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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How to position state and local government workers for success in 2021

Public-sector agencies are in a tricky spot. Due to significant pandemic-related impacts on 2020 tax revenue, current challenges will only continue to mutate and persist throughout 2021. The Catch-22 of it is this: Government agencies (especially on state and local levels) will likely have significantly smaller budgets than at any time in recent history, while it’s never been more important they make significant investments in their workforces.

In fact, COVID-19 has continually validated the need for digital government. Agencies that already had modern technology platforms in place -- those that allowed them to adapt to new working realities and maintain operational continuity -- have leapt further ahead, while the digital “have-nots”-- whether due to budgetary or regulatory challenges, outdated workplace culture or competing priorities -- have only become more hamstrung. The time to close the gap must be now.

How can agencies step up and keep up in the new year? Ultimately, it comes down to embracing digital tools and approaches that elevate, equip and empower employees to succeed, no matter what the “new reality” looks like.

Elevate employees

Even prior to COVID-19, technology and workforce trends were already quickly encroaching upon standard operating procedures at most government agencies. Observe the following:

  • Staffing shortages are common in the public sector, especially in key areas like cybersecurity, acquisition management and data science.
  • The gap between public- and private-sector talent is growing.
  • Ages of IT pros at government agencies are increasing rapidly, with fewer young people set to replace retiring senior staff.

Leaders facing these challenges at the local and state levels must tackle them head-on by prioritizing employees and their experience -- and altering the culture of public service going forward.

Many public-sector leaders already know what they must do. Forty-four percent indicated in a recent IDC report that talent excellence in a collaborative and innovative culture should be a priority. A recent Oxford Economics survey found more than half of leaders believe employee satisfaction has the greatest influence on organizational strategy and success. Still, only about 22% have completely executed decisions that would improve employee experience.

This is why learning and development initiatives -- grounded in speed, cost and overall efficacy goals -- are critical to closing any related gaps. By allowing employees to embrace higher value work, L&D strategies can simultaneously modernize and humanize local and state agencies looking to operate in more agile and responsive ways, to both internal and external factors.

Equip employees

All the cultural and experiential shifts an agency could ever want mean nothing without the accompanying technological capabilities necessary to support them. According to the IDC DX Leader Sentiment Survey last year, 25% of agencies worldwide had yet to develop the capabilities required to run a digital enterprise.

State and local agencies must continue working to close that gap in 2021. That means digitizing and consolidating internal data and processes so tasks are integrated and simplified. It means adopting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation to eliminate repetitive and tedious tasks and allow employees to focus on more strategic work. It means embracing data and analytics to improve short- and long-term internal efficiencies and cost savings. And it means asking employees about their experience and listening to understand what they need to best do their jobs.

Empower employees

Tying these corresponding cultural and technological investments together positions agencies for a stronger, digitally focused and employee-centered future -- one where everyone can come together to put the efforts into action. For instance, here are some state and local government agencies who have stepped up amidst the tumult of 2020:

The IT team in Orlando, Fla., spent the better part of three years working on the city’s digital transformation. Prior to the pandemic, they had already compiled a list of 300 different services that could be at least started online, such as reserving parks, reporting potholes, requesting new garbage bins and more. During the pandemic, the team has continued to study and improve their tools and technology, using feedback from citizen satisfaction surveys.

Illinois recently implemented digital ERP software, effectively transforming the way its government agencies operate statewide. Fifty-four state agencies have successfully migrated to an enterprise platform, accounting for nearly 90% of the state’s overall annual budget. To execute, the state focused on three main categories: finance, analytics and human capital management.

At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, Portland, Ore., quickly realized it needed to adjust its typical protocol for responding to emergencies. Manual processes that worked for short-term incidents simply couldn’t manage the long-haul demands of the pandemic. The city refined its use of its HR software so it could more easily move team members to new positions, manage schedules and assign roles and responsibilities. Thanks to the flexibility and speed of a cloud-based solution, Portland was able to streamline the complexity of the emergency staffing process and focus, above all else, on helping community members.

A number of state and local government agencies are also modernizing the contact tracing process, as they work to keep citizens safe from COVID-19.

State and local agencies may have to contend with legacy technology and complexity to move the employee experience forward. But the reality is simple: They must invest in the future today so that those employees can build a better future tomorrow.

About the Author

Brian Roach is managing director, U.S. regulated industries, at SAP North America.

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