The Time for Municipal Modernization and Digitization is Now

As the private sector leverages digitization to drive profits, the public sector struggles with digital technology, lacking the resources to keep pace. Municipal planning, development, and civil construction—that intertwine with the private sector—stand out as areas where digital transformation could have immense value and cost-cutting opportunity.

Municipalities are dealing with unprecedented changes: Infrastructure is aging, population dynamics are shifting, and budgets are reeling from COVID-19. Success is glued to collaboration between municipalities and the private sector. Budgets should address local infrastructure accurately, and permits should be electronic to maximize approvals and revenue streams for municipalities.

But there's some obvious friction. Half of mortgage companies offer a  completely digital experience for their customers. But civil construction is one of the lowest ranking industries for digital transformation, according to Gartner. Successfully completing public projects hinges on interactions with both of these industries. One has embraced the future, and the other is still largely analog.

Despite this disparity, municipal modernization is happening everywhere. From Canada and Norway to states like Massachusetts, public bodies are rapidly implementing municipal modernization plans. Change is on the horizon; 2 out of 3 public sector leaders say that digital competency is the most significant barrier to success—and governments are rallying behind modernization in this environment of virtual meetings. Municipalities need to lead by example. Industries lag and push off investments waiting for government to catch up. But we're past the point of return; modernization is a must.


Construction of a modern building and a skyscraper

What is Municipal Modernization?

In its simplest terms, municipal modernization is digital transformation for municipalities. It turns old processes into efficient workflows that impress investors, satisfy stakeholders, and sell products. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services (DLS) lists three core buckets of digital transformation from its recent legislation modernization:

  • Shifting to electronic forms to expedite traffic violations and approvals
  • Digitizing hard documents to maximize efficacy
  • Automating the approval process to complete bids and smaller projects faster.

We would add making materials available online for public view to that list, but the core competencies are there. Municipal modernization is digitization and automation. It cuts costs, improves throughput, and maximizes participation from both public and private bodies.

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The Core Components of Municipal Modernization

Typically, public entities rely on private bodies to push barriers. It's much more difficult to change public institutions than it is to disrupt business practices. The following technologies have already proved viable in the business space.

Shifting to Electronic Forms

Josh Gee—digital strategist for the city of Boston—recently detailed on Medium how shifting to digital saved residents just under 10,000 hours. Municipalities store thousands of documents. They assess them, analyze them, and utilize them on a daily basis. Trying to do that with paper documents is a nightmare.

According to Accenture, 59% of middle managers admit to missing crucial information because they couldn't find the right paper documents. Employees misfile 20% of their paper documents and spend an average of 6 weeks per year looking for them.

Public bodies have a serious paper problem. The N.A.R.A. passed The Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI) after reports revealed that the government wastes up to $440 million per year printing paper. But printing is just the start. Municipalities create delays forcing residents, government workers, and contractors to fill out paper documents and introduce security risks when those documents are lost.

This isn't a phenomenon isolated to public bodies though. Businesses also waste $billions a year on paper. The message is clear: paper causes headaches. Even if we ignore the environmental risks of paper (of which there are many), using paper creates friction between municipalities, contractors, civil construction companies, and the public.

And we don't have to look much further than the current pandemic. In Long Island, local developers launched a campaign to get the local government to digitize workflows. Critical infrastructure waits to be constructed, but social distancing guidelines, remote-enabled workflows, and budget constraints have made permits a serious pain point. The result is a laggy system that's losing money for all parties.

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Digitizing Existing Hard Documents

Get this: a four-drawer filing cabinet costs $25,000 to fill and $2,000 a year to maintain. The average document gets copied 19 times. And the total costs of filing paper has very little to do with paper. That's only 5% of the costs. Labor accounts for 70% of the costs. Paper documents cost you significant time and money that could be better spent on municipality projects for the good of the community.

The raw power of data analytics is wasted on paper documents. If you go digital, you have to digitize existing documents or you won't have access to the years upon years of data you already have.  Not turning past documents into digital document creates barriers for private entities attempting to secure contracts and permits, and it shadows the public from viewing critical government documents.

Really, this is the simplest area to fix. You need a solution that digitizes existing hard documents and stores those digital documents. The initial workload of this digitization is obviously high, but the post-digitization results will create value chains and increase transparency throughout your municipality. Don't leave data in the dark. It will impact your budget and overall digital transformation strategy.

Digital Workflows and Automation

Digitization without automation doesn't work. You need a way to reduce the strain on government employees. You need workflow automation with built-in reporting. The overall goal of municipal modernization is to reduce administrative costs, burdens, and lag. Without automation, digitization can be painful and slow. Streamlining documentation with full-scale process automation reduces administrative burdens across your municipal ecosystem—including accounts payable.

How DRS Can Help

For most municipalities, digital transformation has been thrown around in backrooms for a long time. COVID-19 put pressure on the system, moving up change to sooner—not later. Municipal bodies across the globe are already modernizing. You don't want to be behind the curve.

We can help. DRS Imaging offers digital transformation solutions for public and private clients across the country. From electronic document capture to hard copy digitization, DRS has the solutions you need to modernize your municipality. Want to learn more about how we can help you? Contact us. The world is changing. Your municipality needs to change with it.