Ready or not, digital platforms are here to stay
Across America, citizens are looking desperately to state and local governments for leadership, guidance and stability as the COVID-19 pandemic has enshrouded communities with anxiety about public health and an uncertain economic future.
The pandemic has also exacerbated operational anxieties that have long plagued government leaders. For years I’ve spoken with public-sector officials about their worries over diminishing citizen trust, ever-direr budget outlooks and the existential question of whether effective government delivery is sustainable over the long term.
Those governments are increasingly turning to digital platforms to maintain interdepartmental efficiency and keep constituent services afloat as budgets tighten and the virus alters daily reality. By embracing the transition to digital platforms, the public sector can deliver effective, connected public services in a challenging time of heightened demand and shrinking budgets.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that state governments face a shortfall of $500 billion and made the withering assessment that “pressures on state and local finances from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout are mounting and will quickly become severe — significantly worse in the coming year than states and localities experienced during the worst year of the Great Recession.” Evaporating revenue is causing myriad financial headaches for state and local governments and sending their funding plans back to the drawing board.
In this light, technological innovation may seem to be an unjustifiable luxury or unrealistic ambition for cash-strapped governments, even for communities that have long desired to transform the way they serve their residents. However, in a serendipitous way, COVID-19 has made this innovation an operational necessity, and governments are embracing the inevitable future of digital government to sustain public services, whether they were ready for it or not.
A single, unified digital platform for government can alter the ways government bodies approach their operations. It can minimize costs while improving the speed and quality of services and optimizing processes. It can deliver the highest levels of security, data privacy and compliance, essential for this type of information sharing across a complex ecosystem of government agencies, partners and citizens.
A digital government platform is an agile government platform
The concept of a digital platform for government is not new, and the breadth of what a digital platform for government can deliver continues to expand. Government organizations leveraging this technology benefit from a single, fully integrated information management platform fully tailored to their business, operational, regulatory and policy needs.
Digital platforms built on low-code application development platforms offer a range of standard processes pre-configured for government. This means governments can accelerate the design and deployment of applications for specific operations like employee onboarding, facilitating grants or managing and processing building permit applications. Developers no longer need to design, create, test, or maintain code; they are free to focus on more complex projects and integration tasks. This saves government money and time resources.
Importantly, this platform-based approach also provides a single point of access to all relevant information and documentation, increasing workflow efficiency and improving service quality. Digital platforms foster improved collaboration and information sharing across departments and agencies. For example, it enables citizen access to multiple services through a single touchpoint. It facilitates the reuse of technical components across agencies, which not only improves similar processes in different departments, but can also dramatically reduce the time, cost and effort in bringing new services to the citizen, which is especially critical for smaller, resource-constrained municipalities.
Digital by necessity, not just default
Traditional, siloed modernization approaches were falling short even before COVID-times. Public-sector organizations must shift from tactical to strategic thinking. They must arm employees with agile tools to enable data-driven decisions and achieve their missions. One prominent public sector analyst, IDC’s Adelaide O’Brien, spoke to me at length about how government’s inability to access necessary data can negatively impact service delivery. Gartner estimated that by 2023, over 80% of government digital implementations that are not built on a technology platform will fail to meet objectives.
Governments need a better understanding of how to work with partners to develop and deliver services, and they need to enable citizens to access information and services—including self-service capabilities—across channels. The fledgling public-private partnerships that we have seen emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic can and must be part of the ‘new normal’ as we progress into full recovery. By implementing a platform infrastructure, agencies can work closely with partners to reduce the cost of innovation while accelerating delivery.
All things considered, great credit is already due to state and local governments for accepting the realities of operating requirements during a pandemic. They have undergone a massive shift under extraordinary circumstances, with a speed that few would have thought possible. America’s public sector has, with aplomb, managed a record volume of unemployment claims, expanded remote work capabilities and maintained public employee benefits and salaries.
This would be impossible in a pandemic of this scale in a fully analog government. Digital technology has enabled the country to keep government open and effective throughout this chaotic year, and digital platforms are the stable foundations that will enable it to continue once we clear the pandemic. It will be those agencies that eschew “business as usual” and embrace the potential of digital platforms that will best serve their citizens through the turbulent and uncertain times ahead.
Brian Chidester is the principal industry strategist for public sector at OpenText and the host of “The Government Huddle with Brian Chidester” podcast from Government Marketing University. He works closely with state and local government and public sector organizations to support their civil service and citizen engagement missions.