Why Modern Cities Should Migrate to an HCMS

An HCMS (headless content management system) with the power to manage all content for all channels may offer the best solution for local governments looking to meet citizen expectations.

by Ben Sebree, CivicPlus / April 15, 2019
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As local government’s budgets shrink and the public sector continues to lose talent to the private sector, local governments are challenged to do more with less. There is a new facet to the quagmire that is now applying even more pressure to already strained teams: the growth of new, emerging digital communication channels, and citizens’ expanding desire for meaningful, impactful, seamless interactions with private and public sector entities.

For modern cities, merely having a highly functional civic website and a hyperlocal mobile application is no longer enough. Today’s citizens want push notifications on their smartphones, news updates from their personal home assistants, and more convenient ways to interact with civic leaders, ask questions, gain insights, complete civic-related tasks, and stay informed. With fewer staff resources than ever before, how can local governments manage to meet citizen needs in light of the ever-expanding universe of digital communication tools, and the emergence of a services-first content model?

Going Headless

For public communication managers, administrators, and other leaders for whom the multiplicity of citizen communication channels is starting to feel staggering, there is a very accessible, very affordable solution that will put time back in your day while amplifying the reach of your message. All it requires is that you lose your head.

A headless content management system (HCMS) is a content management system that is separated from its Web delivery layer. It focuses not on the delivery of content through pages, but on providing content creators with tools and workflows that will allow content to be accessed across multiple channels and devices. Such channels include websites, mobile apps, digital road signage, wearables, kiosks, and whatever else the Internet of Things (IoT) creates next.

By separating the repository where your data lives from the system that displays it, you can build content one time, and distribute it through multiple channels, on any device.

Consider what is likely your current content distribution workflow. Let us suppose that you want to announce a rescheduling to the evening’s community forum discussion. To execute a multi-channel communication strategy today, you would need to write and publish your message separately via your website CMS, mobile app CMS, push notification system, email software, individual social media channels, in-office kiosk system, and digital road signage system. With an HCMS, however, your message is created one time, and published to all such platforms where it will display in the ideal format given the device type and functionality.

Who Should Switch to an HCMS?

Just as all municipalities are unique, HCMS technology may not be the right fit for every public entity. Villages, towns, and smaller cities and counties with website administrative teams of one or two who aren’t in need of complex system integrations can find their digital communication needs fully served by a traditional CMS. An HCMS may be right for your city, however, if you answer yes to the following questions:

  • Do you have an internal IT staff of more than five?
  • Does each department manage their own content, resulting in a team of content administrators greater than 10?
  • Do you rely on an existing software stack into which your website needs to integrate, such as your accounting software, public works software, existing digital forms, and ERP software?

If your digital content strategy is managed by a team of tech-savvy administrators, you need to integrate with existing software systems, and you want to benefit from build-once, publish anywhere functionality, then it’s time to go headless.

Additional Benefits of an HCMS

As if the convenience of a create-once-display-everywhere offering was not enough of a time-saving benefit to make the switch, HCMS solutions are also ideal for public sector entities looking to offer citizens the greatest convenience in accessing digital services for the following reasons:

Streamlined Mobile App Updates. Mobile apps allow citizens to interact with their local government’s digital service offerings on their schedule. While these tools are ideal for fostering such engagements, they can be burdensome to manage. Any entity that has ever maintained a mobile app has felt the time-consuming frustration of needing to re-submit it to Android™ and Apple® app stores when modifiable changes are made. By using an HCMS as the data repository that feeds the content within your mobile app, time and resource-constrained local governments can offer citizens continually updating dynamic in-app content without the need to re-submit the app to various marketplaces for review and publishing.

Integrating with Existing Software Stacks. The last time you implemented any software, a critical consideration was likely its ability to feed data to, or receive data from, existing software systems. HCMS solutions are built using an integration-centric mindset. This approach means that they are optimized to enable application program interface (API) connections to share data and create automated workflows among your existing software systems. Imagine a world in which you can add a calendar event to your outlook calendar, and it automatically publishes the same event to your website’s community calendar and your mobile app and sends a push notification alert to event list subscribers—without any extra steps in your process.

Cost-Efficiency. Not only are siloed systems that perform single functions limiting, inflexible, and time-consuming to manage, they represent inefficient investments of taxpayer dollars. Local governments can eliminate their website publishing software, social platform managing tool, mobile app CMS, and a variety of other stand-alone systems with a single HCMS. The cost-saving benefits of such an approach are compoundable, as ongoing maintenance and enhancements are only needed for one system managed by a sole provider.

It Enables Cross-Training. If your communications staff are the only employees who know how to update your website, your public safety staff are the only ones who know how to send emergency push notifications, your parks and rec staff are the only ones who know how to update your events calendar, and your IT staff are the only ones who know how to update your mobile app, how can you expect to be efficient? How will you adapt as staff levels continue to shrink, and job responsibilities continue to flex? Using a single HCMS that all staff with content management responsibilities are trained to use allows for cross-training and greater output efficiency.

It is Future-Proofed. By storing data in a repository that is separate from the front-end templates used to display it, content managers never need to worry about reformatting messages or republishing digital content when new smartphone form factors are released, or your administration replaces its kiosk or road signage hardware, essentially, future-proofing your content management strategy.

It Allows Messaging to Be Personal. An HCMS solution built with machine-learning capabilities allows local governments to give citizens the personal, meaningful interactions with their local government that they want and need, bringing a personalized services-first experience to the digital age. Beyond merely adding a citizen’s first name to an email, an HCMS with machine-learning capabilities can customize page displays, search results, and content recommendations, all on an individual user level.

It Offers Analytics that Measure Moments of Engagement—Not User Actions. Unprecedented aggregate and user-level behavior data are possible from HCMS solutions. HCMS solutions provide access to more informative user analytics, so you can make more data-informed decisions to improve citizen engagement and build more relevant digital service solutions.

Greater Security Through the Cloud. HCMS solutions are cloud-hosted, which means stronger protections from evolving cyber threats. It also means faster site speeds thanks to decentralized hosting sources, regardless of device or content output type.

The Future of Citizen Engagement

With budgets and staff resources continuing to shrink, while citizen expectations continue to grow, local governments are going to continue to be challenged to do more with less. A single HCMS with the power to manage all content for all channels and streamline internal workflows offers the best solution for local governments to keep pace with the expectations of their taxpayers both now, and as the IoT continues to evolve.

About the Author Ben Sebree

As the Director of Product Management for CivicPlus®, Ben is primarily responsible for identifying opportunities for CivicPlus’ integrated portfolio of unified applications to continue to meet the evolving needs of local governments and their citizens using the latest paradigm-shifting technologies. His expertise and passion for innovation enable CivicPlus to remain at the forefront of the digital transformation revolution.

Ben has over eleven years of experience in the technology space with seven years focusing on enterprise platforms, integrations, IoT technology, AI, and CaaS. Products he's managed have received multiple industry awards, and today, his innovative processes still have numerous patents pending.

In addition to leading CivicPlus’ integrated solution offering, Ben is responsible for working with third-party partners to build industry-leading system integrations to enable CivicPlus’ solutions to further serve as the foundation for all local governments’ software stack needs. Ben holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information systems and Human Resources, and a Master of Business Administration from Kansas State University.

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