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5 reasons your city MUST go digital by default

Submitted by jesse_berst on July 13, 2017

At a certain point in history, citizens came to expect access to city services – police, fire city hall – by phone. We’re at a similar inflection point now, as citizens increasingly expect to access city services by web or smartphone.

As a result, cities everywhere are opting to become “digital by default.” They commit to eventually offering 24x7, self-service, digital access to most or all of their services.

Happily, going digital saves cities money over the long run. The Digital City Services chapter of the Smart Cities Readiness Guide details 17 kinds of services that increase citizen satisfaction while costing less to deliver than by phone or face-to-face.

But saving money is just one of the five benefits of digital by default, as you will read below in this excerpt. For the full chapter with best practices, checklists and other aids, use the links above, which are repeated at the end for convenience. – Jesse Berst

The five benefits of digital city services:

Increased citizen engagement. Digital technologies allow citizens to participate more conveniently and more fully in the planning and operation of their city. That participation may include online participation in surveys, budgeting, council meetings, and town hall meetings. It may also include ways for citizens to help the city, by reporting problems or by helping the police in their investigations. Digital technologies also allow governments to listen to their constituents more conveniently, quickly and accurately. The city can get immediate input via email and social media. And it can monitor social media and use online surveys to spot problems and trends.

Increased employee productivity. The same technologies that help citizens can also make City Hall leaner, faster and more effective. First, they make employees more efficient by giving them digital tools to do their jobs, even when they’re in the field. Second, they make employees smarter. Analytics can help governments identify pain points, plan more successfully and enforce more effectively (tax fraud, for instance).

Third, smart technologies make it easier for departments to collaborate. Going digital is far more than improving the front end. It is essential to re-think and (in some cases) re-make the back end business processes. Cross-cutting collaboration also enhances service delivery for citizens, who get a one-stop shop to meet their needs.

Increased competitiveness. Businesses increasingly seek to locate in cities that have the robust digital infrastructure necessary to succeed in the global economy. And talented workers increasingly seek cities that provide the connected lifestyle they prefer.

Increased customer satisfaction. Most of us know from our own lives the benefits of doing business online (versus in-person or by phone). Consider the task of opening a restaurant. Analog cities often require you to deal with a dozen or more different departments and agencies, sometimes in person. Digital cities have a single online form, with the information automatically passed through to any and every department that needs to know. Cities with pedestrian and traffic flow data can even help pinpoint prime business locations and determine the best hours of operations.

And it’s not just the added convenience that increases satisfaction. Digital technologies also provide easier, more effective ways for citizens to monitor city government. That increased transparency and accountability boosts credibility and trust.

For instance, the combined site for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, USA features a long list of services, tools and apps. Users can also access many functions via Denver's for mobile-friendly access.


Denver’s award-winning portal provides access to a wide range of services for residents, businesses and visitors. It also offers a version called PocketGov, which is optimized for viewing on smartphones.

Reduced costs. Britain’s 2012 Digital Efficiency Report found that a digital transaction can be 50 times less expensive than face-to-face and 20 times lower than phone. In 2015, the UK government estimated that moving transactional services to digital would save it nearly $3 billion a year. The government of Belgium has also turned to digital services. The Crossroads Bank for Social Security brings 3,000 social services (3,000!) into one network. Citizens enter information once, after which it is shared with any other agency that needs it. The Crossroads Bank for Enterprises serves a similar function for businesses. The initiative eliminated more than 260 forms and statutory declarations. Employers alone save more than one billion Euros annually.

And there’s another way smart technologies can help a city’s budget. Digital solutions are increasingly available “as a service”, thus transferring upfront capital costs to operational expenses over time. Even if a city can’t afford to build a solution on its own, it may have the money to “lease” the solution month-by-month.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide Table of Contents

Digital City Services Chapter