What do Cape Town, Grand Rapids and Newham all have in common?
By David Turcotte, Global Industry Director, Public Sector, Microsoft on August 5, 2016
Filed under Microsoft in Government
Everyone has seen the impact of smartphones over the past decade. I know that I have –I wasn’t sure that I needed one when they first arrived on the scene, and now I see kids who have owned smartphones since they were in grade school. When you consider the significance of mobile usage in the US—68% of the population owns a smartphone and smartphone owners strongly prefer mobile apps over web apps —the message is clear: mobile communication offers huge potential for reaching a broad swath of the population.
This message resonates with all kinds of service providers, including local government agencies, who are already taking advantage of mobile technology to better connect with citizens. Instead of relying solely on traditional methods of communication (“snail mail”, one-way broadcasts, pamphlets, etc.), these agencies are moving to interactive websites and mobile apps. This mobile-first approach will allow for faster, more productive interaction within your agency, between other agencies and the constituents you serve.
Let’s look at a couple examples of how forward-thinking cities are making it easier for citizens to manage their day-to-day activities.
Transport for Cape Town – Easing traffic congestion by empowering citizens
The city of Cape Town, South Africa is the 105th-largest urban area in the world , but has the 47th-worst traffic . In order to combat this pressing issue, Cape Town’s transit authority, Transport for Cape Town, created a new mobile app to help commuters on both public and private transport plan their commutes. Launched on October 20, 2014, it was the first multi-modal app in Africa.
The app aggregates data from six different transport operators and gives commuters a variety of suggested routes for any trip. The app includes unique portals for public or private transportation, offering greater ease-of-use for commuters.
Transport for Cape Town hopes to increase public transport ridership, reduce congestion, and improve the environment by reducing vehicular traffic on its roads. Information from the app will also be used to help plan future transit services and infrastructure improvements.
Newham Borough – Cleaning up the city, one request at a time
The London Borough of Newham, population ~250,000, follows tight fiscal policies put in place by the U.K. government. To meet the restrictions, while still delivering the services their citizens expect, Newham is looking for ways to leverage digital solutions, such as moving services online. If Newham could shift more people toward reporting problems and managing transactions digitally, they would save a tremendous amount of money each year.
Shane Mills, the Customer Access ICT Programme Manager for Newham, says, “The cost to the council of managing a citizen service transaction is estimated at around £16 to £18 if a person comes to council offices. Over the telephone it’s around £4.60, but over the web or on email it drops to around £0.60.”
In order to realize these savings, Newham implemented a digital solution, including a mobile app, that enabled citizens to conduct business from anywhere. The most visible effect in their cities has been the quick reporting of illegal dumping (or “fly-tipping”, in British parlance). The city is able to quickly respond and clean up areas while also receiving information about the culprits.
In addition to the benefits seen in Newham, the system has also been extended to the neighboring boroughs of Havering and Waltham Forest for increased efficiency and savings.
GRCity311 – Giving Grand Rapids residents an easy way to report problems in their neighborhoods
Who should you call when you notice a street sign is damaged or when you notice graffiti at the local park? Even for this kind of simple issue, it’s often hard to know who to notify, or how to notify them.
The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan previously used a switchboard at city hall to route calls to appropriate departments, each of whom had their own customer service process and billing system. This meant that residents would often have to give the same information multiple times, especially if they were working with multiple departments. In 2015, Grand Rapids replaced each individual system with a single comprehensive solution that they called “One Call to City Hall”.
As part of their new “One Call to City Hall” system, Grand Rapids released an integrated app that enables citizens to quickly and easily report a variety of issues in their community. GRCity311 lets residents report issues such as graffiti, pothole, or streetlight problems in just minutes, and then track those requests as they are fulfilled.
Integrated mobile apps make a difference in citizens’ daily lives around the world
These three cities may be on opposite sides of the globe, but their governments had the same goal: make their citizens’ day-to-day lives easier. Cape Town saw that traffic congestion was negatively impacting all of their citizens and set out to find a solution. The Newham council needed to serve the growing needs of their citizens while meeting strict fiscal restraints. Local government agencies in Grand Rapids wanted to deliver more responsive services that give their citizens better experiences. They all took the opportunity to improve their citizens’ daily lives while saving both time and money, all by leveraging technology to replace inefficient systems and processes.
I see opportunities for technology to make a difference in my hometown too—not only when I’m sabotaged by a pothole on my daily commute, but also in community-building ways, like sending mobile notifications of local events and opportunities. Next time I hit a pothole, I look forward to saying “There’s an app for that!”