Building a Smarter City

5 Minute Read

Building a Smarter City

App Dev Challenges for Municipalities

Running a city is tough work.  I have been surprised as I learn more about our municipal partners at just how much goes on to make it all work.  Generally if it is done well, the citizens notice nothing – only when things go wrong does it gain attention.  

Because of the volume and complexity of work that any municipality handles every day, there is a tremendous need for technology to help manage, monitor, and measure these vast operations.  But almost every municipality is far behind the needed adoption curve when it comes to technology and I have some initial thoughts as to why.


1. Organizational Inertia – Like most medium to large businesses, it is hard to drive change when the initial decision requires so many layers of buy-in and approval and when deployment affects so many people in their daily work.  

2. Lack of Champions – Technology strategy takes time and always some amount of risk.  With elected officials coming and going in an environment that often draws more attention to failure than success, it is hard to find someone that wants to get behind a new technology endeavor that will require time, attention, and risk.

3. Lowest Common Denominator – When an organization is REQUIRED to service an end user group, which is the case with a municipality and its citizens, then it becomes difficult to build a strategy that still meets everyone’s needs.  I call this the “Lowest Common Denominator” issue.

A city might roll out a great new app to apply for permits, but not every citizen may have access to a computer or even the savvy to figure that out, so it would not be fair to force such a change.  For this reason, most cities still heavily rely on paper, it is considered the basic method for which most people will have access and capability.

4. Budget – Municipalities are complex and generally larger organizations.  Software to manage complexity at scale almost always comes with a significant price tag.  Software exists that has been built from the ground up for municipal management, but it is always expensive and generally inflexible to the varying needs of different organizations and processes.


This is not an exhaustive list, but it does represent some of the biggest hurdles we encounter with our partners.  Thankfully, there are emerging options and approaches that address every single one of these challenges.  Technology can have an enormous impact on the quality and efficiency of operations and services for a municipality.

Even more compelling is that a city can project a strong brand of innovation and growth to its citizen and employee user base by creating simple, but elegant, tools to its end users.  Then there is that moment of amazement when visual analytics can be used to truly measure things like productivity, citizen satisfaction, tax dollar ROI, and benchmarking against goals or national averages to point out where a city is shining and where it needs work.  I know it sounds too good to be true, but I have seen it happen.  We live in exciting times, it just takes a bit of vision.


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