As a technology company at the forefront of government digital transformation, this time of year, we often are asked to predict what the coming 12 months hold for local government technology. While we are well aware of the buzz around artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things, we see only a few of our city and county clients experimenting in these areas. These technologies will have a profound impact on local government in the future, but the truth is, they are unlikely to take hold in the 12 months ahead. So, what are the technologies and trends that will impact local government in 2018 and beyond?
At Vision, where we focus on developing and hosting websites for local government agencies, we believe a government website is the hub of digital engagement and the key to a better resident (customer) experience in the years ahead. Both back-end and front-end development work is underway to extend the capability of a government website and facilitate a more satisfying digital experience for local government customers. As this story unfolds, the following trends will shape government-citizen interaction in 2018 and beyond.
Focus on the Customer Experience
The desire to create a great customer experience is the main driver behind the digital government movement. In 2018, more and more local government services will be:
- Digital – Residents expect to interact with government through digital channels and local elected officials are starting to take notice. What matters to voters, matters to them.
- Personal – Today’s residents expect websites and apps to learn and react to their preferences, creating personalized experiences similar to Facebook feeds, which are filtered for individual interests. Local government will begin their foray into personalization in 2018, allowing residents to opt-in to content based on their interests and geography. In the next few years, artificial intelligence and machine learning will take personalization even further to analyze behavior and react to user preferences with more suggested content and information.
- Mobile – In 2017, nearly 50 percent of traffic to local government websites came from mobile devices. In 2018, websites will evolve beyond responsive design to deliver an even better mobile customer experience. Successful mobile web design blends the best of a mobile app in a web environment for the most intuitive user experience. You might ask, why not just create mobile apps for local government? Unfortunately, download rates of mobile apps in local government are very low. Consumers don’t want to download another app if they aren’t going to use it daily, but they will visit a government website on their phone. Mobile web strategy will be a primary focus for local government this year.
- Paperless – More and more local government agencies will fully automate citizen services, as technologies like e-signatures and online payments become more cost effective and easier to integrate with front-end web experiences. Government websites will become service-based portals, with all key services featured prominently on the homepage and accessible via a highly intuitive and simple interface.
Content is King
Ultimately, it’s content that drives the user experience. City and county website content creators increasingly are moving away from legalese and starting to write in plain language that is clear, concise and easy to understand. In 2018, website content will be:
- Interactive and Engaging – Local government will create more two-way dialogue, replacing the static content published and curated by cities and counties in the past. Apps like NextDoor and Facebook are driving this trend and prove that residents crave engagement with other community members on topics of interest. In 2018, the challenge for local government will be to actively listen to all social channels, to look for ways to elevate important topics, and to create a forum where residents will feel they are being heard.
- Discoverable – Given the massive amount of information available on a government website, “findability” will continue to be a major challenge for local government agencies. Appropriate tagging and filtering tools will help customers find what they need as search technology becomes more intelligent, serving up related content based on keyword searches.
- Team-Based – Most local government organizations now have a distributed content model with an average of 40 content contributors to each website. Staff skills in writing for the web vary, creating a wild west of content creation. In 2018, we will see a shift to a team-based model, with trained communications professionals at the helm, leveraging content to create a better overall customer experience.
Security & Accessibility Take Center Stage
It’s more important than ever that security be integrated into everything local government does, including a critical piece of website development and hosting. Paperless, transactional government websites must protect the security of customer information. Residents will only interact with websites they trust. Given the increasing challenges of maintaining a secure and reliable website in-house, the trend toward cloud-based hosting will continue in the year ahead.
Finally, 2018 is the year that Federal requirements for digital accessibility kick in, so more local government leaders will be working to make sure the design and content of their websites and other digital information do not create barriers to full participation by citizens with visual, hearing and other disabilities.
It’s clear that, in the local digital government arena, 2018 will be the year that more agencies move from talk into action. Trained communications professionals will keep tabs on website analytics to prevent content bloat and promote top ranking content, ensure that mobile design and accessibility standards are considered, and maintain a consistent voice across their website and other communication channels. Local government websites will become more personal, mobile, interactive and engaging, which will create internal efficiencies and greatly improve the customer experience.
For a more detailed look at these trends, please see our eBook “Nine Trends in Digital Government.”
David Nachman is CEO of El Segundo, Calif.-based Vision, a national leader in government website design, development and hosting with more than 800 government, non-profit and education clients in U.S. and Canada. For more than 20 years, Vision has created cost-effective solutions that increase government efficiency, build transparency and promote interactive communications with citizens.