In this new digital era, and in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic, today's cities and local governments have a historic opportunity. By revolutionizing how they function, local governments can meet the rapidly changing needs and expectations of their stakeholders – the citizens, businesses, partners, and leaders across the diverse cities and communities they serve.

Critical to local governments' success is their ability to learn from the best practices of customer-oriented companies, while acknowledging that government has a social and economic mandate that covers all its constituents. The accelerated pace of change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led cities and local governments to evolve their understanding of community needs and citizen expectations. By reforming their front, middle and back offices, they will become more responsive and agile. This will allow them to re-focus some of the operations of the enterprise as they refine their citizen-centric approach.

Optimizing services to meet citizens' needs

Similarly, individuals and businesses are evolving as customers, and they have higher expectations of municipal services and their surrounding urban forms. Traditional siloed or departmental perspectives are becoming obsolete in the digital era as today's governments begin to develop a value-chain perspective that lets them view service through the eyes of the customer. Now, when local governments look at redesigning and optimizing services, it's all about putting the citizen at the centre of the digital transformation. It's not about the technology, it's about how to serve citizens better.

Whether by adopting more streamlined processes, digital access or through automation, the result is greater effectiveness and efficiency, which helps with the quality and financial sustainability of service delivery. Ultimately, it's about translating the human experience into a digital footprint and a digital experience that proactively meets citizens' needs.

By applying a connected enterprise strategy to service and support citizen needs and expectations, cities and local governments can take a critical step forward. Transforming municipalities along these lines will help connect citizens with compelling and innovative opportunities, products and services, and will empower employees to deliver a more personalized, citizen-centric experience. It will also help connect ecosystems of partners to jointly deliver on commitments made to citizens, and allow local governments to connect to market dynamics and digital signals. Together, these approaches will enable a more citizen-centric approach that lets local governments deliver more personalized services in a fashion that citizens have come to expect from their other digital service experiences.

Extending digital services to all communities

How can cities and local governments in this country better meet community needs? A key barrier to overcome is the digital divide, and to do so in the most equitable way possible. For local governments, successful mass customization means understanding the individual, who they're servicing, and why.

In cities with diverse populations, for example, governments have an opportunity to reach different demographics in a way that's easy to understand. Recognizing the different languages, levels of education or skillsets found in different communities or neighborhoods helps build trust. Similarly, a local government website that pops up with different languages or information based on geolocation profiles makes it easier for citizens to access services. Using technology and applying a connected enterprise approach could also mean using artificial intelligence to efficiently translate information into different languages.

Another factor to consider is the degree to which services are digitized. It's not truly digitizing if a citizen must download a .pdf and submit a form before they can access government services. Local governments do need to look at their services from end to end and think about how they can be digitally enabled/enhanced, and what data-driven strategies can be applied. But more importantly, digitization means making services easier, more efficient and more accessible for citizens. Providing wider digital access can also help free up resources for local governments, ensuring that they can offer the human interaction needed to meet the needs of those citizens who are less digitally enabled.

Delivering possibility with sustainable solutions

Historically, municipal governments have often turned to service companies to implement and manage new digital solutions. But it's also important to recognize that without competent internal resources to take over and manage systems in the longer term, solutions may have short life spans. To combat this, local governments should consider sustainability. It's important to choose technology solutions that aren't beholden to a single vendor, but that instead are more agile, more dynamic, and that take future evolution into account. Choosing the technology is different from buying bricks and mortar: bricks will be there forever, but technology must change and evolve. Interoperability with other sectors must also be a consideration if true citizen-centricity is to be achieved across jurisdictional boundaries.

The new reality of local government

The future of cities and local governments is clear: digitally enabled, data-driven and community focused is a priority. The world we knew before the pandemic and the world we're living in today are two vastly different things, and the transformation journey that's unfolding now is breaking down traditional government silos. In their place are those greater connections – spanning organizations and communities – that put customers at the very centre of everything that modern local government does.

KPMG International's recent Future of Local Government report, supplemented with research by Forrester Consulting commissioned by KPMG, outlines key perspectives from which cities/local governments can examine their future. From there, they can a forge a path forward into a new reality of services that are personalized and predictive, and that deliver enhanced outcomes with unprecedented customer centricity.

View the global report to learn more about how KPMG is working with local governments to build responsive, agile and customer-centred organizations.

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