By Mary Velan
Each year the Center for Digital Government conducts a Digital Cities Survey to examine the overall technology programs and plans of cities across the country. The goal of the survey is to identify the most innovative strategies currently being deployed to improve performance, efficiency and advancement. This year’s survey discovered dozens leading digital cities that are developing a mature infrastructure that enables city leaders to experiment with new technology projects to improve the daily lives of citizens.
The Top Digital Cities
The Center for Digital Government recently announced the winners of the 2015 Digital Cities Survey that demonstrated strategic, efficient and innovative approaches to public-sector technology projects. The cities were evaluated based on how four elements were incorporated into their projects:
- Citizen engagement
- Technology and data
The overall trend among all the winning cities was a mature infrastructure that provided city leaders with the opportunity to pilot forward-thinking tech projects that are molded in the image of average citizen lifestyles. The first place winners in four population categories were:
- Alexandria, VA
- Avondale, AZ
- Shawnee, KS
Philadelphia stood out from the competition for its updated website, open data initiatives and overall comprehensive strategy for the future. The open data and analytics projects released more than 225 agency data sets for public and interdepartmental use since 2012. The city’s comprehensive innovation strategy includes the creation of:
- Innovation lab
- Innovation fund
- Innovation academy
- Digital inclusion portfolio
Philadelphia’s Office of Education participated in the federal US2020 program designed to solve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education challenges through eight-week courses presented to low-income students. The goal is to provide the resources and ideas to underserved students in hopes to build an innovative and tech-savvy workforce locally. The project was successful and Philadelphia plans to continue the project in the future so as to reach more students throughout the city, Gov Tech reported.
In addition, Philadelphia ran a digital literacy program that aimed to use technology to spread the word on nutrition and improve community wellness. Students created multimedia projects discussing healthy cooking and physical activity. The goal was to use the project to not only educate students on technology solutions but also combat the city’s skyrocketing obesity rate.
Alexandria, Virginia, has been a regular on the winners list for the annual survey. The city has been a top 10 winner dating back to 2005 thanks to its continual efforts and investment in technology innovation. Alexandria was awarded high honors this year for a variety of projects with specific focus on its upgraded network security initiative. The city modernized its network security in an effort to better protect against cyber attacks.
Furthermore, Alexandria invested in increased broadband speed for the city – jumping from 1 gigabit to 10 gigabits per second, and the city launched Wi-Fi in the City Hall for all residents and businesses nearby. Alexandria now has an automated, cloud-based website failover solution that ensures a site site is always up and accessible even during network outages or extreme traffic volumes. This allows for key information to always be available to residents during critical situations such as natural disasters, Gov Tech reported.
Avondale, Arizona, was recognized for its innovative branding effort that reinforced the city’s identify, as well as an open data strategy and a regional cybersecurity collaboration. The open data and maps initiative bridged Avondale to a network of more than 20 governments all sharing information through the Arizona OpenBooks program. The regional cybersecurity project aims to keep data and networks safe through shared services and resources.
Avondale’s approach to technology integration and innovation focused on the citizen experience. The city worked to understand what individual resident’s needs are and experiment with new technologies to generate solutions. The technology deployed in Avondale helped strengthen communication and feedback loops while improving overall efficiency.
Because Avondale has less than 80,000 residents, it was imperative for leaders to create collaborative relationships with other regional municipalities. By working through state and regional networks, the city was able to save money while building up data resources and technological capabilities. After accumulating significant technologies and data sets, Avondale was able to become more attractive to developers and entrepreneurs, Gov Tech reported.
One key collaboration project was the multi-jurisdictional cybersecurity procurement effort led by Avondale. Not only did participating cities save money, but they also gained access to technologies they normally could not afford or maintain. After cybersecurity audits were completed, cities could update their policies and start overcoming any shortcomings found in the report. By pooling resources, each city is now able to discover cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities weeks before they may have been found using old technology.
Shawnee, Kansas, received the award for a variety of projects designed to improve local government performance as well as the daily lives of citizens. Shawnee developed a customer relationship platform, created a city-branded app and website and launch GIS-powered community maps. The city app enabled citizens to:
- Report problems
- View maps of requests submitted by others
- Work with citizens on fixing problems
The city also created a GIS-powered street conditioning rating map where citizens can monitor city infrastructure improvements and upgrades.
In addition, Shawnee was recognized for a program that provided police officers with handheld driver’s license scanners to automatically enter parking tickets into the city’s systems and eliminate handwritten tickets. The fines are not only delivered more efficiently but can also be paid offer faster through the new technology, Gov Tech reported.
When it comes to innovative cities and states, successful projects can span across a wide array of sectors and capabilities. While there is no one formula for becoming an innovative city, there are a few trends seen in current digital-savvy cities that prioritize digital experiences in their planning and investment decision making processes.
Innovative cities most often than not view their digital platform as a key tool for communication with citizens and efficient delivery of services into the community. Digital technologies not only improve internal operations but also provide citizens with direct connections to local government to engage in civic activities. When local residents are digital-savvy, communities and economies benefit from the advancement and more efficient use of resources. According to Route Fifty, to continually provide citizens with exceptional digital experiences, cities must incorporate five key ingredients:
- Managed Cloud Platform
When cities move their digital activities onto a managed cloud platform, internal IT teams are relieved of maintenance duties and able to focus more time and energy on innovative strategies. Cities can use cloud platforms to generate significant savings, enhance cybersecurity and spur faster growth. Managed cloud platforms offload operations, information security and change control burden from the IT team to a third party for overall improved efficiency.
- Open Source
A continually evolving technology, open source ensure information is available to many players at once for increased data sharing and accelerated decision making. Furthermore, open source technology is continually refined by the communities using the resource, and thus become a growing piece of digital infrastructure that is in a perpetual state of self-improvement. When a technology can grow based on the immediate demands of its user base, the resulting projects are more robust, adaptable, resilient and secure.
Citizens today do not rely on a single device or channel for communication or information sharing. Rather, consumers opt to use whatever device is most convenient when making purchases, interacting with others or researching new information. Therefore, governments should make services readily available through multiple device types so citizens can access data anytime, anywhere. Because such a large population uses smartphones and tablets, a mobile-first strategy can be key in the right community.
While governments should always be cautious when collecting personal information, municipalities can deploy basic personalization techniques to connect citizens with information and services more relevant to their lifestyle or demands. In doing so, local governments can start to catch up to the personalization practices used in the private sector to increase conversion rates across many industries. Citizens will benefit from personalized digital activities by enjoying a simpler, more user-friendly experience.
- Cutting Edge Tech Culture
To successfully implement new digital solutions within a local government and across an entire community, there must be shared goals collaboration among all stakeholders including IT teams, executive leadership, community organizations, procurement and project management teams. These groups must work together to ensure all digital tools are leveraged to provide information to citizens and improve the quality of services delivered.
To become an innovative city, leaders must first understand how communities are functioning, where there is opportunity for improvement and what solutions are available to become more efficient and tech-savvy. Data-driven decision making and interconnected communication platforms are key to making a community more responsive to evolving needs and economically resilient in the future.