The 2020 pandemic has affected each city and county government differently. Some were already ahead in implementing digital service delivery, while others had no choice but to physically staff their offices to provide key citizen-facing services.
Still, most supported a massive shift toward remote work that carried with it the responsibility to expand support systems — including acquiring new equipment, increasing network capacity and providing help desk support 24/7. Across the board, local IT agencies have risen to the challenges associated with the pandemic, leading to a more resilient IT delivery and support system that is better prepared for the unexpected.
In May, the Public Technology Institute released its 2020 State of City and County IT National Survey. When respondents were asked to rank IT initiatives through 2022, the survey revealed that innovation and application technologies took the No. 2 spot on the list of key priorities for the first time, while modernization of outdated IT systems and applications ranked No. 3. Here are other trends that may serve as prescriptive guides for agencies still transforming in the face of COVID-19.
1. Government Gets More Connected to Citizens
Governments exist to serve the public. So, when buildings were forced to close or severely limit operations, IT agencies had to support not only a remote workforce but a public whose needs do not stop simply because doors are closed. Government agencies discovered many positive outcomes after strengthening online services in response.
For example, required public meetings have gone virtual, and local governments have found the virtual format has led to a huge increase in participation from many who would not otherwise travel to a municipal center. Online services have grown in popularity given the convenience of being able to take care of business around the clock. Local government social media channels have been better tuned toward more frequent information messaging and two-way communication.
Whether they are for internal management or public-facing activities, virtual meetings have demonstrated that video collaboration will continue to grow.
2. Agencies Look to Hybrid Work Setups for Users
Many local government employees have overwhelmingly begun to appreciate and value the opportunity to work remotely — usually from home. Public managers have been pleased by the increased productivity, while employees are happy with the flexibility afforded to them. Many employees have shared that they work much longer hours — but not necessarily compressed into a single time block. They appreciate not having to commute, and they save money on gas and parking too.
There are some notable downsides: a lack of separation between work and family can lead to premature burnout. Some who have young, school-age children at home find themselves battling for private space and have had to compete at times with limited broadband . Others without strong family support find themselves more alienated.
Looking to the future, there will be a need to provide a hybrid approach for work: Some work best from home and others at a safe office environment. Ultimately, senior public mangers will rethink office space requirements and future leases. Employees may find staggered schedules work best to share limited space, while others will remain an essential component of an accountable virtual workforce.
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3. Governments Are Re-examining Digital Equity
The great pivot toward a virtual environment has further exposed the growing digital divide in the form of access, affordability and availability. Many residents find themselves at a great disadvantage not having reliable access to broadband, and local governments have recently taken extraordinary steps to apply remedies.
For government agencies, remedies include providing mobile devices to students, subsidized broadband plans, offering mobile hotpots and providing free Wi-Fi in key public facilities, including school parking lots. As the virtual environment takes hold, more resources will need to be shifted to those in need of reliable broadband.
4. IT Modernization Will Continue Apace
The pandemic has demonstrated as never before the need to continue to invest in IT and system modernization. As local governments struggle with declining revenues, IT will be largely spared from cuts at this time since so much resides in the ability to process and communicate with the public.
Because of this, IT expenditures will increase or at least hold their own in severely hit localities. Many local governments have pivoted to cloud-based applications, and they are required to pay the monthly and annual fees for those subscriptions or risk losing the entire application and associated data. The pay-as-you-go model has its benefits and drawbacks, but there is no room to delay or put off upgrades and payments.
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5. Agencies Will Need to Meet Their Cybersecurity Demands
In March, IT leaders faced an entirely new virus: COVID-19. The great pivot toward remote work and service delivery created an entirely new set of demands to secure an already fragile system.
The recently released PTI/CompTIA 2020 National Survey of Local Government Cybersecurity Programs reveals some good news and some troubling news. For example, 65 percent of respondents say their cybersecurity budget is inadequate. Some 64 percent say that their elected leaders are only somewhat engaged; 23 percent say they are not engaged at all.
On the positive side, an overwhelming number now have cyber response plans, and there is a continued increase in cyber insurance coverage. Finally, cyber awareness training has become not only mandatory but continuous.