Municipalities have to deal with constraints that don’t exist within the private sector. In this article, we’ll see how municipalities can leverage technology to meet their strategic objectives.
Understand Current Inefficiencies
Municipalities aren’t as nimble as private sector companies for a number of reasons:
- Lengthy procurement cycles
- Lack of government funds
- Rigid manner of operating
Municipalities also have responsibilities to both the business and private sectors within their communities. This makes change extremely difficult. Being a public entity, any implementation of technology to help improve operational efficiencies must be right the first time, as any mistakes will be laid bare for all to see. Mistakes are inevitable, but larger missteps that cost millions of dollars can result in voting down any new initiatives.
Being a public entity, any implementation of technology to help improve operational efficiencies must be right the first time, as any mistakes will be laid bare for all to see.
Because of the above reasons, making decisions and finally deciding to act on them is a very slow process. To compound such problems, municipalities generally do not use the latest technologies or leave many areas of operation lacking in technological efficiencies.
Rationalizing Appropriate Technologies
Any technology that a municipality decides to integrate needs to be stable and have reliable support. Any technology that has a history of being vulnerable to security threats certainly won’t do well in a municipal environment. Even if security patches are released quickly, it takes time for the municipality to install software updates. This delay leaves the municipality exposed to additional threats.
Large vendors offer the kind of support needed by municipalities. In some cases, these vendors will even customize their software to a municipality’s specific needs.
Reliable software is required for the same reason security patches can’t be applied in a timely manner. A software vendor that is always releasing updates will be a burden on the municipality. Periodic software updates are unavoidable but also expected.
Incremental updates to the same municipal software system are better than trying to keep up with the latest and greatest technological advances. Even if a municipality wanted the latest and greatest technology, it isn’t a practical choice.
Creating Operational Efficiencies with Technology
One of the most popular municipality-related buzzwords making rounds is “smart cities.” A smart city is one that has IoT sensors scattered across it to transmit real-time data. These sensors provide feedback on basically anything the city wants to monitor. A smart city provides a more thorough picture of the city. For municipalities, they can see more efficient use of battery-powered devices, city utilities such as lights being out, and more.
Making smart cities a reality is closely tied to the implementation of 5G. 5G will allow for needed hi-speed wifi that IoT devices will transmit data on. Unlike 4G, which uses macro towers (i.e., cell towers) that are able to transmit for miles, 5G will use small cells, which are only about the size of a shoebox. Small cells are attached to rooftops, storefronts, office buildings, and even existing macro towers. These small cells will be ubiquitous throughout a smart city and provide the wifi needed for municipality IoT devices.
Being able to leverage IoT devices for various monitoring means decreasing manpower to perform the same tasks, ultimately cutting back on cost.
5G-enabled smart city municipalities will have more success in attracting new investments, businesses, residents, and generally growing revenues. However, municipalities face a few obstacles in realizing full smart city implementations.
Lengthy Approval Process
Smart cities with 5G will make use of far more devices than the few macro towers used by 4G. Each device must be approved. Approval means going through committees and lengthy decision-making processes. Depending on what’s being approved, municipalities can take up to two years or more to complete approval. Approving every device is not practical. Municipalities will need to develop a fast-track or batch approval process to keep everything moving in a reasonable timeframe.
Utility and Telecom Regulations
While many IoT devices can be attached to existing building structures, utility poles and macro towers will also need to be utilized. As both utilities and telecoms are regulated by the FCC, municipalities will need to work through various, time-consuming permitting processes and even rejections.
Despite the above obstacles, the benefits of smart cities are clear. As long as municipalities have the expectation that approvals and implementation can take some time, they can remain focused on working toward the end goal.
In addition to smart cities, automation is a prime candidate for improving municipality workflows. Much of the administration within a municipality is repetitive, which is where automation comes in. Putting forms online so customers can fill them out removes the burden of having to transmit the same information from a paper form into a digital form.
Breaking silos within municipalities will lead to more efficient communication and sharing of information.
Of course, simply removing silos and expecting some benefit to appear is not a worthy goal. Instead, those silos that can take advantage of synergies should prove to be the better option for merging.
Change within a municipality starts with one person. However, one person can’t implement change alone. They need support from the municipality. Without overall support, nothing will happen. The change shouldn’t be looked at as a negative. From smart cities to automation, there is much for municipalities to take advantage of that can benefit their communities.