Covid-19 has forced businesses of all stripes to rethink their modes of operation, with the pandemic’s outbreak spurring a move toward e-commerce, remote work, and digital transformation in order to protect employees and customers from contagion. When the history of the pandemic is written, it’ll also be recorded that Covid-19 accelerated a similar shift in how local governments conduct their operations – particularly with respect to citizen services.
The days of citizens waiting in long lines to pay bills, settle disputes, or apply for aid programs is fading. Governments are making greater use of emerging technologies to enhance planning and service quality – which will ultimately pave the road to more efficient operations.
Here’s a look at the developments that are reshaping the future of local governments in the wake of Covid-19.
A new era of citizen services
Citizens’ growing expectations for convenience, efficiency, and digital-savviness in virtually all aspects of modern life have naturally extended to the government sphere. When a meal, a ride, a library full of literature, a vast range of bingeworthy TV series, and a world of fascinating podcasts are all available at citizens’ fingertips, they expect that municipal services should be too.
Big Tech is already playing a major role in supporting government digitisation
Indeed, those expectations have only heightened since the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made people even more reliant on digital technology for work, learning, social interaction, entertainment and pretty much everything that falls in between. According to a multi-country survey conducted by Accenture in 2019, 67 per cent of citizens want their governments to make it easier to access digital services, while 51 per cent said they would make greater use of digital government services if they were available via a single online portal. Moving forward, we can expect more city and state governments to expand their capabilities in regard to e-payments, online applications for vital services, and engaging citizens via digital platforms.
Big Tech is already playing a major role in supporting government digitisation. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have all rolled out cloud services specifically for government agencies, and as more cities, states, and localities accelerate their digital transformations, these companies will be well-positioned to meet the growing demand.
Road and infrastructure maintenance
While many people have gone well over half a year without having to commute to work, most are all too familiar with the perils of clogged streets and highways, potholes and other road hazards, and all the other stresses and inconveniences a suboptimal commute can bring. Fortunately, advances in technology are paving the road for smoother journeys.
Autotech is a prime example: in-vehicle sensors, based on tactile technologies, are already capable of collecting actionable insights regarding road characteristics – such as road quality, slipperiness, and more –which can keep municipalities and road authorities well informed and minimise the need for municipal workers to manually gather maintenance data on the roads.
With tactile insights, cities can analyse traffic trends, detect hazards in real time, conduct timely road maintenance, map out road distresses, and grip estimations to predict and prevent deterioration and much more. Armed with this data, cities can prioritise the most urgent infrastructure repair projects – boosting local economies and the quality of commuters’ journeys.
Digital water and wastewater treatment
Digital water technologies - including IoT sensors and data analytics - are taking off, with Bluefield Research projecting that $92.6 billion will be invested in digital water between now and 2030.
Such technologies will enable cities to monitor their water supply in real time, detect and rapidly address any water infrastructure issues, and optimise resource management. For instance, water tech innovators like the Arad Group have developed AI-driven, web-based solutions for water management professionals to remotely monitor every water meter in a network in real time, with instantaneous alerts to any anomalies so officials can quickly address them.
Better water monitoring capabilities can even help combat this and future pandemics. Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel, for instance, have developed a method for detecting traces of coronavirus in sewage systems – an approach that could help authorities pinpoint virus hotspots and better understand death rates.
Smarter garbage collection
Cities can benefit from sophisticated and efficient tools not only for managing wastewater, but also for managing the everyday waste citizens produce.
Traditionally, cities have collected waste according to fixed routes. But a more dynamic approach – for example, sensor-equipped garbage bins and trucks –can significantly improve waste management. Harnessing IoT, waste management authorities can identify the optimal routes according to the volume of waste in area bins. This isn’t a pipe-dream: companies like the Slovakian enterprise company Sensoneo are already enabling cities to better monitor and plan waste routes using sensors, open APIs, data analytics, and mesh-network topology – driving down waste collection costs by 30 per cent and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60 per cent by relieving congestion.
A more intelligent urban future
Digital technologies are already proving their mettle at a time of critical need, with 2020 marking a milestone when more and more cities (and their citizens) have come to see the value of innovative solutions for upgrading local government operations and improving city services.
Covid-19 has had far-reaching impacts on citizens and their governments. Among the most consequential is that it has cemented expectations for digitally-enabled efficiency – a development that will spur more local governments to turn to cutting-edge solutions for everything from bureaucratic services to garbage collection to infrastructure management. Indeed, local governments will never be the same again.