Accelerating the transition to digital citizen services
When the pandemic first took hold in the United States, the traditional means of providing local government services to citizens was disrupted and, in some cases, grounded to a halt. This accelerated the call for governments to deliver digital services to citizens, with constituents seeking a similar seamless online experience when accessing government services as they do when interacting with tech giants like Amazon and Google.
In due time, many were able to pivot how they delivered services, largely thanks to digital and cloud-based applications. A recent survey from The Atlas of local government officials and staff from around the country found that 79 percent are using more technology due to COVID-19. Additionally, moving forward, 70 percent expect the use of software and technology to be used to streamline public service delivery in the future across a wide range of challenges.
However, unlike private sector companies which are able to pick and choose who they sell to and serve, access to government services must be universal—whether it’s licensing and permit applications or requesting specific information. Yet, simply improving the user experience (UX) will not fix the customer experience. Instead, digital transformation efforts must focus on modernizing the engine behind government sites.
Here are three technologies that will overhaul the government’s ability to digitally serve constituents.
Migrating local government systems to the cloud has slowly but steadily moved from concept to a reality, especially in response to the pandemic’s disruption. A 2018 survey of U.S. counties found that 78 percent had fewer than 20 percent of their systems and applications in the cloud. By 2020, cloud adoption had picked up slightly, with 60 percent of U.S. counties reporting fewer than 20 percent of their systems and applications were in the cloud, according to the most recent Center for Digital Government’s Digital Counties Survey.
The benefits of the cloud are clear: it provides a significantly simpler foundation than complex and distributed legacy infrastructure, while improving operational resiliency. Moving systems to the cloud also lets organizations use products, solutions and services that are always up to date, which helps reinforce security.
In addition to the back-office benefits, the cloud can improve the front-end experience that citizens interact with directly. For example, cloud-based citizen experience management solutions make it easier for governments to incorporate more self-service capabilities across various government service areas. The cloud also makes it possible for governments to provide more tailored communications through the channels that citizens want to engage on—be it email, phone, SMS or social.
Investing in automation is another way to accelerate meaningful digital transformation across local governments. By focusing on automating core processes, such as document management and properly filing citizen requests, governments provide employees with more effective means to do their jobs. This frees workers up from tedious, lower-value tasks, which can dramatically improve employee morale and in turn, employee retention—a challenge many government organizations are facing today.
Automating low-value tasks also allows employees to spend more time identifying and improving other processes that help reduce citizen wait times and enhance the end-user experience.
While the concept of a digital platform for governments is not new, the breadth of what a digital platform can deliver continues to expand. More specifically, digital platforms built on low-code application development platforms provide a range of standard processes pre-configured for government. This means agencies can accelerate the design and deployment of applications for specific operations like facilitating grants or managing and processing building permit applications.
Unlike the traditional waterfall model for updating operating systems, low-code applications allow tech teams to roll out, evaluate and fine-tune software improvements in a much shorter time. Since developers no longer need to create, test, or maintain code with low-code applications, governments can minimize costs, improve quality of services, optimize processes and free up their tech talent to focus on more complex projects. Low-code applications deliver the highest levels of security, data privacy and compliance, all of which are essential for government organizations.
The digital changes brought on by the pandemic can result in meaningful and long-lasting transformation within governments only if they update their core technology. By investing in the underlying tech that make teams more agile and operations more resilient, secure, and efficient, governments will be able to engage with citizens where and how they want.
Brian Chidester is the head of worldwide industry strategy for public sector at OpenText and the host of “The Government Huddle with Brian Chidester” podcast from Government Marketing University. Formerly, Chidester served as the industry marketing lead for public sector at Appian. He also has held product marketing roles with Monster Worldwide, Arrow ECS and IHS Markit. Chidester holds a B.S. in Communications Studies from Liberty University, is a board member for the University of South Florida – Muma College of Business and is an advisor to the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance at the World Economic Forum.