By Paul Colangelo, CEO of Avenu
If local governments have learned anything from 2020, it's the importance of digital tools, platforms and services. Amid the unprecedented economic and social disruption incurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, digital governments proved crisis-resistant and efficient enough to thrive.
However, if the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of government, that transformation is still far from over. In fact, it's bound to pick up pace as both constituents and government employees become adjusted to ever-increasing digitalization. As we enter Covid-19's second year and prepare for the future, local governments must continue their efforts at digital transformation.
That means local governments need to stay on top of the latest developments in IT, cybersecurity and digitalization. With that in mind, I want to highlight some of the biggest digital trends to watch for in 2021 and beyond.
1. 5G Transforming Government IT Infrastructure
2021 just might be the year we start to see 5G go mainstream. 5G rollout picked up steamthroughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and it's only going to continue growing from here.
After a long period of development, preparation and hype, 5G is poised to fundamentally transform the way digital businesses and governments operate.
It wouldn't be an understatement to describe 5G as a revolution in network technology. 5G could be 100 times faster than its predecessor technology. The current generation of 4G LTE technology supports wireless download speeds of between five and 12 megabits per second. By contrast, 5G can offer download speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. With speeds that fast, 5G makes it possible to download a high-definition movie in the same amount of time it takes you today to receive a text message.
For governments, that can mean quick and easy sharing of rich datasets and information. 5G could potentially empower state and local agencies to share data wirelessly in a way that surpasses wired connections in speed and reliability. Every network device, from an employee mobile phone to a government database, could transmit massive amounts of information seamlessly and in real time. That could mean a faster, more efficient and more effective government.
2. Cybersecurity Becoming More Important Than Ever
I've long advocated for the critical role of cybersecurity in our digital environment. However, after the explosive surge in cybercrime during the pandemic, it would be impossible for anyone to deny the vital and growing importance of cybersecurity.
In many ways, 2020 was like a collective stress test of our country's IT infrastructure. For the first time ever, the vast majority of businesses, organizations and governments had to rapidly retool for remote work, online service offerings and digital data storage. We passed that test — but only barely. We now face the daunting task of ensuring that our overnight shift to digital is safe, secure and reliable against hackers, malware and other cyber threats.
Local governments, in particular, face an uphill battle. Governments have long been the target of ransomware attacks, nation-state actor cybercriminals and more. With many governments still struggling to balance their budget after Covid-19, cybersecurity investments have been haphazard and incomplete in the public sector.
The message for 2021 and beyond is simple — either we enhance our cybersecurity now, or we'll expose untold amounts of citizen and government data to the prying eyes of cybercriminals. In 2021, cybersecurity is more than a trend; it has become an imperative.
3. Automated Systems Finding Increasing Adoption
One area of fast-growing technology is automation. Automation has been on the radar of most local governments for a long time already, but 2020 pushed automation to the forefront as governments struggled to handle sharp budget deficits and workplace disruptions.
From my experience, local governments across the country have found that automation could provide a much-needed boost in efficiency and even unlock hidden revenue. That's because automation can transform costly, time-consuming and error-prone manual labor tasks like data entry and paper filing into quick and efficient automatic processes. Automating can free up employee labor hours for more important tasks while simultaneously enhancing a local government's ability to respond rapidly and intelligently to changing circumstances, constituent requests and incoming revenue.
Because of its effect on workflow and revenue, the Covid-19 pandemic has built up momentumbehind increasing automation. As governments experience the benefit of automating key operations, they're unlikely to ever return to the "old normal." As automation technology grows in both efficacy and ease of use, I believe we're only going to see more automation on the horizon, not less.
These three trends are by no means a comprehensive list, but they do capture some of the fastest-growing and most transformative technology developments that local governments can tap into today. If local governments prepare for a future defined by 5G, stricter cybersecurity and increasing automation, they should be ready for whatever 2021 holds in store for them.