The Days of Governments Being Slow to Adopt New Tech Are Gone

The Local Government’s Next Normal report shows how rapidly COVID-19 has reshaped local government officials’ use of new software & points to future trends.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

COVID-19 has placed a tremendous burden on the thousands of local governments who serve millions of residents every day. Although there is a shared sense that the impacts of COVID-19 are reshaping local government, there has not been a clear picture of exactly ‘how’ things are changing and how local governments intend to evolve.

Too often the picture of COVID’s impact on local government has been obfuscated by the media and reports that focus on large cities like New York and Los Angeles whose high population centers were disproportionately impacted by the virus. But little is captured about cities and small towns.

Thankfully, a group of local government online communities, government technology companies and local government media outlets including Atlas, ELGL, Route Fifty and SeeClickFix by CivicPlus have come together to publish the “Local Government’s Next Normal”, which finally delivers a comprehensive view into how local governments — particularly small and medium size governments — across the US are adapting to the pandemic and preparing for a post-pandemic world.

The survey includes 385 local government official respondents with 90% of respondents coming from municipalities with 500k or less population. The complete survey report is filled with terrific information. But here are the most striking figures:

  1. 94% of respondents believe that their budget will be significantly impacted by revenue shortfalls caused by COVID-19.
  2. 80% of respondents noted that their shift from paper to software will be permanent, in large part due to the promise of savings that software presents them.
  3. 76% of respondents say their cities will adopt more software to streamline public services in the months and years ahead.

Without question this data shows that the pandemic has catalyzed broad, long-term interest by officials from governments big and small to adopt new technologies. It’s clearer than ever that the time for a digital local government or ‘smart city’ is not someone in the distant future — it’s right now. And this should be an exciting rallying cry for everyone:

  • For Government Officials: The political will and timing is there to be bold in experimenting and implementing new technologies as well as cultivating a culture that embraces iteration and testing new ways of doing things.
  • For Established Corporations: With COVID-19 accelerating government adoption of new software and hardware, corporations that have existing customer relationships with governments and established possess a unique opportunity to expand their government offerings.
  • For GovTech Startups: Although corporations have the brand and relationships, startups uniquely have the entrepreneurial drive and iterative, lean approach to bring new solutions to age-old government challenges.
  • For Citizens: Citizens have incredible power to show support for local officials to experiment with new technologies as well as to even create solutions — all of which will provide a better experience in your hometown community.

The Local Government’s Next Normal presents a data set that compels us to believe that the time is now to build bold technology solutions for our local governments. The report analysis points to five key growth areas where technology will play a vital role in solving the most critical current and future government challenges:

  1. External and Internal Communication Software

Perhaps one of the biggest realizations by government officials during the pandemic has been how reliant they were to in-person interactions — whether for internal or external purposes. In the survey, respondents listed community engagement and communications as their number one use for new software during the pandemic. Moreover, 45% of respondents anticipated using new software for community engagement and 48% anticipated using software to work from home. All data points to a world where digital communications is key — whether that’s new secure chat services to bolster internal remote office communications or new platforms to enhance connectivity between government and constituents.

2. Workflow Management Powered by Online Forms

The report shows just how the shift towards digital service delivery during the pandemic resulted in the adoption of software to manage workflows, including 54% of respondents using permitting software and 44% of respondents using citizen request management software. Government officials need dashboards, notification systems and workflow automation to manage and track more data and services than ever before. Workflow management tools are exponentially more valuable when constituent-facing online forms and digital signature are also used as the community’s point of entry to government services. In fact, the report shows that 56% of respondents adopted online forms for this purpose during the pandemic. Local governments’ use of workflow management software is here to stay — in the months ahead, will see more and more companies developing tools that cater to the workflow challenges faced by governments big and small.

3. Payment Processing Platforms

The pandemic has made local governments look closely at how they collect revenues. Clearly, the shift is towards online processing of payments that prioritizes seamlessness and contactless experiences. The report shows that the second most mentioned use of technology during the pandemic was payment processing software. The online payment revolution by governments is already underway, but there is still an immense amount of growth and innovation in the government payments space. The fintech space is immense and with 46% of respondents noting that they anticipate using software for online revenue and payment capture, there is a growing number of government officials eager to go digital. As such, it is only a matter of time that we begin to see more companies developing government solutions ranging from secure online payment processing to mobile-first payment solutions for government services.

4. Digital Asset Management Tools

The report data shows that the top budget concern, particularly among local government officials in leadership positions, is capital projects. It’s surprising pandemic-induced revenue shortfalls would result in cuts to capital projects, which are oftentimes tied to critical infrastructure spending for things such as roads, sidewalks and facilities. Interestingly, the report mentions that asset management software is the sixth most mentioned software used during the pandemic. Together, these two data points show how increasingly critical asset management software tools will be to local governments. As spending becomes tighter and tighter on the construction of new assets, increased attention will be paid towards the maintenance of public assets. A variety of cheap sensors and software tools now make digital asset management accessible to governments of all sizes. And we will see more and more such systems enter the market as governments prioritize adopting software that helps extend the lifetime use of government’s critical infrastructure and ultimately reduce capital budget costs.

5. Cloud Storage Services

I have to admit that I was initially surprised that so little was mentioned in the survey data about cloud storage. But let’s face it, how often do we really think about the immense data storage infrastructure that actually powers all of our modern software tools. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are the giants already providing cloud storage services to governments. And for good reason: a) The traditional method of on premise data storage is something unattainable and too expensive for most governments. b) Cloud-based data storage enables greater accessibility and sharing of data. c) the security standards of cloud storage companies like Amazon are top notch. Or to put it bluntly, the cloud will be the infrastructure on which all other services will be built. As such, more and more players have the opportunity to jump into this space and offer cloud storage services that meet the unique needs and use cases of local government.

The pandemic has accelerated change in every sector, including local government. The Local Government’s Next Normal shows that we are standing at the beginning of a new age of local government — one that embraces technology to strengthen how it tackles critical local issues and delivers valuable services to millions of people across the US.

To access the complete survey report, download and read Local Government’s Next Normal here. And be sure to check out the important work of the organizations behind the publication: Atlas, ELGL, Route Fifty and SeeClickFix by CivicPlus.

Government Tech, Policy + Politics | Founder @ Recode America Govtech + Entrepreneurship Practice Leader @ KRNLS