Report: Local governments turning to digital transformation to combat climate change

June 22, 2023

*****Source-, Andy Castillo, First Published 04, May, 2023

The push toward digital transformation in local government is synonymous with the rising needs brought on by climate change. Beyond convenience, streamlining efficiencies through automation and artificial intelligence is a step element that, increasingly, administrators and public officials are ensuring their organizations take.

A national survey of 100 state and local government leaders by the Center for Digital Government shows that most agencies have already digitized their systems to improve safety, efficiency, and resilience within their physical operations—and more investments are planned. More than half of respondents said they intended “to further upgrade operational technologies in the next three years,” according to the report, “Government Agencies are Transforming Physical Operations to Gain Efficiency and Resilience,” which was published in collaboration with the tech company Samsara.

“AI and automation are top of mind: Nearly half (49%) are currently implementing or planning to implement by 2025. These technology investments will drive workforce enablement and productivity: As the demands of the workforce evolve, respondents cite a need to invest in communication and collaboration tools (52%), mobile devices or apps to support remote work (48%), and expanded access to data and analytics (43%),” reads a brief from Samsara about the findings.

Broadly, the increase in technology adoption correlates to rising extreme weather events and the emerging climate crisis. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed noted their organization has some sort of sustainability goal, and 67% said digitization will play a key role in meeting it. The report notes that connected infrastructure and systems are more resilient during a natural disaster, and when supply chains are disrupted. And as communities try to better understand what the future will look like, data is playing a more important role than ever in just about every aspect of local government—the only way to collect this information is through technology.

About half of respondents cited climate change as a primary reason for technological investment, which includes electric fleets and the elimination of paper waste via digitized records systems.

Constituent concerns about energy efficiency and a desire to decrease their community’s environmental impact is also pushing tech adoption forward (cited by 39% of respondents), along with expectations for improved reliability (66%) and the ability to provide real-time updates (55%).

“As these demands on government services have increased, there is a clear need to increase efficiency: 72% say operational efficiency is the top driver to modernize their operations, while 50% say cost savings and financial health is a top driver,” reads the brief.

The top goals respondents hoped to achieve through digitization included operational efficiency (72%), cost savings (50%), resilience and continuity of operations (41%), increased public trust (23%), and improved safety (21%), among other things.

But amid this push, there are hurdles that administrators often encounter when working to change legacy systems, chief among them insufficient funding (59%). On top of that, the informational technology sector is facing a crisis of talent and a general labor shortage. Without the ability to compete with the more lucrative salaries offered in the private sector, public organizations struggle with staffing (56%), especially as they try to expand services. Outdated technologies was the third hurdle cited in the report (30%).

Across the nation, governments are rising to meet these challenges.

“(The Center for Digital Government) estimates total state and local government IT spending will grow between 3% and 5% for 2023—totaling more than $137 billion—and continue to increase over the next five years,” the report says. “In addition, funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is just beginning to flow to states and localities. These dollars can support infrastructure and technology modernization in transportation/transit, utilities and other operational areas.”

While the labor shortage won’t be solved overnight, administrators are hoping technology can aid in that regard, too—even in the IT sector.

“Adopting collaboration platforms and mobile technologies to support more flexible and efficient work environments are top priorities,” the report continues. “Many respondents also want to use automation to reduce staff workloads and implement new tools to support employee education and upskilling.”

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