How COVID-19’s Digital Transformation is Reshaping Local Government

Written by Jennifer Elliott

What do your citizens’ new online expectations mean for your administration?

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As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States and around the world, putting the final exclamation point on a year that has been marked by a pandemic, civil unrest, and a historic election, citizens across the country are retreating into their homes in an attempt to stay safe and mitigate virus threat. After a cautiously optimistic summer, schools, businesses, and small businesses are again closing their doors, as we did in the spring. However, this time, there is an odd sense of familiarity and confidence as we aspire to maintain continuity and connection in our lives

Citizens have already learned how to participate in meetings online, how to balance homeschooling with work responsibilities, and how to engage with their favorite brands, services, and service providers remotely. Only eight months after the initial COVID-19 spike, the expectation now is that citizens can accomplish nearly anything that they need online. From ordering groceries to celebrating birthdays to attending a yoga class, taking a new home or college campus tour, nearly every service has launched an online engagement option.

And local governments are catching up.

While it’s understandable that local governments that have been crushed by budget restrictions and furloughs and that are responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars can’t pivot their service models as rapidly as the private sector, citizens still expect them to pivot and evolve their offerings. They expect local governments to ensure that they deliver the citizen services expected and even required by law, no matter how long social distancing requirements last. For municipal administrations, this means that now is the time to embrace digital transformation and the technology that fuels its genesis.

How to Leverage Digital Transformation in Your Local Government

Information technology (IT) departments are set to play a critical role in leveraging this next phase of digital transformation and building the transaction-based systems to enable the interactions that employees and citizens need to keep calm and carry on. To be successful in leveraging the latest technologies, to impact employee efficiency and citizen engagements, IT must lead their administrations in accomplishing the following:

  • Align Technology with Business Goals.  To be successful, IT stakeholders must partner with internal departments to align the value of digital transformation with business goals to ensure focus is given to connecting the systems that will make the most significant impact on the administration. It is essential to think of digital transformation in terms of business goals and not just projects. Taking too narrow of a view, or focusing only on technology for the sake of technology, is where too many initiatives fail. 
  • Embrace Integrations. The key to accomplishing digital transformation is connecting systems and software to enable shared data, eliminate manual interventions, and minimize data entry redundancies. In an age where local governments must do more with less, systems should be interconnected to eliminate silos and wasted time. The primary tool for accomplishing such integrations is the use of application program interfaces (API)
  • Collaborate with Department Stakeholders. Find partners in other key departments that share your enthusiasm for digital transformation and that will partner with you in building solutions and finding efficiencies. Success will be dependent upon inter-departmental collaboration and upon leaders that champion initiatives and generate buy-in among all staff
  • Build a Digital Transformation Roadmap and Go Agile. Adopting agile methodologies as part of digital transformation allows municipalities to start gaining value without an enormous upfront cost for a project that takes years to implement. The term agile refers to an iterative process in which projects evolve through the collaboration of cross-functional teams. Creating iterative value allows risk-averse public sector entities to quickly see the benefits of digital transformation initiatives, allowing IT to gain more stakeholder buy-in.
  • Leverage Low-Code, Rapid Application Software. Low-code is a software development approach that allows for faster application development and solution launch with minimal hand-coding. It uses visual modeling in a graphical interface to build and configure applications. For teams with access to an engineering resource, a programmer can take the initial application and further customize and configure the code. In this way, low-code development environments allow for collaboration between non-technical department leaders and programmers to develop solutions that meet business needs, making them ideal for today’s budget and resource-strapped municipalities.

To see how easy low-code development tools are to use for even non-technical staff members, take a virtual tour of our CivicOptimize Productivity low-code development tool.