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Intelligent Communities Global Blog Series, The Future of Our Smart Communities: Services

One of the great challenges every municipality faces is how to deliver higher quality services to its citizens and businesses while their budgets consistently seem to shrink. Several of Canada’s leading communities are taking a pro-active role and are experimenting with shared services (an outsourcing or regional consolidation model); and almost all of them are looking at the Internet to be a low-cost channel for services delivery. Both these and other strategies are all the right steps towards a smarter and connected reality. Municipal leaders, however, recognized that one can’t quite eliminate the much needed face to face interactions with its constituents while delivering high-touch services–both from a quality and a security perspective.

Surely, the transformation of governmental services can’t be a burden that should solely rest on the shoulders of the municipality, although it is understood that they are the closest connected to the real needs and concerns of citizens and businesses in Canada. But what about the Federal services for which I have to go to Service Canada (I truthfully sat in their waiting room this week for 90 minutes so I could submit paperwork for a passport renewal)? Or Provincial services for which I need to go to Service Ontario? Passports, driver licenses, health cards, marriage certificates…does anyone still know for what to go where? Add to this Canada Post with its 6,500 services outlets. Or the municipal library systems (where there is more than books). And community centers all around the country for outreach and engagement.

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Now, consider this: technology trends have shown that the use of video is a foundational driver for the next wave of the Internet evolution. By 2014, all consumer Internet traffic is consumed by video. Businesses are following suit and increasingly embrace HD video conferencing to mimic high quality person-to-person interaction at a fraction of the cost for traveling and with the benefit of heightened safety and security. For instance, Ontario is already a heavy user of TelePresence for processing its remand prisoners without the need to transport them from prison cell to courthouse and back.

If the justice system is comfortable using video to optimize its processes and significantly reduce operating and safety cost, and we as consumers are downloading, streaming, and uploading 100s of hours of video by the minute (Youtube, Netflix, Jabber (like Skype but better), uStream, etc); then why wouldn’t all levels of government look for video to allow them to deliver virtual “in-person” services in a distributed manner (reaching remote and rural areas of Canada), with the highest security and safety standards (physical and cyber), at the lowest possible cost?

The Cisco “Remote Expert for Government Services” solution combines high quality video (TelePresence) with peripherals like document scanners, printers, and tablets and a safe and personal kiosk environment that would allow all levels of government to deliver distributed services to all its Citizens. Rather than operating dedicated buildings and dated waiting rooms, governments can now deliver quality interaction to its Citizens via centralized and hosted video call-centers. The solution replicates a live and in-person experience, but allows the government to be in so many more places at the same time – going there where the citizens are.

The capabilities and benefits of this Remote Expert for Government Services kiosk will be obvious and the underlying technology is readily available. There is nothing bleeding edge about this transformational services solution–but the need for the government to rethink how it best interacts with its constituents. Behind the scenes, plenty of processes will need to be changed in order to be ready for leading edge citizen engagement and next generation services delivery in a smart and connected world. “Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go” (Spencer Johnson), and the pain is becoming unbearable (cost increase, 21st Century expectations, heightened service levels). “Change is hard work” (Billy Crystal). “The Future depends on what you do today” (Mahatma Ghandi). It’s time to spring into action and led the world of technology, productivity, and innovation (spearheaded by information technology) lead the way.

Stay tuned to view upcoming installations of our Intelligent Communities Global Blog Series.  Click here to learn more about what others are doing to make their communities more intelligent.

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