Digital Metamorphosis: how governments can cater to the changing needs of their citizens


Government sectors stand at a crossroad.

As technology advances, it’s becoming impossible for legacy systems to catch up. And governments can no longer afford to standstill.

The needs of citizens are changing. According to Forrester, 42% of the world’s population will own a smartphone by the end of 2015. In the age of information, people expect easy access to information and highly personalised levels of support.

This is where legacy systems unfortunately fall short. To be able to cater to the above governments need to upgrade their technologies.

It’s time for a digital evolution; luckily so-called “smart-cities” are paving the way. They’re innovatively utilising digital or telecommunication technologies to improve the efficiency of their networks. Indeed, it seems a new “smart city” project is announced every week and in each instance the scope and methodology differs.

So let’s delve a little deeper and explore how two smart cities are using technology to evolve and cater to their communities.

Work with what’s available

Let’s clear something up – a digital transformation doesn’t have to involve the radical adoption of sparkling to-the-minute technology; efficiency can be easily increased by working with what’s readily available with the added bonus of saving you time and money.)

We get that sometimes it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you’re working with outdated, ingrained infrastructure. But there’s truth in the age-old adage “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

The London Borough of Hounslow was in this exact position a few years ago.

They felt that their infrastructure was outdated, relied on 3rd parties and was constraining productivity. In an effort to resolve this, they embraced the cloud. They swapped their data storage system over to Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM system.

Centralising customer data helped them bolster both productivity and customer service. Staff are now able to work from any device, from any location (as compared to the previously provided council-managed laptop of yore). Through this they increased their internal and external communication – as well as their efficiency.

Utilising a combination of existing cloud storage providers and custom built cloud-based software, Hounslow plan to be completely infrastructure free by 2018.

Technology needs to serve the people

When you look to a technical solution it is essential that it’s aligned to the needs and habits of your citizens.

Hounslow council did just that when they turned to the cloud. Anthony Kemp, Hounslow Council's Director of Corporate Resources pointed out that they had noted 16-19 year olds were preferring to engage with their departments via their smartphones or social media. And there was no solution in place to effectively cater to them. By picking a centralised data storage solution, they ensured their customer service supported the access-anywhere at any-time mentality of their younger inhabitants.

When adopting new technologies a government must take into account that they are adopting change to make an entire community stronger. As such it’s important that residents are prepared for change and can easily access data.

Brazil, one of the world’s top seven smart cities of 2015, is living up to this method. To properly equip the city for the 2016 Olympics the government is introducing a number of smart city projects to improve traffic, crime, aging infrastructure and outdated emergency procedures. To achieve this they’ve implemented a centralised control room dubbed, Centro de Operações Preifetura do Rio de Janeiro (COR).

This monitoring room keeps track of the municipality’s 30 departments and real-time conditions by tapping into 1,000  traffic and surveillance cameras. It also makes use of a pioneering weather forecast and hydrological system (developed by IBM Research scientists) that can foresee heavy rains up to 48 hours in advance.

Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, explained, “In addition to using all information available for municipal management, we share that data with the population on mobile devices and social networks, so as to empower them with initiatives that can contribute to an improved flow of city operations.

However Brazil is taking this one step further. To make sure all residents have access to technology they’ve introduced “Knowledge Squares” across poor neighbourhoods. Each of these spaces takes the form of a cube and typically consists of: a reception area, a playground, an outdoor movie theatre, a multimedia gallery, a digital library and a space where children can access books and iPads loaded with educational apps. In this manner digital literacy will be increased, ensuring that the proposed technological transformation will not become outdated.