How Technology Is Helping to Bridge the Gap Between Government and Citizens

Local governments provide a huge range of frontline services to their residents. Municipalities across the country are the first point of contact for building permits, business licenses, pet licensing, rental properties, taxation, and many other services.

None of those services could be delivered without using technology. Arguably, computers have made the working lives of municipality employees more efficient for several decades now. At this stage, local governments are facing another technological shift: as digital transformation is taking hold in every industry, citizens and businesses are expecting municipalities to get on board if they haven’t already.

Digital technology has the power to transform local government operations, but not every piece of software is made for the job. And while digitalization can certainly streamline municipality services, it cannot replace the people delivering those services. Instead, it can help bring municipalities and citizens closer to one another. In this article, we are taking a closer look at the benefits of technology for municipalities and tell you how to avoid potential pitfalls.

Why Digital Transformation Matters for Local Governments

Digital technology has transformed the way businesses connect with potential customers. Consumers now expect faster responses, greater accessibility, and increased ease of contact with their favorite brands. While this transition may have started in the private sector, it is just as relevant for public sector organizations.

Residents, businesses, and other stakeholders expect the same degree of responsiveness, the same level of speed, and the same ease of access when they reach out to their municipality. Offering this level of service allows municipalities not only to become more accessible to citizens. It is also a critical factor when it comes to establishing the community as business-friendly.

Becoming known as a locality that makes it easy to establish and run a business encourages businesses to start selling in the area. As a result, citizens gain access to a wider range of products and services, and municipalities can increase their revenue from taxes, licensing, and permitting processes. Developing a reputation as a municipality that is easy to access for various citizen services may also attract new residents.

Digital technology is instrumental in achieving these goals, and this is not the first time that municipalities have adopted technology successfully. Think back to the introduction of the first computers several decades ago. Today, we cannot even imagine an office desk without a personal computer, and most municipality employees are using information and communication technologies (ICT) daily.

However, this digital transformation is going further, breaking down barriers between municipality employees in the field and those in offices, as well as their entire communities.

How Citizens and Businesses Benefit

Digital technology changes the way local governments connect with their citizens and businesses in the area. Traditionally, residents and business owners had to make appointments to see a local government employee and collect licensing and permitting application forms. They needed another appointment to submit their application, only to face potential delays if there was missing information or other problems.

Offering online citizen and business services effectively extends municipality opening hours from traditional 9-5 approaches to 24/7 access. Making documents like application forms accessible online allows businesses and others to access the information when it is convenient for them.

If a process seems less than straightforward, digital services make it easy to submit questions to municipality employees even if they occur outside standard business hours. Put simply, both citizens and businesses will find it easier and more convenient to get things done.

How Municipality Employees Benefit

Residents and business owners are not the only ones who will notice a difference thanks to digital technology. Municipality employees also benefit throughout the process, and those advantages not only apply to office-based employees. By making crucial information accessible via mobile app, field-based inspectors and others can access everything they need without delay.

Here is an example: a business owner submits an application for a specific permit that is missing information the inspector needs before making an appointment. Rather than risking a wasted journey to the business site, the inspector or their support team can review the submission and contact the business directly before scheduling a visit. The company’s chances of passing the inspection increase, and the inspector avoids losing time because of repeated visits.

As the inspection is completed, inspectors can update the municipality’s records directly in the field. Administrators do not need to wait for the inspector to return to the office. Instead, they can issue any relevant certifications on the spot.

Interdepartmental Communications Made Easy

Digital transformation is also creating opportunities for municipalities to break down barriers between departments.

Traditionally, individual departments would keep their own data sets concerning residents and businesses. That meant information was duplicated and stored in multiple places, making it potentially more vulnerable to data breaches.

In addition, if an employee from one department needed information from another, they generally had to ask that department to retrieve it for them. Digital software platforms can minimize the risk of those data breaches and simplify information sharing between departments.

Potential Pitfalls of Your Community’s Digital Transformation

If a municipality’s digital transformation has so many advantages, why have not all communities changed the way they work? The answer to this question will vary by municipality and perhaps even by individual department. They may revolve around concerns about overwhelming stakeholders with technology, managing the costs involved, or simply removing personal connections from the process.

