Exceeding the ever-evolving demands of government service has never been more crucial. While not a new concept, the current environment and expectations once we get back to “normal” will dictate a very different citizen engagement model. And as technologies such as online self-service, mobile access and automated responses gain popularity, citizens and businesses will continue to respond positively and push for more. To meet this increased demand, government agencies look to the next level of technology capability they can tap. And thus, the pattern continues. Only now it’s happening right before our eyes and without us having much say in its pace and outcome. If operating a business during a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that speed matters, and speed of services, therefore, has become the lynchpin between being able to stand up services quickly, or completely clipping an agency’s ability to provide what is most needed to keep a community humming.
Moving from digital transformation to digital execution
The concept of “speed to services” becomes more important as government agencies begin to incorporate the lessons learned during this crisis and evolve from a digital transformation mindset to digital execution. It’s not simply that speed to services is something governments can pull off during extraordinary times but is becoming part of the new operating paradigm as governments are required to keep up with the demands to accelerate speed to scale, access and innovation. We’ve seen examples from around the nation that governments can act quickly and decisively in scaling and introducing new essential citizen services.
Pre-crisis, all government agencies had technology plans and roadmaps in progress. Under unprecedented circumstances in early 2020, every one of these plans quickly became outdated—some initiatives were shelved or scrapped, while others accelerated and became top priorities. We’re now seeing development cycles compressed, from strategy planning to implementation.
During COVID-19, rapid digital execution has taken priority over long-term digital transformation initiatives. We are seeing this speed to services trend become more prevalent as we work with agencies to help them to transition from firefighting mode to proactive future planning.
This rapid transformation and implementation of services is happening despite uncertain conditions and ever-present budget constraints. Government agencies understand that this progression from transformation to execution is essential to help governments better serve their constituents.
The three keys to speed in government services
- Speed to scale for citizen services
I think about speed to scale in two parts; adding new services on the front end and having the appropriate back-end platform to scale those services rapidly to meet citizen demands. We’ve seen examples of this as governments around the nation moved quickly to replace in-person citizen services with online alternatives. These online services were launched and scaled up to meet citizen demand in weeks, as opposed to years.
Many larger government agencies with cloud-based operations were able to expand citizen services in just weeks. On the other hand, we saw several customers who faced spikes in demand that just broke their systems. Many government agencies are now developing a mindset that services should be designed to scale and be reconfigured quickly to be better prepared for future challenges—and opportunities.
- Speed of access for staff and teams
Speed of access presents challenges both for government agency staff and their IT teams. Many government employees who suddenly joined the remote workforce could not securely access the resources they needed to be productive from home.
Network access is also critical because some agencies have services behind a VPN and need to physically access their servers, which is difficult when you’re not in the office. If you need IP staff to reboot a server or activate a new service, those things become much more difficult. It slows things down for staff in the field when the functionality they need is behind a lot of gates.
Rochester, Minnesota had seen a seven percent year-after-year increase in permitting requests in recent years, necessitating a new solution to manage planning and building functions. With digital technology, Rochester was able to move previously manual paper-based processes online. This transition cut processing time for trade permits in half, saved staff from excessive phone inquiries and faxes, enabled workers to prioritize more strategic tasks, and improved data-backed decision-making.
A huge lesson from the current crisis is that government agencies should build the capabilities to provision user accounts quickly and securely in response to unforeseen events. When online channels suddenly became the only channels for government interaction, many agencies were completely unprepared. We also saw some agencies with robust back-end automation that was deployed through inflexible front-end systems that did not allow easy online access or self-service capabilities. So, plans for citizen portals that support real-time interaction between governments, constituents, and partners are being prioritized for greater speed of access.
- Speed to innovation and resiliency
Speed to innovation and resiliency is something of a new paradigm for government agencies. In recent weeks we have seen agencies with more advanced infrastructures perform system upgrades and customizations very quickly under urgent conditions. What’s different is that the speed of these changes will reset expectations for future deployments. In addition to developing the capacity for rapid innovation and change, we have the opportunity to increase resilience.
For example, located within one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation, Charlotte, North Carolina, needed to improve customer experience and quickly overcome the physical challenges presented by COVID-19. Charlotte had moved its entire planning process online in 2008, which enabled a speedy, seamless transition into remote work for office staff when “shelter-in-place” orders went into effect. By offering digital citizen services, the city could continue providing quality service to citizens remotely during a time when traditional methods would have been impeded or stopped project owners in their tracks. Charlotte’s rapid response underscores the heightened need for cities and states to employ digital technology to drive efficiency, fortify resilience, and continue critical services delivery.
Faster upgrades enable rapid innovation and the ability to quickly improve citizen experiences more proactively. In the past, we thought about upgrading citizen services as multi-year projects. But modern SaaS platforms don’t require an army of people to perform the upgrades our constituents want. We can realize huge operational benefits from upgrades without a ton of back end work. Speedy upgrades may sound like a risky approach, but risk is also inherent in longer-term projects as requirements change and technology advances.
Another challenge highlighted in the current pandemic is how many agencies had online services hosted on-premises, or across several smaller vendors. In relying on multiple systems and processes, these agencies weren’t as resilient as those with platforms hosting preconfigured cloud apps. Cloud solution deployments, even across departments and regions, can be very fast using proven apps and playbooks.
Cumulative cloud benefits
Agencies that perform incremental upgrades over time realize significant advantages for themselves and their constituents. For example, when we implement a new mobile solution or improved workflow for fire inspectors, further improvements are often built on the foundation of those upgrades. If your agency has a regular cadence of upgrades, you’re realizing benefits that accrue and benefit both internal and external stakeholders.
Modern SaaS solutions enable ongoing upgrades that are less burdensome. That means you can quickly get the right access to the right people, and bypass multiple weeks of procurement, setup, and provisioning.
Busting the myth: Government services aren’t slow…
…or, at least they don’t have to be. In a recent panel discussion at Accela’s Govern the Future Academy with leaders from some of our partner companies, Peter Zalkind, Principal of State and Local Government at KPMG stated, “One of the biggest myths around digital transformation is that governments move slowly. What the pandemic has shown is that governments can actually move fast, and agency teams can move quickly when we let them do their jobs.”
Responsive, customizable applications built on a solid cloud computing infrastructure enable government agencies to improve speed to services and accelerate into the fast lane. Governments can operate at the forefront of digital transformation with an appropriate cloud services infrastructure, rather than remaining in reactive mode.
In a future marked by uncertainty, there are things we can be certain about: The pace of technology will advance more quickly, our implementation cycles will accelerate, and state and local governments can expect budget constraints across the board. We must plan now to deliver services in faster, more efficient, and resilient ways. It’s what our constituents expect, and part of that obligation is improving speed to services to create the best user experiences possible. It’s our opportunity to make the next normal a better normal.
You can see a summary of Part 1 and Part 2 of the session titled, Transformation, Technology, and Trust in a Reimagined Government from the Govern the Future Academy virtual event, or check it out on video.
This article first appeared in National League of Cities’ CitiesSpeak blog.