When most municipalities think of infrastructure, they think of physical infrastructure like roads, buildings and utilities. In most cases, this is a good investment for the benefit and quality of life of your citizens. Investment in digital infrastructure offers similar quality of life benefits, and is usually far less expensive than capital improvements.
Let’s discuss some examples and case studies. Many municipalities struggle with tight budgets, aging workforces and limited access to data. Important documents are stored on paper and in files, requiring assistance from the staff for citizen access. When work is needed, a citizen needs to call or email the Town Hall to reach the right person to file a notice or report. That person then needs to intervene and take the requested action. If the municipality could bypass the need for staff intervention and serve its citizens directly through digital services, the citizen would be happier (faster resolution) and the staff would be freed up for other activities.
It sounds good in theory, but how does this work in practice? Let’s look at just two examples.
The first example is the country of Estonia. Estonia is a small country (pop. 1.35M) in northern Europe. When the Soviet Union fell, the new government of Estonia invested in a digital infrastructure. This is a timeline (from Estonia’s website) of what they have been able to achieve in two decades:
The result? Estonia has one of the world’s most productive societies, and a very high quality of life index.
Closer to home we can look at the city of Cary, North Carolina (pop. 135,234), which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal as one of the country’s most advanced digital cities. Cary is booming, partly due to a very high quality of life, low crime, good schools and excellent services – all powered by a digital infrastructure. A brief look at their website will show you how they integrated digital technologies into all of their services.
What Cary and Estonia have in common is they look at technology differently than most governments. Here are some quotes from digital city leaders:
“The value of IT doesn’t lie in racking servers…the value of IT lies in using solutions to create efficiency and continuity [so] my staff can focus on end users and align technology with their needs to produce better outcomes.”
“The biggest lever we have to compete as a city is technology.”
“We’re trying to do more with less all the time, and we have to do more than just keep the lights on…we can be more efficient, provide better resources both internally and externally, and make decisions better, faster, and more accurately.”
What does this mean for struggling communities here at home? In the “Land of Steady Habits” amid very tight budgets, we need to do more with less. Such as:
The return on investment for these actions is fast. There is some additional capital investment needed for the changes, but the impact on the operating budget is almost immediate. Municipal staff-and citizens-will be happier and more productive, bringing increased investment and tax revenue to your community.