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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Federal service delivery can be significantly improved: Here’s what it would take

There’s hardly a sector of the economy or society unfazed by the impact of COVID-19. And for each affected constituency -- whether farmers, truckers, small business owners, health care providers, people who have lost their jobs, veterans or others -- there are dedicated government services and programs to serve their needs in these stressful times.

So how are these federal services measuring up? Our best information on this comes from a few isolated snapshots, including annual assessments done by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index and the Forrester Federal Customer Experience Index. While those assessments predate the pandemic, they suggest federal constituent services delivery may not be up to the task.

The latest American Consumer Satisfaction Index, released in January, showed citizen satisfaction with federal government services dropped 1.2% to 68.1 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale. It was the second consecutive annual decline in citizen satisfaction and compares to an overall national ACSI score of 75.4 for the same period.

The last Forrester Federal Customer Experience Index was conducted in 2018 and described federal customer experience as “weak and uneven.” The 15 federal agencies and programs it rated earned an average score of 59 out of 100. That average score was unchanged from the previous two years and was 10 points below the private sector average of 69.

As the President’s Management Agenda has noted, there’s a big opportunity for federal agencies to develop modern, streamlined and responsive customer experiences.

Current approaches to citizen services still include some level of paper-based or manual processes. These can cause a wide array of issues, including bottlenecks, long processing times, backlogs, a lack of transparency for the citizen, errors, inconsistent performance (especially when third parties, such as banks, are involved) and frustrated employees tasked to low-level work like data entry.

Citizens today have higher expectations for the interactions they have with government.  They want on-demand information, convenience and contextually relevant communication, whether they’re filing taxes or applying for small business loans.

What does it take for agencies to deliver services and benefits that are efficient, flexible and frictionless to citizens? It takes transforming to digital, versatile and automated business processes.

Many agencies already understand this, and some are turning to robotic process automation -- software that deploys bots to automate manual, largely rules-based, structured and repetitive tasks. But agencies often find this approach doesn’t significantly improve citizen service.

That’s because RPA capabilities alone are insufficient to automate a process from start to finish. Agencies need end-to-end automation to truly modernize complex service delivery operations that have multiple data sources, reviews, touchpoints and entry points.

Such an approach includes RPA as well as other technologies that perform more complex processes. These include:

  • Process orchestration for coordinating multiple actions, people, software robots, policies and systems.
  • AI-enabled cognitive capture for ingesting and understanding any document and its information, regardless of format.
  • Analytics for producing and analyzing data to provide visibility, process intelligence and insight for robots, agency staff and constituents.
  • Mobility and engagement technologies for enabling efficient, effective and trusted transactions by leveraging capabilities such as e-signatures, facial recognition and on-demand communications.

Government services are woven from complex processes requiring high levels of validation, precise data and coordination across many offices, departments and even other agencies. A request as simple as changing a citizen’s address, for instance, could require four to six weeks to process.

Now, imagine that four-to-six week period reduced to a five-minute transaction between the citizen and the agency via a chat on a mobile phone. And imagine that chat doesn’t involve a human in a contact center, but a chatbot using the latest artificial intelligence and natural language processing capabilities to update the citizen’s contact information in seconds and even verify eligibility for a benefit and send a real-time status update in minutes.

The advantages of this kind of end-to-end automated approach to service delivery are many. They include faster application and approval times, reduced processing costs and program churn, improved data quality, fewer errors, less process bottlenecks, added transparency and real-time support for constituents. More importantly, they improve overall customer satisfaction. If organizations are serious about improving the experience and outcomes for constituents, then automation has to be at the center of the discussion on how to modernize government. 

About the Author

Jeremy Hogg is vice president of federal at Kofax.

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