Article Features by Jim Lewis

Getting the Most Value From Your City’s Technology Investment

Jim Lewis is city manager of Pismo Beach and can be reached at Bryon Horn, chief information officer for the City of Fresno, and Gaurav Garg, chief information officer for the City of Santa Clara, also contributed to this article; they can be reached at and

Technology plays an important and prominent role in our daily lives. A continual influx of features, functions and services, both online and in personal devices, makes us increasingly connected. The advancement of cell technologies, improved citizen services, text, email, chats, video apps and wearable technologies make it possible to be in touch with others in nearly any location. Technology has become a necessity. In our connected world, it is essential to ensure that technology is not only available but also secure and cost-effective — yet given current expectations for instant access and reliable stability, it can be difficult to find a balance. However, it is vital to do so, because technology can be a strategic tool that helps cities and other agencies provide needed services to their constituents.

Many cities use technology for engaging and relaying important information to constituents as well as offering essential community services that affect their everyday lives. Technology is a backbone for providing services such as well-maintained safe roads, free of trash and debris, and synchronized streetlights that help traffic flow and ultimately improve air quality. It is a key tool in public safety, where lives may depend on ensuring that police and fire can respond to emergencies and other incidents in a timely manner. Technology provides an improved, more personal connection for reaching out to and engaging residents and local businesses. Furthermore, it contributes to providing clean and safe water and many other critically important local services.

Securely Meeting the Community’s Expectations

Technology has become not only a convenience but also a personal necessity for our residents, businesses and community-based organizations. Services such as online permitting, paying utility bills and finding information about transit, water usage, parking services, public safety and more all play a part in the quality of life in our communities. Thus, it is crucial for service providers to ensure that their systems are running efficiently, effectively and securely to support the needs of constituents, who expect the technologies that underpin these services to work well and continuously.

Moreover, today’s cyber landscape includes an increasing number of threats; cities and other public agencies must be careful to ensure proper safeguards are in place to protect systems. Security is an issue that cannot be overlooked, but many organizations do not have the necessary provisions in place — instead, it is often an afterthought.

On average, cities spend 2.5 to 3 percent of their overall budgets on technology; they must ensure that the technology used is cost-effective and provides the proper services. 

Newer Developments

Recent developments in technology are now making our operations “smarter,” bringing us innovations such as the Internet of Things and “smart cities,” concepts centered on using technology to improve service delivery. Smart parking, smart streetlights, mobile applications and gunshot detection are examples of benefits that enhance the quality of life for citizens and visitors. 

In addition, smart cities offer new ways to boost economic development and attract visitors. The same holds true with the Internet of Things, technology that collects data using things such as sensors, connected cars, asset management and other systems that can improve efficiencies and potentially save money. Smart cities typically also employ some type of public engagement mechanism that makes it easier for community members to participate in local government, often by providing feedback, requesting services and sharing information. Residents in smart cities generally can easily access information about city services and events such as road closures or holiday schedules for city services through mobile applications and/or website features.

Many cities have incorporated cloud computing and/or hosted offerings as part of their operations. Cloud computing, when used appropriately, can offer cost savings, ease of access and opportunities to be flexible. However, not all cloud offerings are cost-saving measures, so an organization needs to carefully weigh the costs against the benefits of moving to the cloud and/or keeping their operations in-house. Knowing if the cloud is the right choice for a city or organization depends not only on the features and service offerings but also on costs and considerations such as security, availability and provider reputation. Each city’s circumstances are unique, and one size does not fit all.

Taking the Big Picture Into Account

Technology should be a priority consideration for any organization. Traditionally, it is often considered an operational need, operating behind the scenes; however, technology is an integral part of any organization’s operations and the backbone of many services. Its use can increase efficiencies and potentially generate revenue — thus, it is of utmost importance. Technology should be considered an investment in community and constituent well-being — and a strategic tool, woven into the framework of every city’s planning process.

Hear More About This Topic at the Annual Conference

Interested in learning more? Don’t miss the session “Getting the Most Value From Your City’s Technology Investment” presented by the Municipal Information Systems Association of California at the League of California Cities 2018 Annual Conference & Expo, 1:00–2:15 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 13. For location details, see the conference brochure or app.