Three best practices from CIOs for tackling the coronavirus crisis & it’s impact

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Written by Assaf Frances, Zencity, Director of Urban Policy and Partnerships

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on local government work over the past year. Although most government CIOs had contingency plans in place pre-corona to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of operations in their district, the unprecedented, rapid evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak and the new technological challenges that came with it left many CIOs in unchartered territory, continuously  adapting to these tumultuous times. With no previous “coronavirus guide book” available for reference, many leaders had to adjust on the fly. One thing that became abundantly clear over the past year is that leaders that had accurate data to drive their decisions and actions were often able to adapt more quickly and confidently, despite these uncertain times.

At Zencity we are privileged to work with thousands of local leaders championing their communities through the pandemic. As we enter into our second year where the virus is just as prevalent despite the hope that vaccination brings, some of the CIOs we work with, like Mike Pegues of Aurora, IL, offered to share their knowledge and lessons learned in the hopes of helping other local government leaders continue to navigate this “new normal”. 

Here are 3 core challenges CIOs have faced as a result of the pandemic, and tips from Mike and from the field on how to tackle them:


Effectively communicating with residents

With more residents taking to the internet to voice their thoughts and concerns on all things related to COVID-19, understanding residents’ key pain points through online discourse allows local governments to effectively plan, strategize and anticipate needs, as well as allocate resources to communicate priorities internally and externally. In situations where time is of the essence, the ability to methodically communicate with one’s residents is a must

  • Use data to streamline communication between internal teams and departments, and take part in conversations with external sources. This can help fortify your town’s response methods and plan of action. 
  • As vaccines have begun to roll out to different populations, misinformation and skepticism have proven to be significant challenges to successful vaccine operations. Understanding where false information is being spread and conversations are taking place is the first step in stopping misinformation in its tracks. Using a tool with the ability to collect public discourse across official and unofficial channels, can help governments quickly identify sources of misinformation in real time. 


Rapid digital transformation with limited resources 

One of the biggest obstacles that CIOs and local governments have faced over the past year is the lack of IT and general resources readily available, coupled with a demand for rapid digital transformation and an almost instant need to move to the virtual space. In times of calm, it is extremely important to perform due diligence as a means of developing a more efficient supply chain and delegation system for when the next unforeseen crisis occurs. With many local authorities facing limited resources and a deteriorating economy, it has proven crucial to find a solution fast.   

  • According to the Public Technology Institute, at the start of the virus only 50% of local government tech officials said their organisations were ready to distribute laptops and mobile devices to employees who were ordered or decided to work from home during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. And hardware hasn’t been the only thing in short supply for local governments. Software, effective infrastructure, internet support, VPNs, etc., are all in high demand, with the majority of governments ill prepared, struggling to pick up the pieces.
  • Finding the right means of acquisition and distribution is vital. Now with vaccine distributions top-of-mind, many government leaders are struggling to roll out an effective vaccination program and are relying on various sources for guidance. What has become clear is that local leaders who better understand their communities’ response to their vaccine rollout efforts can lend a hand to NHS and higher ups to better streamline their efforts and be all the more effective.


Departmental accessibility & support

While there are many benefits of technology in the workforce, particularly in times of social distancing, there are also residual drawbacks. It is the CIO’s responsibility, alongside his or her team, to tackle these limitations appropriately, as some departments easily migrate to digital platforms, while others do not. How can this be done to ensure efficiency in the workplace?

  • Development services departments, which include code enforcements, building permits, property standards, public works, etc. are providing most of their forms online so they’re easily accessible to residents and government employees alike. Enacting these capabilities for these departments has shown them how valuable they are, as they are easy to utilize, and simultaneously, increase productivity. These methods are also being used to validate operational performance in areas where cost could be optimized. 
  • However, more paper heavy departments, like that of Human Resources, are greatly in need of digitized services. Many cities are using this time to prioritize the search for different services and digital tools which can be used to benefit these types of departments. The benefits of a more connected, digital workforce, will remain long after we finish the battle on coronavirus. 


The importance of prioritizing & understanding residents most pressing needs

IT departments can play a new unprecedented role in helping cities understand their residents’ real time needs and priorities. As the virtual world has made its way into our new normal, it can be harder to connect with residents directly, and IT departments can bring in new tech solutions and good data to help bridge the gap. 

Understanding exactly where your residents stand can help tackle all of the aforementioned issues. As we enter into what’s hopefully the last phase of the pandemic, a swift and successful recovery depends on the ability to connect to residents’ needs. Thankfully, IT departments and CIOs are uniquely positioned to access this kind of data, as they’ve spent the past year incorporating and ramping up new technologies and systems which should make the transition smooth. By utilizing a tool like Zencity to swiftly gather and track thousands of public discourse data points in real time, hundreds of local governments are able to pinpoint their community’s needs and improve their crisis management processes. Learn more

Interested in understanding the impactful role AI and resident feedback can play in your crisis management efforts?Join us for an eye-opening discussion March 1st!

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