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Did digital government come through during the shutdown?

With the longest government shutdown in U.S. history now two full months behind us, we can begin to look back at lessons learned. Politics aside, shutdowns have become the ultimate edict to do more with less and the acid test of public-sector digital proficiency.

The shutdown was focused on “non-essential” government services, but the definition is debatable. While zoos, museums, national parks and even garbage collection may not be seen as “essential,” their operation is certainly key to our overall quality of life, underscoring how government services touch every aspect of today’s America.

The shutdown clearly put a strain on both citizens and government workers, but there was one key element working behind the scenes that played a big role in keeping many government services “open for business” despite the shutdown.

That element was a result of the emphasis on digital-first initiatives, which has become even more important as customers expect seamless digital channels for dealing both with commercial organizations as well as government. Public sector organizations have worked to streamline, modernize and automate citizen engagement and workflows -- with a focus on enabling citizen self-service.

Exceptional budgetary pressures have forced governments worldwide to rethink how they manage citizen services. With less money and fewer employees, more must be achieved with less. These two challenges have led public-sector organizations to provide digital access to services as a way of not only meeting citizens’ digital engagement expectations but also reducing the cost of service delivery.

While most government agencies have implemented some form of digital-first strategy (sometimes known as “channel shift”), many have not delivered on their economic goals. One reason is that initiatives often stop short of implementing true end-to-end automation.

During the recent shutdown, those processes fully automated and fully integrated to back-end systems rose to the occasion, whereas processes only partially digitized and automated failed to deliver.

One of the reasons full automation and integration has been hard to achieve is the attachment to “the way things have always been.” If the business of government has been operating a specific way for the last 50 or even 100 years, shifting these same processes online may result in some benefit, but it is often mitigated by the need for rekeying or transcribing data to support the downstream process. And, as digital-first services become available and their use is promoted to citizens, transaction volumes increase and the issue worsens.

Before organizations digitize processes, they must rethink and re-engineer processes to ensure digital-first strategies are aligned with the citizen journey and meet the consumers’ expectations.

For example, if there is no integration between the customer-facing transactions and the relevant fulfilment systems, a “middle office” gets created and staffed to transfer details of citizens’ requests into the back-office applications.

Proper and appropriate integration between service components is not only necessary to ensure reliable processing, but it will also help deliver the cost savings and service improvements the strategy was designed for.

Services that require fulfillment by back-office departments will need integration to the customer-accessed digital service so that information can be retrieved securely and in a timely manner and so that back-office systems are automatically provided with details of the work to be performed. Similarly, updates must be automatically passed back to the customer-facing service solution so citizens are informed of progress.

Connected services delivery starts with sound strategy. To be successful, agencies must understand the digital-first movement is more than an IT project, it’s a sweeping change. Key stakeholders -- including elected officials and department heads -- must be involved and invested. And organizations must be cognizant that the resulting new way of operating will involve novel ways of thinking and culture change.

When designing services for digital-first access, agency leaders should be selective, starting small with a focus on high-volume digitization processes that will generate significant return on investment. They should incorporate responsive web design and set goals for online access to services, measuring performance against these goals over time to identify seasonal trends and opportunities for further digitization.

Fully integrated end-to-end digital processes withstand the test of time, delivering the required scalability to sustain growth in volume and/or functionality. Moreover, they provide the foundation to incorporate new and emerging technologies that will continue to transform government engagement.

About the Author

David Moody is vice president and general manager, government and public sector, for Verint.


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