How COVID response can drive tech improvements
- By Mark Rockwell
- Apr 16, 2020
As governments ramp up their systems to handle increased pressure from citizens and remote workers, they’re also creating new expectations, according to a panel of experts.
“As services roll out, there will be an increase of public expectations” for those agencies, said Dustin Haisler, CIO at e.Republic, during an April 15 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation webinar on e-government services and national emergencies. The public’s expectations will be like those that followed the initial roll out of government social media sites. Agencies realized those new Facebook pages became another avenue for citizen engagement they had to maintain, he said.
In the current crises, government agencies, particularly state agencies, are struggling to address the public’s growing need for digital services. Some have been more successful than others.
A new study released by ITIF on April 15 showed that many state unemployment websites were crushed under the landslide of unemployment claims. The study found that 26 state government unemployment websites failed, and more than 50% of the initial unemployment claims filed in the United States during the week ending April 4 were from people in states with unemployment websites that had crashed.
Those failures and other spotty performances by government websites and call centers were because systems were not designed to handle such unprecedented volume, said Brian Anderson, CTO at digital government service provider NIC. People frustrated with failing websites then moved on to bombard call centers, resulting in long wait times and frustrated users there too.
Even though no one could have anticipated the depth and breadth of the impact of the pandemic on government systems, designing those systems to work with one another could have relieved some of the pressure, Anderson said. “An ultraflexible call center can pick up the slack” of faltering web sites, he said, but the call center has to be more than just an answering service. Employees in it have to be equipped with tools that augment and expedite their work, he said.
Along with the pressure that the current situation brings, according to Anderson and Haisler, agencies have an opportunity to think about better addressing customers’ needs and modernizing and integrating their systems, in a kind of rolling, real-life stress test.
“It’s a strong opportunity for strategy,” Anderson said.
He and Haisler advised governments to think about how their solutions will hang together with an enterprise strategy. “Don’t go around creating a lot of silos,” Haisler said.
Agencies should also think long term. “Stay away from shiny objects -- a chat box isn’t going to solve all your problems,” Haisler said.
Governments should also look to smaller innovators for scalable solutions. Federal funding to states to solve problems, said Anderson, can also drive larger, more effective systems. Technology to fight the spread of opioid addiction was developed by a few states and then disseminated to others, he said.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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