Mayors, governors and other local government leaders are being inundated by all sorts of “experts” telling them how to run a smart city. Often, the ulterior commercial motivation of these messages is not even well hidden.
Fortunately, in recent years, an objective and disciplined set of academic researchers have stepped up their focus on these questions.
The Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany has worked with government officials all over the world and studied their efforts to build smarter cities and use technology intelligently. As recently designated Government Fellow at CTG, I have taken a look at some of their past research and work.
Here are the first three of six lessons, which stand out to me. (By the way, it’s worth noting that these also apply in the private sector, although that’s not what CTG studied. Where it ways government, think company, and where it says citizen, think customer.)
1. Systems That Can Share Will Enhance Citizen Service
CTG worked with and studied cities that implemented 311 systems and later rolled out larger service management systems. While the cost of handling 311 telephone calls, among other reasons, have diminished the number of new telephone-only installations, the 311 experience has provided lessons on the obstacles to providing better service to a city’s residents.
311 systems and other single points of entry for citizen service, even the web, make glaringly clear the lack of integration across government agencies. Complex technology that is not interoperable only adds to the traditional human problem of bureaucratic silos.
So Lesson #1 is that the city needs to make sure its computer systems are interoperable – or at least open to sharing data. Integrating the back end is just as important as providing a citizen interface on the front end.
2. It’s Not Merely About Technology
Having said that, CTG’s research makes Lesson #2 clear: any mayor, who thinks that simply building a system for citizen services is sufficient, will not likely succeed in his/her larger goals of creating a smart city.
As one of their reports states:
“A smart city is not only a technological concept but a socioeconomic development one. Technology is obviously a necessary condition for a smart city, but citizens’ understanding of the concept is about the development of urban society for the better quality of life. The adoption of up-to-date technologies per se does not guarantee the success of smart city initiatives. Rather, innovation in management style and policy direction makes a city more livable. Success of smart city projects is not determined by technology or technical capital. Success is dependent on leadership and interorganizational coordination. Technology itself does not make any contribution to innovation.”
3. Government Staff Overcome Technological Limitations
Lesson #3 is that, in various ways, government staff (people) can overcome the lack of integration of citizen-facing systems in government. .
The 311 experience has illuminated the weaknesses of legacy systems and the frequent situation where the 311 software used by operators is not really connected to the legacy systems that departments use to manage the services they deliver to the public. So 311 becomes a cover for the disorganization behind the scenes. In such cases, CTG has found that well trained, qualified human agents can fill the gaps and give the citizen the kind of integrated service which is expected.
[TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK] …
© 2014 Norman Jacknis