All these concerns are valid, and they demonstrate the importance of planning your municipality’s digital transformation thoroughly and managing it well. Here is a look at common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Developing a Plan for Your Community’s Digital Transformation

Most people have heard the saying ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Planning your municipality’s digital transformation is no different. As a local government leader or the person who is making decisions about your digital transformation, you need to ensure that you have covered all aspects.

Just like the business itself needs a solid strategy its digital transformation needs a strategic approach. In most cases, this would include clearly defined, smart goals with milestones allowing you to measure progress along the way.

To be successful, your municipality’s strategy should cover the software you are looking to use and a thorough plan for employee training. It also needs to follow a realistic timeframe that allows everyone to get on board and up to speed with the new way of working. Lastly, despite the growing influence of digital technologies, it is important to retain access to in-person services.

Choosing the Right Software

Without the right software, your municipality’s digital transformation cannot be successful.

Mitchell Humphrey’s FastTrackGov® (FTG) has been designed specifically for local governments. FTG creates opportunities for direct citizen interaction. It also makes it easy for businesses and individuals to pay licensing fees, deal with renewals, and access information about charges like hospitality taxes.

Municipalities can decide to transform their operations at once or implement FTG step-by-step or application-by-application. Its ability to be customized is one of FTG’s greatest advantages.

Prioritizing Employee Training

Remember that not all municipality employees are digital natives or feel comfortable using new technology. Prioritizing employee training during the implementation process is essential to making your transformation a success.

While Mitchell Humphrey’s programmers have designed FTG to be easy to use, some of your municipality’s team members will still benefit from thorough training sessions. Others may be self-starters but develop questions later.

This is when your team needs access to outstanding customer service and long-term support. The Mitchell Humphrey team prides itself on becoming an extension of your team answering questions, helping to solve problems, discussing future needs.

Allowing Time for Transformation

For many municipalities, changing their operations dramatically is a daunting prospect. If that is the case in your community, make sure your digital transformation strategy allows enough time for the transition itself.

Getting the transformation right the first time is generally more important than completing the process fast. Trying to transition too quickly increases the potential for mistakes. You may also find that your employees do not have enough time to adjust to their new way of working.

Some of your team members will embrace digital technology immediately, whereas others take a little longer. That is perfectly normal, and the most successful municipalities make sure to take different rates of adoption into account.

Retaining Access to In-Person Services

Adoption rates may not only differ for your employees but for residents and businesses as well. As you’re transitioning more of your local government operations toward digital technology, you need to consider accessibility.

What percentage of your community does not have access to a computer at home, for example? Could they use an app, or can they not access cloud-based services at all? How many of your citizens and businesses are in areas with limited connectivity? And are there people in your community who prefer to make an in-person appointment with a municipality employee as opposed to accessing online services?

Answering these questions will give your team a good idea of how much of your operations can transfer easily and how extensive your traditional service offering needs to remain. Most communities find that citizens and businesses are ready to embrace digital technology and soon enjoy having greater access to municipality services.

Taking the Next Step to Bridge the Gap Between Government and Citizens

Transforming from traditional, paper-based operations or limited use of technology to digitally-focused working practices does not need to be complicated or disruptive. With a thoughtful approach and clear goals, your team can manage even dramatic changes smoothly.

While it may seem like technology is minimizing contact between municipalities and citizens, it achieves the opposite. Rather than limiting access to local government services, online access for citizens brings both parties closer by creating additional opportunities to connect.

The benefits can be felt not only on an individual level, but your entire community will realize that things are getting done faster. Whether it is taking a construction project from idea to breaking ground, ensuring contractors have submitted all necessary applications and received authorizations, or taking public works forward, each process is completed faster.

As a result, your community can develop more quickly and flourish by creating better opportunities for businesses and citizens alike. Digital technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, personally and professionally.

Take advantage of the benefits of digital technology today and allow your municipality to run more smoothly. Contact Mitchell Humphrey to find out more about how FTG can transform your community.