17 better, cheaper ways to deliver city services

Thu, 2017-06-29 13:53 -- Jesse Berst

Digital City Services is the newest chapter of the Smart Cities Readiness Guide, the free, vendor-neutral handbook for urban transformation. As we put it together, we came to understand that digital services are the hallmark of a smart city. Yes, you must have the enabling infrastructure, as we explain in great detail elsewhere in the Guide. But digital services are the outward manifestation, the face a city presents to the public.

That’s why the Council strongly promotes the idea of “digital by default” – a commitment to (eventually) provide all city services via web, smartphone or kiosk.

But many cities don’t yet understand the many flavors of digital services. So we assembled a list to give cities a sense of the possible. We’ve put a summary version below. For the full explanations – and for best practices advice – use the link at the bottom. – Jesse Berst

Most digital city applications automate service delivery and transactions, providing 24x7, self-service access. Many of them also push essential information to citizens so they can make better decisions and better use of city resources.

Although some of these categories are primarily for the use of city employees, we include them here. First, providing electronic tools for employees is one important aspect of efficient e-government. Second, employee apps increasingly include ways for citizens to provide input (e.g. report graffiti) or to get updates (e.g. to notify them that the graffiti has been removed).

Asset health and management. Provide workers the tools to monitor and repair assets such as pumps, transformers, roadways and buildings. Often interfaces with issue reporting, with mobile workforce management and with citizen relationship management.

Customer relationship management. A central repository to track and assist with citizen interactions. Full-scale CRM tracks and manages all aspects of all relationships, whether with citizens, employees, partners or suppliers. Since CRM is intended as a central storehouse for interactions, it is integrated with many other applications, including city call centers, online portals, asset management software, contracts management, payments and mobile workforce management. In some cases, those applications are built into the CRM. Advanced versions often include features such as a unified city portal; analytics to spot trends and emerging problems; and a knowledgebase that city employees can use to find answers.

Calendars. Community calendars are widely used by residents and tourists. Although you can use a standalone tool to create your calendar, many cities gain this functionality from the content management system that runs their web site. These days, it's essential that your calendar be accessible via smartphone, not just by print and browser.

Contracts management. A centralized repository for legal agreements. Typically manages workflow, approvals, alerts, search, e-signatures and contract assembly from a library of clauses. Often interfaces with customer relationship management software.

Dashboards. Dashboards provide a central spot to monitor a city's key performance indicators (KPIs). They can be a tool for staffers, for citizens or for both. For instance, Boston city employees have highly detailed dashboards specific to their departments. Boston also combines 18 different performance metrics – everything from graffiti removal to call center performance to emergency response time – into a single CityScore that is reported to the public every day.

Dashboards help citizens and staffers alike. The City of Boston has a comprehensive dashboard for the use of the Mayor and his staff. The city also combines 18 different metrics into a daily CityScore, which the public can view at any time.

Digital payments. There are two main factors in digitizing local government. The first is digitizing interactions between government and citizens. The second is digitizing payments. Although digital payment is a form of city services – and is often built into other services – it is so important that we have created a separate Smart Payments chapter in the Readiness Guide.

Discovery. Solutions in this category help citizens, workers and tourists find what they need, such as local job openings, day care centers, or restaurants without any health code violations.

Economic development. Provide citizens and businesses the tools to plan a business (such as the best location for a new retail outlet); to open a business (with a one-stop site for all licenses); to manage a business (with proactive alerts about tax payments, code violations, license renewals, etc.); or to promote a business (such as electronic coupons for residents and tourists).

Inspections and permitting. Key features includes document management, workflow management, and payment processing. "Don’t think mobile inspection and permitting is only for large cities and counties," counsels the Center for Digital Government. "Any size jurisdiction can benefit from at least some of these tools. Don’t underestimate the importance of improved permitting and inspections to your community and elected officials. These are important functions for any community, and visibility will be especially high."

