COVID-19 has been devastating to people and to our economy. It has also put an unimaginable strain on our digital infrastructure.
Our ability to monitor and track the disease and access real-time information about our communities is compromised because of a massive under-investment in digital infrastructure.
When a hurricane destroys a bridge to services and civilization, we fix it. And yet, we’ve done little to fix the outdated systems we rely on from our local governments to provide services and to keep us informed.
Right now in Houston, where they are battling a huge coronavirus outbreak, the lack of digital infrastructure has local officials struggling to receive and track data. The chaotic way information is coming into local officials is hampering reporting and contact tracing efforts to help stop the disease.
While the Coronavirus didn’t necessarily make our digital systems worse, it sure clarified that we have massive problems with code, system failures, equity of access, and antiquated websites all across the country.
Today, there is dysfunction within America’s digital infrastructure at every level, from the Federal government to our local public institutions. Too often digital infrastructure is an afterthought, or even worse, it is seen as a cost to be minimized. This is hardly responsive to community needs and the people who rely on the services government provides online now.
More than ever we all rely on online services and we count on consistency and efficiency. From unemployment applications to small business loans, to driver’s licenses, to permits, to wedding licensing — we need our local government’s websites to work.
There’s no going back. Digital infrastructure will be, for decades to come, the way cities, states and counties will be judged for their effectiveness in serving the needs of citizens. Think of it as a “civic digital front door.” Do we want the door to be open or slammed in our face?
For local leaders: mayors, county executives, city managers, inaction is not an option. Strong digital systems help create jobs, make information and services easier for people, and help to grow our economy. From water management to first responders, to our teachers and students, to our businesses and taxes, to our libraries, everything is impacted.
Now is the time to repair and invest in our digital infrastructure. Meaningful and lasting change are often born out of tragedy. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City was one of the deadliest workplace tragedies with workers trapped in unsafe conditions resulting in the deaths of 146 workers. Modern worker protections, and institutional investment in the form of the Occupational Safety Health Administration resulted.
It will take meaningful investments from Federal and local governments, along with the private sector, to meet this moment now — where literally the whole world is online — and to build a digital superhighway of the future.
At I.F., we’re helping government organizations to be relevant, accountable, responsive, and engaging to communities through data-driven technology and award-winning websites. If we make digital infrastructure a priority, we can empower individuals to make use of the government services they are entitled to and make government more efficient. We the people deserve a better digital blueprint and America is up to this task.