Smart Cities: Where Do We Go from Here?
Building a digital foundation that won't crumble

Smart City Evolution
In the past decade, the "smart city" has moved from concept to varying degrees of reality across the country, as governments have made small and large-scale adjustments to keep pace with the digital world. But how smart are we, really, if our flashy new apps or projects are only surface deep? First-wave solutions built for specific departments, that superficially connect systems, or layer on top of existing software often lack the foundation necessary to sustain growth and fall short on the flexibility needed to handle rapid change.

"Just as a community needs a physical infrastructure to support roads, utilities, and building development, it needs a digital infrastructure to support the essential services that make government operate," Bruce Graham, chief strategy officer of Tyler Technologies, explained. Such an infrastructure provides the foundation that enables the functionality and scalability necessary for sustained smart city growth. Along the continuum of digital progress, this is also what saves us from plateau.

In essence, the smart way to build a lasting smart city begins with solid technology layers and attention to the core back-office systems. Obstacles of political uncertainty, budget constraints, and a changing workforce show no signs of disappearing. Building a strong digital foundation not only moves the needle in addressing these challenges, but literally transforms government for the digital era and readies it for what comes next.

Back-office Connection
Point-to-point data sharing, data aggregation, and process integration — activities necessary to leverage the full power of data for maximum efficiency and insight — are hindered by disparate back-end systems that trap workflows and information in individual silos. Many of those systems have not evolved at pace with new smart technologies, and are not capable of processing, analyzing or integrating new data sources.

The technology modernity and confluence that is necessary to connect back-office systems so that they can work together keeps smart cities moving forward. Integrated software solutions built on similar foundational technologies break down departmental barriers and enable easy access to real-time information across divisions. This not only enhances collaboration, it allows entire cities to benefit from saved resources resulting from new efficiencies.

Thriving Communities
Moving the needle and truly changing government to thrive, not just survive, in the digital era is something that happens purposefully and thoughtfully over time, but starts with four key planning strategies for smart evolution via a strong digital foundation:
  1. Best of breed solutions
    Each department's solution should stand alone to meet all of its back-office needs with exceptional quality. Otherwise, it will be the wink link that adversely affects the entire organization.
  2. Supported integration of technology and tools
    It is not safe to assume that all solutions work out of the box seamlessly with others. Early in procurement, ensure any solutions under consideration accommodate integration technologies and tools, and seek out vendors that offer a hands-on integration support.
  3. Platform approach
    To realize maximum benefits from process integration and data sharing, systems should be part of the same, underlying platform that can grow and adapt to incorporate the entire organization and keep pace with technological advancement.
  4. Dependable vendors
    Preserve your investment by partnering with vendors that have successfully navigated the rough waters of the last two, three, or four waves of technology and have kept up with innovation.

Growth, successes, and efficiencies are not limited to agencies within one government. Indeed, the greatest potential lies in connecting data and processes across jurisdictions. These connections make communities safer, smarter, and more responsive to the needs of residents. In this way, smart cities are connected communities. Connected communities are ones in which city, county, and regional government services are connected within a healthy digital infrastructure. This is made possible when foundational back-office systems seamlessly integrate, while preserving each jurisdiction's autonomy and control in a highly-secure environment.

The speed of digital advancement will not slow down, nor will the challenges facing the public sector abate. Attending to a government's core digital infrastructure will ensure immediate returns on investment as well as the flexibility necessary to grow and adapt, again and again — in governments, and across regions. For a more in-depth look at smart city evolution, download Tyler Technologies' latest white paper, Are We Approaching Smart Cities the Wrong Way?, today.

Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies.