The ability to be flexible in the way that we work has historically only been an option for a lucky few.  Recent mandates to telework in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 have caught municipal service organizations completely off guard, leaving many employees completely unable to work.  As a result, teleworking, something that was previously a rare perk or never even considered in an industry notorious for doing business face-to-face with paper forms, will most likely be a requirement for business continuity plans going forward.

This is not a bad thing, especially as it relates to the public sector.  However, with most municipal governments generally being behind their private counterparts when it comes to technology and digital transformation, the ability to work remotely might seem like an impossible goal.

What does “digital transformation” have to do with working from home?

In order to work from home, the technology must be in place. To better understand the term  “digital transformation”, and how it applies to both the private and public sector, the following definitions are provided from a report by the National Center for the Middle Market.  

DIGITIZATION: Refers to converting documents, ledgers, and other paperwork into digital formats. It reduces paper clutter and improves efficiency by making information easier to store, search, and find.

DIGITALIZATION: The next level, involves using digital technologies to automate processes for better outcomes and greater value. Fully digitalizing processes can reduce administrative cost, eliminate errors, and increase speed.

Digitalization can be summarized in the following transitions:

  • On-Premise to Cloud-Based Solutions: Although most people do not question using cloud-based solutions when it comes to personal technology like smartphones, this trust is not frequently extended to applications for municipalities.  Comfort with existing on-premise solutions combined with a sensitivity to how constituents’ dollars are spent can create an internal culture that believes if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, cloud-based solutions provide the benefits of built-in compliance, better uptime, and no need to worry about maintaining and updating hardware.
  • Siloed Departments to Integrated Solutions:  Almost all cities have some type of digital solution in place, but frequently these are specific to individual departments.  Although there is a general acknowledgement that digital solutions make work easier, each department uses a different application with no integration. Implementing integrated solutions allows for better communication between departments and overall enhanced efficiency.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: As the name implies, involves more than doing things better. It involves doing different things or doing them in fundamentally different ways. Digital transformations can produce dramatic changes in service offerings, competitiveness, and performance through enterprise-wide automation and modernization, game-changing restructuring of balance sheets and assets, or new business models and revenue streams.

While only the largest municipalities are far down the road of digital transformation, the majority are in the digitalization level.  

So, what’s the hold up?  

In a culture where we expect our technology to do everything immediately from anywhere in our personal lives, we have been slow to meet the same expectation in our work.  This is especially true for city work environments that have unique obstacles to overcome in order for their employees to work from anywhere, such as:

Aging workforce – Municipalities generally have a high number of older employees. Because these workers did not grow up using technology like their younger counterparts, they are often less comfortable using it and are less likely to “trust” it to help them accomplish their daily tasks. 

Budget Constraints – It’s no secret that cities have extremely tight budget constraints.  Although they feel pressure to meet their constituents’ desire to access local government resources anytime from anywhere, municipalities often dedicate funds to higher priority projects.

Shifting Priorities – Priorities tend to get shuffled with administration changes. As a result, digital goals set by previous administration can quickly fall to the wayside.

Existing Solutions Deemed “Good Enough” – Municipal tech solutions have been available for many years, although most earlier solutions are on-premise and help with limited functionality and might only help a single department.  Manual workarounds to get information into these siloed systems were created years ago and employees have become comfortable with the process and consider them to be “good enough”. 

What is the solution?

With some or all of the aforementioned hurdles playing a role in stalling technical advancement, municipality leaders might feel lost in their efforts to undergo a digital transformation that will allow their employees to perform their duties remotely. However, such solutions are well within their reach.

Civic technology with the capability to handle the mobility of a modern workforce, security of the cloud, and scalability to respond to new trends and requirements is now more affordable than ever. The saturation of technology in everything we do is making it easier to commit to a digital strategy, and applications are available to facilitate the seamless flow of data from one department to another. 

VantageOne Software is the creator of CitiSphere, a civic tech application for complete municipal management.  Our cloud-based solution is “work from anywhere” compliant and offers modules for every department in one product.  CitiSphere provides improved security by taking advantage of Azure’s stringent access controls and ensures regulatory compliance.  Finally, our platform is versatile enough to expand with business changes and new opportunities.  Work anywhere on one platform with CitiSphere.