The future is closer than you think

At a rapid pace unlike any experienced before, technology is having a significant impact on how cities conduct business, deliver services and engage with residents.

During the 2015 Annual Meeting, Frank Hagy, an expert on technology and its use by local governments, will conduct a session looking at emerging technologies and their impact on local governments.

Hagy, retired director of technology services for the Florida League of Cities, spearheaded the League’s effort to look 10-15 years into the future to determine what technologies and technology trends would impact cities.

Hagy’s presentation at the Annual Meeting will cover several of the 17 technologies identified by the League. He will discuss their potential uses in cities, how these technologies will affect cities and how cities can plan for their use.

With the increased availability of modern technology devices and the expectation that high-speed Internet is ubiquitous, a city and its constituents must have access to a high-speed network. With proper infrastructure for high-speed connectivity, cities will be able to offer enhanced and additional services to residents, businesses and visitors. A robust broadband infrastructure will provide immediate access to systems and data and allow for all individuals in a city to thrive in ways never before possible.

Through robust broadband connectivity, the future of citizen engagement will be transformed.

As of January 2014:
90% of Americans adults have a cell phone
58% of Americans adults have a smartphone
32% of American adults own an e-reader
42% of American adults own a tablet computer

People will be able to vote with a smartphone, increasing voter turnout and decreasing the chance of voter fraud. Candidates will be able to provide information to voters more efficiently, and voter turnout will be at an all-time high. Meetings will become more involved, with residents being able to provide input for the discussion remotely and securely. Through such initiatives that are enabled by broadband, residents’ trust in their local government will increase simply by allowing more opportunities for engagement.

A high-speed, broadband infrastructure will also have an effect on quality of life and even safety. Such connectivity will enable emergency responders to monitor high-crime areas via remote surveillance. Building plans will be available via the cloud for law enforcement, firefighters or emergency personnel when responding to an evacuation or other emergency.

In 1992, there were 1 million PCs connected to the Internet. In the United States, there are currently 500 million devices connected to the Internet, or 5.7 per household.

Broadband access will also be critical to attracting and maintaining businesses. High-speed Internet will allow business owners the ability to communicate quickly with both government and their customers. The efficiencies that are available from a high-speed network will allow business owners to be open for business quicker than before.

Further, as more businesses start relying on the cloud for services, the need for improved access and a higher speed of connectivity is paramount. The high-speed connectivity will be critical to a business’ survival and will be a major factor in whether it will choose to do business within a city.

Finally, the presence of high-speed Internet throughout the city will provide efficiencies that will allow the city to provide a greater level of service, which will in turn save time and money. Code enforcement officers can see who has paid fines and what the status is for pending violations. Transportation departments can remotely monitor traffic conditions and be able to change information on signs, as well as manage the flow of traffic through signaling. Cities will be able to improve the delivery of municipal services with remote monitoring of meters that will be able to detect unusual usage and send an alert to the owner and city staff.

Cities can play an instrumental role in fostering this advancement and use it to the benefit of their residents, visitors and staff. Cities will need to work with private industry, through a public-private partnership, or find the resources to develop this infrastructure to help build a high-speed network, particularly in public areas such as downtown districts and parks.

The bottom line is that in order to have a thriving community, high-speed Internet will be required.

Energy production and clean, sustainable usage are huge topics of discussion and will continue to provide city leaders with questions and concerns in the decades to come.
A limited number of cities have an energy utility. Those that don’t will never face the issues and challenges of providing power to thousands of people. However, they still need to embrace technology and deal with the challenges of energy consumption and the potential savings that are available to local governments through green energy and sustainability.

With more technology being utilized within cities, energy consumption by residents and businesses will grow exponentially. To plan for the future, many city leaders are working with their energy providers to understand what technologies are available and to review their energy consumption to find potential savings. Cost savings will always be a top priority, and decisions made today can have a long-term effect on a city’s overall strategic outlook, especially regarding energy.

In addition to cost savings, as clean energy becomes even more important to residents, cities will continue to investigate energy conservation and ways to reduce their carbon footprint, such as buying hybrid/electric/natural gas vehicles, implementing solar, replacing lighting with LED technology, and installing electric car-charging stations.

Residents and businesses are also looking for ways to improve their power consumption to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. In the future, more businesses and homes will be built with solar technologies and older buildings will be retrofitted. Now is the time for cities to plan for these changes. Building codes should be reviewed and updated to allow for the implementation of newer technologies.

Planning for a cleaner, more sustainable future is critical. The future of energy should be a citywide vision that doesn’t just focus on the latest technologies or is entirely about cost savings but is one that makes the city a better place to live.

Data confidentiality
Other than its work force, the most important asset that a local government has is its data. Keeping data safe from hackers is paramount. It is and will continue to be a hard-fought battle as attacks become more frequent and sophisticated.

Even with heavy emphasis on security, breaches in government agencies have been steadily increasing since 2009.
The Identity Theft Resources Center reported 473 breaches in 2012, with the number increasing to 614 in 2013. Fifty-six of these breaches were government related. 

Protecting data goes beyond keeping the data in a secure database. It includes building systems, policies and procedures, along with managing application platforms, to comply with (and even supersede) established regulatory, ethical and legal standards. Additionally, data confidentiality must be a citywide effort that transcends all levels of government.

How can cities prepare and keep needed data confidential and secure as more and more data is created every day?

Data confidentiality is much more than preventing the release of sensitive data to the public. It is also ensuring that data is not being changed in a malicious or unintentional manner, such as an unauthorized user changing budget data and the city unknowingly releasing the incorrect information on its website. Another example might be releasing documents that do not have the correct information redacted (such as the name of a minor in a criminal case file). City officials must prevent confidential information from being made public or altered in order to maintain the public’s trust.

Technology infrastructure must be secure at all levels—network level, desktop level and the “bring your own device” level.

The responsibility to ensure that data is secure is not limited to staff within the technology department. It must be a collaborative effort that includes all staff, including appointed and elected officials.

Training is essential. Staff and elected officials need to be well trained in all aspects of data security and must understand what types of data have to remain confidential. Many incorrectly believe all data a local government collects is subject to open records requests. However, certain information is protected by law and should not be released to the general public or the city may face liability and legal issues.

As data continue to grow exponentially and as attacks become more frequent, local governments must keep their data secure and confidential. Cities must have policies and procedures in place to ensure data is protected now and in the future.

Technologies that will have a significant impact on cities 
  1. Cloud computing

  2. Broadband

  3. Mobility
  4. Social networking
  5. Citizen engagement
  6. Big data
  7. Advanced communications
  8. Wearable computing
  9. Driverless cars
  10. Drones
  11. 3D printing
  12. Healthcare
  13. Energy
  14. Robotics/artificial intelligence
  15. Cybersecurity
  16. Data confidentiality
  17. Smart cities
Source: The Future is Closer Than You Think: Cities Take on Technology

Information reprinted in part from The Future is Closer Than You Think: Cities Take on Technology, published by the Florida League of Cities.