsoft are taking another approach on digital government services. They're looking at using chatbots—intelligent software programs—to make interactions with citizens more engaging and inclusive. The expectation is that 'conversational computing will make specific services easier to use and more efficient and consistent.

2. Know what citizens want. One thing many cities are discovering is that citizens want more transparency. If a road construction project is going to slow or re-route traffic, provide access to a website and/or mobile app they can use to check for traffic delays and detours—and keep them informed about project progress. Mobile device use is growing and people expect to be able to use them to conduct much of their business, whether it's applying for a learner's permit or finding riverside bike path.

They also want to know more about what their police are doing to keep them safe. The Johns Creek Police Department in Georgia, in conjunction with Council Associate Partner Sungard Public Sector, is experimenting with an open data tool that allows residents quick and easy access to information on crimes, arrests and other information. Not only do citizens get the information they want, but the tool also has helped the department use its internal data to pinpoint where it's doing well and where it needs improvement. The open data program also is helping the police department reconnect with citizens and regain public trust.

Also, a blog from Council Lead Partner Oracle outlines in detail why it's critically important to continually engage with citizens to not only provide the services they want now, but to monitor how those needs change. It also addresses several ways city leaders can increase engagement and meet both their own expectations and those of their citizens.