During much of the 1980’s and 1990’s Canada’s manufacturing sector was hammered by competition from cheap labour markets in the United States, and even cheaper labour around the North Pacific Rim.
Japan’s industrial force decimated small manufacturing in Canada, as well as our major partner to the south. It happened so fast that thousands of companies across the country closed their doors when the stark realization came that someone else was building it cheaper, and just as well, and had torn off a significant part of the market for their own.
Luckily, IBM and Bill Gates invented the personal computer at the exact same time (they didn’t really but you know what I mean). A brand new industry emerged that changed everything; the personal computer revolution exploded on to the scene, bringing with it new inventions and abilities that have gone on to reshape every other industry previously in existence, including government.
The companies who survived the ‘Asian Invasion’ used those new tools and empowered themselves by digitizing paperwork and automating engineering processes, along with embracing efficiency in every department, increased cost-effectiveness in goods and services, improved marketing approaches, and inherently improved cash flow management even with ever-diminishing profit margins.
Survival became the new game that came into play around many boardrooms and kitchen tables, as more and more companies also moved their manufacturing off-shore for the simple reason it was cheaper per unit. As more and more Canadians were sent home to collect unemployment insurance, many never were viably employable, again. What survived was a generation of workers with no hope of ever working like that again, in contrast to the more efficient and productive organizations across the country that set the new standard for manufacturing excellence.
Government as a corporation, however, never had to worry about it’s market share being destroyed.
These days, more then ever, government instead has to worry about destroying it’s market.
With the ever-increasing financial demands placed on taxpayers by the various levels of government, the need to maximize the effectiveness of our publicly-owned organizations has never been greater.
If the global economic collapse of the early 21st century has proven anything it has proven that municipalities, cities, and countries can go bankrupt, and have.
Government, first and foremost, exists to serve society. For the most part it does this with little incident, but all can agree that improvement in delivering these services is possible, and plausible, with not only our current needs in mind, but our needs of the future both near and far. One law of the technology industry is that there is always a better way to do things. It’s arrogant and pessimistic to think there can’t be better ways to get work done, in any department of any industry.
Government can be made to do more, while requiring less to do it. When it comes to the cost of government services, taxpayers aren’t ‘drinking the Kool-Aid‘ like they used to. Society demands more efficiency, more effectiveness, and more productivity from their tax dollars then ever before. And so they should, but there’s only so many ways to do, that.
City hall could fire all the workers that take care of the gardens around your town, but then who takes care of that? Who isn’t needed? Who can be sacrificed? What are you going to when it takes labour to perform services that can’t be performed any other way? Well, you can’t do anything; you can only mow a lawn, or change a burned out street lamp, or carve up a road and put in a new sewer pipe so many ways. Some things can’t be made cheaper but many others, can. Many other services can be optimized to provide better results, cheaper.
The services that revolve around information are going to be the areas that government that will see the most improvement in the future. Look at the number of paper forms used by your city hall, or any company. Every paper form used in any organization screams ‘money pit,’ now in the New Information Age. Top priority for any company wishing to cut ‘white-collar’ costs is to create digital versions of everything written on paper, especially departments consuming the most resources already, and create new computer software to manage it all. Take a look at your existing procedures and create new systems that can be optimized to reduce clerical error and labour requirements for both you and your clients.
City Hall can, for example, automate the bulk of building permit processing with ‘smart’ software, which provides self-serve tools for residents, services that can drastically reduce or eliminate staffing requirements in the submission, review, and permit stages of an application.
Government was afforded a degree of inefficiency when paper and pen ruled our means to communicate, collaborate, and civilize ourselves. This limitation still affects the way we implement our traditions and laws to this day; limitations continually being brought to light when the need to communicate thoughts and ideas is constrained by the methods available, and the resultant breakdown in government service ensues. If it takes a week before your town’s public works department finds out about a leak in a broken water main, the little old lady who’s basement has been filling up for 7 days doesn’t care why, she just knows she’s a victim of circumstance. Being a victim of circumstance happens to too many people, too many times. This can be quantified in modern business operations and most certainly in today’s modern governance systems.
Your local city hall is unique within our multiple tiers of government because it is the level of government that effects the everyday lives of all, regardless of economics, religion, or other demographics that define society. It is also the level of government that is designed to be free of political bias, which can provide a balanced power base for the equally valid opinions and needs of all.
In the future, the most effective improvements we can make we as individuals will be made at this ‘grass roots’ level of government. People need to access the services of our town in the most effective, efficient, and cheapest means possible.
The days of taxpayers resigning themselves to protests in the streets needs to never happen, again; the days of listening to those in our community, and making the system work for them, is at hand. People have been given the means to voice their opinions but it has always lacked the ability to provide a true ‘voice’ of the people. We need to provide our community a better the means to collaborate amongst civic authorities and ourselves, in order to solve the day-to-day issues that make up municipal government. We now have the ability to make every opinion count.
New innovations in technology can grant the citizenry with the ability to organize, officiate, and present to council members organized proposals complete with statistical data and media accessible in an effective and progressive means, in order to maximize the effectiveness of our elected officials’ efforts to serve.
With this in mind, I propose that technologists within government consider the construction of next-generation information system; customer-feedback systems made to provide our key elected officials and employees of the corporation with the will of the constituents, in quantifiable methods, and in a structure that will exploit modern technology in a greater manner for which it was designed.
I think the paperless office can now exist, I think many services from my town’s city hall can be automated, but the focus of these projects is not to be on the accounting end but on the services the clients need. I can see how human laws can be put into a computer program, like engineering rules are done for manufacturing, and used intelligently to help constituents manage their own work load with the city’s existing services.
We can’t move our town to another country, nor can we afford to let it continue to drain financial resources from it’s revenue base in the manner in which it has. Full-scale implementation of technology may very well be society’s last option to get it right.
In my neck of the woods the City of Waterloo is renowned for teaching the minds that are creating the wonderful new technology all around us, and Kitchener is the place they’re building it. It is time for the City of Cambridge to take it’s rightful place in this group as the implementer of technology’s true reason for being; the betterment of all.
The System needs an upgrade.