New technology and the move to mobile are transforming the way local governments serve and engage citizens. Municipal websites that once functioned as giant digital filing cabinets are evolving into interactive portals that allow cities to provide a higher level of service with far fewer resources.
Ninety percent of today’s citizens own mobile phones and 63 percent use them to go online, so it’s no surprise residents expect to be able to access government services from any device, anywhere, at any time. But what about those cities, towns and provinces still mired in outdated technology? Is your site mobile ready? Does it provide online citizen service? Is the information well organized, engaging and easy to find?
More than 330 local government IT and communications professionals weighed in on the state of digital communications in a December 2014 survey commissioned by Vision Internet to identify “What’s Next in Digital Communications for Local Government.” Their responses and observations are instructive for any local government working to keep pace with evolving technology.
Overall, the study revealed that government professionals are keenly aware of their responsibility to keep up with technology and many plan to invest in core technologies in 2015. A vast majority of participants (94%) said they believe local governments have the responsibility to keep pace with this ever-changing technology.
More than one third plan to increase their technology budgets by 10 to 19% over the next five years. As a Canadian respondent from the Yukon said: “We deliver services to citizens. That is our mandate. We must do this as effectively and efficiently as possible and through the mediums our citizens expect.”
Today’s digital natives are tomorrow’s taxpayers; they have grown up online in a mobile, social world. In order to communicate and collaborate with the entire community, local government entities must embrace those same technologies.
As another survey participant aptly stated: “People want to communicate with government using the same tools they do in their personal and business lives. It’s about using the tools they are comfortable with, and doing so in a quick and convenient manner.”
Fortunately for municipalities that haven’t made the transition to digital communications, the tools now are available to make it happen. Specialized government website developers have created powerful, easy-to-use content management systems that enable local governments to transform their websites into modern digital communications powerhouses, while providing the flexibility to grow and expand over time as community needs dictate.
One feature in high demand is mobile access to government services. Survey participants almost unanimously (97.5%) cited “citizen convenience” as the top benefit of mobile citizen service, with “expanded communications reach” and “time/human resource savings” following in second and third place, respectively.
While mobile-ready websites and communications programs are top of mind for many local government professionals, more than half of the survey respondents said their agency does not currently provide citizen-facing services via mobile devices. Funding and security concerns topped the list of obstacles to using mobile technology, but even so, more than a third (35.4%) plan to invest in mobile government services this year.
Finding the funding needed to keep pace with technology is a persistent problem in the public sector. But local government professionals can begin to make a business case for implementing mobile government solutions by setting up Google Analytics to track mobile traffic to their websites. Sharing real usage data with municipal decision-makers can be an effective first step toward achieving a mobile-friendly website.
Another powerful case builder is the role communications technology plays in emergency situations. In the wake of natural disasters, local government entities have witnessed the value of effective and efficient communications to facilitate disaster recovery and continuity of operations. This is why websites and other digital communications portals have moved to the forefront in helping local government get the word out in emergencies. Nearly three quarters (71%) of survey respondents deemed “disaster recovery/continuity of operations” to be “essential” to their agency, underscoring the vital role website and mobile technology can play in communicating with the public during times of crisis.
Tying social media portals back to the website for more detailed information has become an important communications strategy for local government. The advanced content management systems available today can easily facilitate this.
The survey revealed that the overarching need for local government to integrate digital technology into its public service strategy is to deliver greater value and become more accessible to the citizens it serves. Interactive websites, social media, mobile gov and other digital communications tools will continue to help governments across North America become more accessible, interactive and transparent for the people they serve.