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4 Trends to Watch in 2015

In the New Year, municipalities will face the challenge of ensuring that their data-driven approaches empower them to be responsive to citizens’ wants, needs and ideas.

In 2014, municipalities across the country made meaningful progress in systematically integrating data and technology into the way they conduct government business. In the New Year, they’ll face the next challenge of ensuring that this new data-driven approach goes beyond the walls of city hall and empowers them to be responsive to citizens’ wants, needs and ideas.

Here are the four trends that I expect will be pivotal to continuing the ongoing transformation of government in the coming year.

1 / Cloud Computing

The growing adoption of cloud technology at the local government level will transform the way city departments spend money and allocate their IT resources. This won’t just be in the country’s largest cities; the cloud will give small and medium-sized cities equal, on-demand access to a shared pool of computing resources. This effect will be especially apparent in municipal procurement and project management processes. For a resource-strapped city that had traditionally purchased expensive enterprise software licenses, modularized cloud-based software as a service solutions will make purchasing cheaper, more flexible and more efficient. In the coming year, expect to see more city governments rethinking the role of systems integrators as they shift to the cloud.

2 / Government as a Platform

Next-generation 311 technologies are making tangible an idea that’s long been percolating: Government should structure itself as a platform on which solutions can be built, rather than as a “vending machine,” as public policy scholar Donald Kettl put it, that doles out these solutions. New York and Chicago will continue to be leaders in the effort to reimagine the traditional call center as a place where citizens and government officials can come together not just to solve problems, but also to ensure that they’re being solved as effectively as possible.

3 / Social Collaboration

The coming year will bring the escalating use of social media and social media mining as a collaboration tool with citizens. For years now, we’ve seen local governments use social media as a one-directional talking tool to communicate news, alerts and advisories to citizens; increasingly, however, governments are using it to listen and respond. This approach is transforming law enforcement efforts, and I anticipate that in the coming year we’ll see more social-media-driven collaborations like that between the Vancouver Police Department and citizens in the wake of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot in 2011.

4 / The Sensing Environment

Every hour, 300,000 new things are connected to the Internet of Things, according to Cisco’s chief globalization officer — a pace that will ensure substantial momentum in the rise of the technologically interconnected network of smart objects. With Chicago’s Array of Things project leading the way, city officials who begin to adapt this increasingly sophisticated technology in the coming year will have more information than ever to keep an eye on system changes — sometimes even before they happen. Sensors are another popular trend; watch for the development of more sensor technologies like ShotSpotter, which allows police to react quickly to gunfire and monitor trends in gun violence.

The municipalities that can successfully integrate these technologies and approaches in 2015 will be well positioned to save money, run more efficiently and, ultimately, be more responsive to residents.

Stephen Goldsmith is the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Data Smart City Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social Innovation; Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector; Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots Citizenship; The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America; The Responsive City: Engaging Communities through Data-Smart Governance; and A New City O/S.