Two local governments harness the power of process automation and the cloud to streamline CARES Act fund distribution
As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re learning more and more about how resilient local governments can be in their response to COVID-19 and changing needs. It is not a stretch to suggest that government employees were faced with the most difficult challenge of their careers, and without digital tools, the task of serving their residents and communities might have been impossible.
Last year, we saw emergency funds made available to municipalities all over the country through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In a matter of days, government employees were tasked with the responsibility of setting up processes to disburse the funds to their communities. In many areas, phone lines and inboxes of local government officials were quickly flooded with queries on how to apply for the funds and receive aid. Government employees all over the country quickly realized the need for a better way to sift through the mountain of requests beyond manually sorting emails and other communication channels.
For two local governments, Leesburg, Va., and Cabarrus County, N.C., the solution to this problem was in cloud and automation tools they already had in place, coupled with their teams’ deep understanding of their communities and modern citizen expectations.
The power of the cloud
Security and reliability are the two main drivers behind cloud technology implementation for Jakub Jedrzejczak, Leesburg’s director of information technology. “One of the main challenges for local governments and municipalities is the inability to bring on additional people as budgets are limited,” he said. “We therefore have to be as efficient as possible when it comes to implementing new technology.” Moving the city’s IT infrastructure to the cloud became a logical solution to handle the data and power the services that his team provides to the city’s 55,000 diverse residents.
It wasn’t long after Leesburg embarked on cloud implementation that the city was thrown its hardest test to date for both its citizens and government. When the CARES Act was approved, government employees needed to authenticate existing data and determine eligibility for local businesses and citizens to quickly facilitate distribution of funds. Jedrzejczak said that “without our ability to quickly create new forms that our residents could use to apply for aid, we would have been lost in a sea of data. But because we have the ability to automatically pull the metadata from each form submitted, our remote team members were able to quickly determine which organizations and businesses were approved.”
During the peak of the COVID-19 crisis last year, the city had as many as 200 employees working remotely at any given time. Even while navigating workplace health and safety guidelines, the town was able to move quickly, leverage its cloud platform to verify CARES Act relief funds and eventually approve funding to more than 330 businesses and more than 20 non-profit organizations in their region.
Enhancing the human experience with intuitive process automation
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, residents of Cabarrus County were eager to determine if they were eligible for COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) assistance. The county deployed an electronic form for residents to access online and went a step further by integrating a chatbot to help residents navigate through the complex process. The result: applicants could find out immediately whether they met eligibility criteria and the county was able to streamline more than 500 applications in just two months without adding more staff
“If someone submits the form, they might have to wait two weeks to find out they’re not eligible,” said Todd Shanley, CIO of Cabarrus County. “We wanted to provide that TurboTax-style environment, which provides customers the information they need in a timely manner.”
Beyond this urgent task, the electronic form solution also enabled the county to properly document applicants’ information as well as the county’s process to ensure distribution was fair, and that the county would meet the federal government’s rules and requirements.
The solution enabled the county to collect and process hundreds of applications, quickly getting financial relief to people who needed it. The chatbot integration also helped to immediately redirect people who were not eligible, ultimately saving time for county employees who would have had to spend time reviewing hundreds of ineligible applications.
“The importance of experience—it’s going to change how governments interact with their customers every day,” Shanley said. “People don’t want to submit information and then have to wait. That makes call volumes go up, and there are unintended consequences for governments. If you’re presenting people with overly complicated forms, it could cause someone who really needs help to just give up on the process.”
Overall, local governments and municipalities across the country were even more reliant than years past upon a variety of digital tools and technologies during the pandemic. Despite sometimes limited fiscal budgets, many of these organizations are now beginning to understand and fully embrace what technology can do to help support their own employees and residents alike. This is a trend that will continue long past the COVID-19 pandemic. In the not-so-distant future, we’ll see more and more local government services become available online for residents, rather than as paper-based, in-person processes. We look forward to hearing how other state and local governments are using these technologies to improve life for their residents moving forward.
Linda Ding is the senior director of vertical marketing strategy at Laserfiche