As communities across the U.S. continue to embrace the concept of incorporating “smart” initiatives, many have hired experts to fill new positions like Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Digital Officers or even Smart Cities Officers. These individuals are responsible for developing the strategy to raise the digital profile of the community and recruit the area’s next-generation workforce. These are not small tasks, and should be developed in collaboration with many other community stakeholders who understand and align with citizen needs and expectations.
Most people want to plant their roots in communities near their families, friends and work places. And, as their personal and professional lives become more technology driven, they want the capabilities of their communities and local government to progress at a faster pace to keep up with the services they experience as digital consumers. They also want their communities to focus on areas that need the most improvement.
To meet these expectations, evolving into a smarter community takes discipline, strategy and leadership. Government leaders need to engage with their citizens and local organizations to create a realistic and responsible roadmap for the future. We see several critical components of this digital strategy roadmap:
- Determine your digital priorities and define your vision. What is the long-term vision and what issues/challenges are the highest priorities to solve? Every community is unique and has different priorities. Driverless cars and drone delivery services might seem to be the model for what a smart city looks like; however, even with a big federal or private grant to implement such solutions, I doubt that most communities would view this as their highest priority. They might rather see the time, effort and resources put toward things like efficient new lighting or other projects that would reduce the government’s operating expenses and free up funds for other efforts that matter to them.
- Take an incremental approach. True smart cities and regions have a vision and plan, and roll out initiatives incrementally to ensure that priority ones are sustainable. Many cities are developing 311 applications where citizens can report information to their local agencies via smartphones. Even with mobile applications like this, an incremental approach is best. For example: roll out some services like reporting broken street lights or potholes, and then measure the user experience and ask what other services citizens might want to include. Otherwise, a comprehensive rollout may result in time wasted on services that won’t be utilized, with an interface that doesn’t appeal to the users.
- Find the money and look for ROI. Many communities are applying for one-time grants or partnering with the private sector to deliver a swanky new piece of technology to help them improve services. Applying for these grants takes time and effort, but can be key to getting new programs up and going. However, a community must also make sure they have a plan to create a sustainable funding model to support these efforts. This is another reason incremental approaches are important―to demonstrate financial and outcome-based benefits. Smart or not, citizens look for improvements to be made in areas of highest importance.
For more information on the critical components of building your community’s digital strategy roadmap, I invite you to download CGI and the Governing Institute’s, “A Field Guide for Smart Communities – a strategic, incremental approach to digital, connected and people-centric government.”