This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog.
In many organizations such as cities, technology is often separated from discussion about business needs and goals. For example, city managers will focus on important areas like the city’s budget, citizen service, and city operations and see technology as a separate line item or cost center. Talk about new hardware, software, a website, or IT support then becomes something that’s more of a “nice-to-have” that the city can either afford or not. Only when technology seems absolutely essential or needed to avert an emergency is it seriously considered.
If this is how your city thinks about technology, you’re not alone. Many businesses and organizations think similarly about investments in technology usually due to an “IT public relations problem.” Historically, IT has often seemed like it’s an arcane, isolated department that uses technology to make cool things happen on top of regular business goals, operations, and projects.
But that’s not the way to think about technology. It’s actually ingrained in the day-to-day areas that keep city managers up at night. Here are some of those areas, and why technology helps city managers achieve their goals in each area.
- Budget. One of technology’s main benefits over the years is how it helps so many organizations cut costs and maximize existing investments. If you’re not harnessing technology to help cut costs, you’re missing crucial budget slashing opportunities. For example:
- Transitioning hardware and software to the cloud helps your city get rid of hardware, free up space, eliminate expensive software licenses, and reduce maintenance costs.
- Reviewing ISP and telecom contracts and exploring different options potentially offers you a chance to reduce costs.
- Proactive IT support offers predictable costs instead of the havoc of reactive IT support with unpredictable costs.
- Citizen service and engagement. City managers focus on how to make citizens happier and more engaged with local government. Today, that task is impossible without a quality website, social media outreach, and accommodating people’s increasing use of mobile devices. A poor website that lacks easy-to-find information, news and announcements, and services such as online payments will frustrate citizens and reflect badly on your city.
- Attracting and retaining top-notch employees. Often overlooked, good technology impacts the experience that employees have when working for your city. Slow, broken technology not only brings productivity to a crawl but it also frustrates employees—who will then seek employment elsewhere. Replacing hardware every 3-5 years and upgrading outdated, creaky software shows employees that you care about their work environment and understand the right foundation that leads to productive work.
- Operational efficiency. As a city manager, day-to-day operations are your core responsibility. Great managers make operations as efficient as possible so that they can focus on more strategic goals and projects. Technology helps avoid operations that are chaotic, broken, inefficient, and manual, where you’re always putting out fires. A strong technology foundation greases the operational wheels, and the right software can drastically help departments like city hall, finance, and public safety.
- Avoiding risk, liability, and security threats. Poor investments in IT infrastructure, management, and support opens your city up to significant cybersecurity risks. For example, when we hear of cities that are crippled by a virus, we often see as we unpeel the layers that the city lacks investments in technology. City managers need to worry about unauthorized access to sensitive data, employees clicking on malicious websites and email attachments, and the right mix of technology and support that helps monitor and handle security threats.
If viewed as a “nice-to-have” or a cost center, technology can seem quite detached from the day-to-day worries of a city manager. But if viewed as a core foundation of helping city managers do what they do best, technology is an essential investment that helps cut costs and achieve important goals.
The financial investments for technology are similar to ones that justify money spent on regular asset inventory audits, customer service, talent recruiting and retention, and insurance. That means you need to work with IT professionals who understand how to speak your language—not just the language of technology.