Issue reporting and case management. Provide mechanisms for citizens and staffers to report issues; for staff to assign tasks and manage tasks; and for staff and citizens to monitor progress. Although there are fine examples of standalone case management, some cities choose to integrate case reporting and management into their larger customer relationship management systems (see separate discussion above).

Mobile workforce management. Create work orders, dispatch field technicians, and monitor performance in the field. The best systems support the work cycle from beginning to end. The San Jose Water Company uses mobile workforce management from Oracle, a Global Lead Partner of the Smart Cities Council. "Customer service is improved because everyone – from office staff to field staff – knows the status of work," explains its VP of Information Systems Dana Drysdale. "We also significantly improved productivity for field service management, dispatch staff, and field service technicians.”

Mobility solutions. Provide residents and visitors tools to help them get around the city – to find destinations; to locate parking spots; and to easily use public transport, including "multimodal" trips. For example, the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) worked with Council Partner CivicConnect to provide multimodal trip planning; real-time departure and arrival times; traffic conditions (including video feeds); parking locations; emergency alerts and much more.


Mobility app for the San Francisco Bay Area. The region's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) worked with Council Partner CivicConnect to integrate and manage data from more than 30 transportation agencies into a powerful, mobile-friendly digital service.

Open Data portal. An Open Data portal is a city service that – done properly – can open the door to dozens or even hundreds of other apps. When cities publish their non-sensitive data online, they make it easier for their own employees to find information from other departments – information they can use to build better services. And they make it easier for the private development community to build apps that benefit residents. There are presently 21 million software developers worldwide according to Evans Data Corporation.  To successfully compete, cities must enlist that growing community build innovative solutions to city challenges. Launching an Open Data portal is one of the most important things a city can do... so important, in fact, that the Smart Cities Council has created a separate Open Data Guide.

Many cities have passed resolutions to be open by default. “Seattle is one of the most innovative and creative cities in the country," said Mayor Mike Murray in announcing Seattle's Open Data portal. "By opening up key city datasets to the public, we make it possible for problem solvers outside of government to get involved in finding solutions to civic challenges." The policy directs that all city departments make their data as accessible as possible to the public, after screening for privacy, security, and quality.


Seattle's Open Data portal now provides more than 400 datasets. That data is used by private companies, journalists, and developers. It also powers some of the city's own tools, including Open Budget, Performance Seattle, the Police Department’s Neighborhood Crime Map, and the Department of Transportation’s Capital Projects Explorer

Portals and web sites. "Web portals are a must for the modern municipality," emphasizes the My City Online guidebook. Indeed, most of the other solutions described in this section use the city's web site as a delivery mechanism; or, at least, as one doorway citizens can use to find and apply for services. Some cities use content management systems to create portals to their web services. Others use sophisticated citizen relationship management software to produce all or part of their site. Still others use a purpose-built suite of applications from a company specializing in software for local government.

Public safety and emergency response. Cities everywhere are developing helpful public safety apps for their citizens. Examples include reporting non-emergency crimes by web or smart phone; tip lines to assist the police with investigations; situational intelligence to prepare the first responders before arriving on scene; digital court forms; fire inspection checklists; emergency alerts (for such things as fires, mudslides, floods and power outages); crime statistics; and many more. For further discussion of the issues and opportunities related to police, fire, ambulance, and disaster planning, turn to the Readiness Guide chapter on Public Safety.

Stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement solutions give cities better ways to "listen" and "talk" to citizens, agencies, businesses, and other constituencies. It is not an exaggeration to say that stakeholder engagement software can revolutionize the way a city collects, analyzes, and distributes information. Employees have more timely, more accurate information for their decisions. And citizens gain a stronger sense of trust and community involvement. The best solutions address three core tasks: 1) getting better input, 2) providing better output and 3) using analytics to improve the first two jobs.

Tourism. Apps for tourists have exploded in popularity. Many cities have jumped onto this bandwagon by developing their own apps. By doing so, they give themselves more control over what is promoted and who is included. Some cities even sell sponsorships that allow them to recoup part of their costs.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide Table of Contents

Digital City Services Chapter