The New City

Municipal Business in the Age of Technology

Traditionally, the linkage between the public and private spheres was limited to business lobbies of the government and coordination between both spheres to ensure that policy decisions made in the public sphere contribute to the creation of a favourable business climate, sharing the benefits of economic growth in return.

Municipalities continue to grow in line with an increasingly globalized market society which has increased the demand for services and resources. The United Nations anticipates that the number of urban residents will double by 2050, which will require the form and function of the municipality to evolve to ensure its administrative and provisionary capacities satisfy the larger service area and all of its members’ diverse needs.

Municipalities, administrative boards with corporate status, have legal rights and responsibilities. Municipalities hold a fiduciary responsibility and serve an organizational management role. They no longer simply play a role in creating a business friendly environment; they rely on satisfactory market conditions to be able to sustain the growth that the community is experiencing.

The reality is that municipalities have a tough task maintaining a local economy at a time when many are operating on the edge of a fiscal cliff. Some have suffered negative growth which has further diminished their capacity to meet growing needs and demands, at a time when provincial / state and federal support payments are decreasing.

Municipal financial crises are increasingly becoming a reality. When a municipality operates like a business, there is a certain degree of risk associated. Just as in business, municipalities have a focus on cost-cutting measures and those who have been unable to service debts have been forced to declare bankruptcy. In the United States, forty cities have filed for bankruptcy and more are on the verge.

To sustain growth, municipalities will need to increase staff to satisfy public expectations and ensure a standard level of quality and efficiency, while operating within a pre-approved budget and ensuring transparency and accountability. To meet the increased demand on human resources and training, as well as organizational capacity, municipalities have come to rely on information technology. Computers and other technologies increase overall efficiency to create a well-marketed unique local brand and a competitive local economy which complements national and international growth.

Technology has allowed municipalities to revolutionize the way in which information is stored, produced, communicated and disseminated. Technology allows for the maintenance of, and access to, up to date information and data, increased organizational management and the ability to provide these functions with a lower incidence of errors.

Some municipalities have partnered with iCompass Technologies, which provide solutions that increase transparency and save time and money. The cloud based solutions are not based on a municipality’s size or geographic location; iCompass simply provides management solutions for municipalities, organizations and institutions that restructure and streamline the meeting process and help to create a stronger online presence. By updating old technological systems and software, and by investing in new technology and the necessary training required to adopt these new methods, municipal needs will be better served, making municipal systems relevant and user-friendly to more effectively engage the public.

Technology, as well as outsourcing, can be employed – without sacrificing administrative capacity, manageability or good governance – by engaging and involving multiple stakeholders simultaneously, as well as training and coordinating staff and resources more effectively. Some examples of municipal outsourcing include waste management functions, as well as police services. This can reduce budgetary constraints, and allow adaptation to meet changing needs. Municipalities must remember not to adopt too much technology too quickly, but cannot progress so slowly as to miss the rapid waves of technological advancement experienced in the market today.

One of the biggest ways in which municipalities outsource is through the acquisition of new technologies and systems. Procuring technology creates a new interaction between the public and private sectors since technology is developed, for the most part, in the private sector and employed by the public sphere to benefit efficiency and effectiveness. Adopting new technologies and keeping systems up to date is a costly endeavour, often leading to lease agreements or purchasing agreements that are established between interested parties and the company of choice. Given these costs, and the need to consider the implications of such an investment in the long term, technology must be made a strategic priority and an important budget line item.

The benefits to be enjoyed by municipalities when technology is adopted and integrated successfully are endless. This will only be accomplished when decisions are made with a keen business sense, making incremental changes and providing the necessary training and reorganization when required.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a large global technical and professional organization that is dedicated to the advancement of technology for the benefit of all people worldwide. Given the increasing pressures on municipalities to address demands for land, resources and services, it has been working with municipalities to apply for consideration to receive advice, education and training opportunities.

IEEE has a vision to create smart cities that plan and prepare for issues related to water, energy, transportation, communications, public health, and safety, to name a few. By creating a team of public, private and volunteer stakeholders, the IEEE intends to engage in the strategic planning process to develop a practical business plan to achieve these ends.

Although there are many corollary characteristics between businesses and municipalities, success, in the case of the municipality, means more than the accrual of wealth for its shareholders. Its citizens’ livelihoods depend on the municipality’s ability to maintain services and a strong economy. To this end, groups like the Municipal World Charter Program are a means to help municipalities achieve goals for success. It operates according to the notion that municipal officials are held to a standard of effectiveness and that they have a duty to be well informed on issues of government organization, management, legislation and technology.

The new municipal model requires a fiscally responsible government, dedicated to creating a strong local presence within an increasingly globalized world. Municipalities are open for business and those who will enjoy the most success will have state of the art systems, technology and marketability, paired with an educated, well trained workforce to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and adaptability.

November 17, 2019, 9:15 PM EST