The world has just entered the age of superfluid — or frictionless — markets.
In the private sector, digital connectivity, ever-expanding storage and computing power, and the leveraging of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are greatly reducing transactional “frictions” between buyers and sellers. As commerce has become easier and less expensive, companies have slimmed down — having activities once done in-house delivered as a service. Companies that deliver products to customers as a service have arisen — think music and movies. And existing companies across all industries are investigating how to deliver value using the “as-a-service” model.
The vision for superfluid government — cost savings plus enriched citizen experience
Governments have typically lagged behind their private sector counterparts in adopting and realizing the benefits of technological innovation. There is undoubtedly tremendous opportunity for the public sector to leverage newer technologies and models to improve the delivery of services to citizens. The scale of government-citizen interaction is enormous, with government spending on public services at close to 50% of GDP.1 Cities represent a high proportion of this activity, as local government spending comprises more than 20% of total government expenses.2 In short, cities can and should be the premiere hotbed for superfluid government innovation. Cost savings represent one benefit, but the opportunity to vastly improve the urban citizen experience should be another key driver.
Welcome to the City-as-a-Service
The City-as-a-Service model is emerging as a key enabler of more superfluid city governments. City-as-a-Service can be defined as the delivery or enablement of core municipal services through digital platforms that are data-driven and accessible via personal devices. Similar to accessing apps-based ridesharing services or entertainment streaming services, residents in many cities can now use smartphones or personal computers to access services as diverse as public transportation, housing, employment, licensing and regulatory support. Today, citizens in some cities can communicate quickly with relevant city agencies through online chat, in some cases powered by chatbots, which are constantly learning from such interactions. Identification verification capabilities and payment options are also enabled, adding levels of security and convenience to transactions.
Smart technologies that leverage sensors, geo-locationand other capabilities undergird some of the first iterations of City-as-a-Service, with improved mobility as a key goal. For example, Barcelona and many other cities have instituted smart parking solutions that utilize city-wide sensors and in-app digital payments. The city of Toulouse has rolled out a Mobility-as-a-Service-platform orchestrated through a single app that gives residents seamless access to car-sharing services, public transport and the city’s bike share system. The Johannesburg Road Agency’s “Find ‘n Fix” app allows South African drivers to flag road problems such as potholes; the app then geo-locates the problem and creates a maintenance ticket for the city’s road repair crews. The city of Auburn, Washington in the US offers a multiservice mobile app where residents can not only report problems from downed trees to malfunctioning traffic signals, but also pay utility bills, sign up for city programs and get email messages on selected issues, among other services.
While in its relative infancy, the concept of City-as-a-Service offers a flexible and extensible model for public sector engagement with citizens. The personalization of services is fundamental to this paradigm shift. In Tel Aviv, residents can sign up for a Smart City Card and become members of the Digi-Tel Club, which not only offers them information and special deals based on their unique profiles, but delivers customized digital services that enable them to carry out transactions with the municipality. This is clear departure from “one-size-fits-all” conventional service delivery, where phone call mazes, layers of bureaucracy and impersonal touch points tended to characterize interactions with city services. At its core, the City-as-a-Service is about delivering a customized, flexible, frictionless and high-quality experience for each and every city resident.