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10 Ways State and Local Government Should Invest in Tech Now

When considering how to spend the billions in federal funding still available to them, state and local governments should invest in solutions that will drive long-term benefits.

Thanks to the federal government, many cities and states are currently flush with cash, but according to the Wall Street Journal, cities are headed for fiscal trouble again, especially if there’s a recession.

Now is the time for local and state officials to modernize business processes that produce ongoing operational and financial benefits. Too often, near-term budget considerations hinder these necessary investments because the cost of new systems is often frontloaded, but the savings accrue over time. With billions in federal funding (much of which remains unspent), mayors and governors should prioritize investments that will produce transformational benefits for years to come.

The Cloud: Cloud deployment brings storage and security advantages and makes it substantially easier for departments to access a vendor’s future innovations and iterations. The scalability and flexibility of the cloud will be critical as agencies address new operational challenges.

Environmental Hardware: Automated meter reading helps a department make better use of its labor while more rapidly identifying leaks and other system problems. And sensors embedded in roads prevent cracks while also producing traffic management data.

Platforms: Cities need to tie together disparate activities to facilitate better management and decision-making. For example, curb and sidewalk data platforms allow insights into how parking, traffic, bikes, transit and commercial loading zones impact travel times, pollution and even land use decisions.

Channel Migration: To increase internal efficiency and improve customer service, it’s time to accelerate and complete the re-engineering of how residents do business with government. While much good work has already been done, myriad opportunities still exist to integrate legacy transactions and simultaneously move them to less expensive and easier-to-use service channels.

Automation: Effective channel migration also requires transforming outdated back-office systems to eliminate unnecessary steps and digitize workflows. City staff often struggle to manage multiple benefit requests while those entitled to benefits wait or go without due to processing complexities. Modernizing application processes and creating truly seamless front doors will simplify and accelerate access to benefits, while providing auditable digital trails to address waste, fraud and abuse.

Analytics Capabilities: Extending data science from a niche service to an indispensable part of all activities will produce much more effective government. Budget officials should start thinking about the return on investment they get from data officers.

Machine Analytics: Invest in machine sensors and analytics to better manage some of government’s most expensive assets. For example, fleet vehicle analytics can help to increase uptime, extend vehicle life, save fuel and enhance operator safety.

Road Maintenance: Some combination of cloud, lidar, drones and digital twins could help to remediate the country’s aging road and bridge infrastructure more effectively.

Pricing of City Assets: Whether it’s parking or the use of athletic fields, governments decide the price for public access. Over time, cost structures have been built that influence consumption behaviors. By gathering more data and developing the capacity to use it, cities can create pricing models that optimize use, enhance equitable outcomes and achieve policy goals.

Optimize Logistics: As we learned during the pandemic, logistics impact all of us. Government should seek to optimize the logistics of all its activities to improve service, control costs and protect the environment.

While local officials cannot influence the national economy, nor control declining property or local income tax revenue, policymakers should focus on technology investments that will improve service delivery to residents and drive long-term cost savings for the next year of these relatively good times — before it’s too late.

This article was co-authored by Charles “Skip” Stitt, principal at Faegre Drinker Consulting.
Stephen Goldsmith is the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and director of Data-Smart City Solutions at the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. 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.