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Digital Divide: Only 4% of Mid-sized Cities Have Fully Digitized Services

April 01, 2020

  • CityGrows, a workflow automation platform for local governments, released its 2020 U.S. Remote Government Preparedness Index to assess how mid-sized cities are transitioning to digital services — and which communities are leading the the trend.
  • The report analyzed how 822 U.S. communities have digitized six key services: 311/constituent service requests; boards and commission applications; dog licensing; business licensing; building permits and special event permits. The research found only eight mid-sized governments (4%) offer online access to all six services: Alexandria, VA; Arvada, CO; Cambridge, MA; Castle Rock, CO; Centennial, CO; Everett, WA; Oak Park, IL and Provo, UT.
  • Market research for this report was conducted from December 2019 through February 2020, before the U.S. saw an outbreak of COVID-19. CityGrows hopes that publicizing this data — especially as local governments issue stay-at-home mandates and move operations online — will give cities clarity on where they stand with current digital services and how they can improve services throughout 2020.

Dive Insight:

CityGrows' focus on mid-sized cities comes from a desire to help governments outside of the largest 150 metro areas adopt digital offerings despite budgetary resources. Such digital services are equally beneficial to smaller communities, but are sometimes less affordable or accessible.

"We think there's great tech options if you have a huge budget system, but if you don't you're pretty limited," Catherine Geanuracos, CEO and co-founder of CityGrows, told Smart Cities Dive. The report aims to show these governments how they can use existing (if limited) resources to improve services, and which peer cities they can turn to for best practices and guidance.

CityGrows selected the six key services outlined in the report due to how common they are in cities; they excluded services that are digitized near-exclusively nationwide (like parking ticket payments) or that are not commonly digitized at all.

The release of this report comes at an interesting time, as local governments nationwide have shut down various department buildings and mandated residents stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Despite moves to temporarily waive bills and fees in some cities, many residents and businesses still need assistance from city officials while on lock-down, which will likely become a growing challenge for cities that have not yet prioritized digital services.

"There's a big divide between if you had those systems in place before [the COVID-19 outbreak] and if you didn't," Geanuracos said. "Over the next few months, as we are transitioning into this different way of working in an indefinite fashion, we feel that the governments that are able to transition those systems quickly are going to be able to have better continuity of service."

She highlighted how towns as small as Lake Barrington, IL (pop. 4,905, per 2017 census data) have benefited from moving services online, saying "they still need to work from home" or move systems remotely just as any other government in this time. She also noted that small- and mid-sized governments are at risk of seeing a significant decline in revenue as the coronavirus outbreak continues in the next few months, and "will need to be as efficient as they possibly can be ... Digital service is one of the ways to do that."

As cities and communities continue to adapt to the "new normal" of remote operations and temporary mandates, they are encouraged to submit updated information on digital services to be included in CityGrows' living report.

Source: Smart Cities Dive

Related Information

Smart Cities United States