Forces for and against digital city services
Read this section to understand why digital services are becoming the norm and to understand the barriers you are likely to encounter.
Why has digitalization become such a powerful trend? In addition to the benefits described above, three forces are at work: 1) growing populations; 2) growing expectations; and 3) shrinking budgets.
Growing populations. By some estimates, five million people move to (or are born in) cities every month. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. And in many places – the United States and parts of Europe, for instance – the percentage is already over 80%. As cities grow at tremendous rates, they cannot keep up using paper and manual processes. Only digital technology has the hope of keeping up.
Growing expectations. Governments are coming under pressure to offer the same excellent experience as the private sector. A 2016 survey of citizens from a dozen global cities, for instance, found that 85% expected government services to be as good as those from private companies. Another survey conducted by the McKinsey Center for Government revealed that citizens are frustrated by confusing city websites and find it’s often still necessary to speak with multiple parties. As one mayor jokes: Modern corporations say “there’s an app for that.” Old-fashioned corporations say “there’s a form for that.” Governments say “there are 17 forms for that.”
Shrinking budgets. City resources are not keeping up with growing populations and growing expectations. Yet in many parts of the world, allocations from national governments are contracting. Cities are finding it hard fund infrastructure. This has created a divide between what citizens expect and what cities can provide. One 2016 survey found that citizen satisfaction with local governments in the developed world was at a 10-year low. As a result, governments are turning to digital technology to do more with less.
The barriers to digital city services
Despite the benefits described above, there are obstacles along the path. Don’t be alarmed – all of these issues have solutions, especially when you are armed with best practices from those who’ve gone before. But it's wise to know the hurdles you are likely to encounter.
Aging infrastructure. Even cities with the best of intentions grapple with aging infrastructures and outdated legacy systems. Many cities discover that they must first upgrade their broadband networks or replace old software before they can even start on digital services.
Separate, siloed departments. For hundreds of years, cities have operated as a collection of separate departments, each with its own budget and own priorities. It’s difficult to share and collaborate in such an environment. The departments don’t have access to each other’s data. Critical information is trapped in standalone, single-purpose systems, and not accessible in real-time. And the go-it-alone mindset causes multiple departments to reinvent the same wheel, while missing opportunities to share infrastructure and share costs.