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David Partsch, Pennsylvania’s chief data officer, said residents expect government to provide consumer-grade digital services.
To help improve constituents’ satisfaction when dealing with government, state and local agencies must embrace digital services that centralize and manage information and interactions in one place, a leading state official said.
Pennsylvania’s Chief Data Officer David Partsch said during a GCN webinar that governments have much to learn from the private sector, which takes advantage of mobile or desktop apps to offer “immediate gratification and satisfaction” to customers looking for information or conducting a transaction.
“It’s an expectation of our customers to be able to offer them the whiz-bang functionality of any new TikTok mobile app-type opportunity that’s out there these days,” Partsch said. “They’re going to expect it – and do expect to have it – when they’re interacting with the state government.”
For its part, Pennsylvania is making moves toward a one-stop shop for constituent interactions as it builds an online portal that uses a single sign-on for residents. Through that portal, Partsch said, residents will be able to apply for unemployment insurance, renew a fishing license or perform any number of tasks in one place.
The portal’s construction comes on the heels of a July 2019 executive order from Gov. Tom Wolf, which mandated the establishment of a “citizen-first” government and promoted the transformation of its customer service efforts. In that executive order, Wolf looked to improve IT functions within state agencies, as well as create a “single online destination for services,” enable secure access through a single login and deliver a “consistent and user-friendly online experience” across those services.
Partsch acknowledged the difficulties of creating such a portal, including ensuring constituents’ personal data is current and protected as well as collecting and standardizing data from disparate agencies. But he said there is precedent in Pennsylvania, which has already created a one-stop shop for businesses to interact with the government. It also has the Justice Network, which is the commonwealth’s primary information source on public safety and criminal justice.
“We do have a roadmap to get there,” Partsch said.
Consent management is also critical in the unified portal, as residents must be able to quickly opt in and out of services when they need them. Partsch said that functionality will mean state officials must have conversations about how data and metadata is managed.
Many states saw the benefits of one-stop portals during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they helped businesses and residents understand the new environments they were operating in, as well as kept track of the spread of the virus, vaccination rates and other necessary data. The National Governors Association said recently that the portals help streamline compliance, especially for businesses, and if they are designed to be customer-friendly they can boost satisfaction.
Pennsylvania also has embraced the need for open data, and in mid-July released a map site that shows all the state services across the commonwealth, with users also able to get directions from their current location. That includes information on drug take-back boxes, educational programs, hospitals and a wide variety of other services, all on one site.
“Putting it in one place for our citizens to provide service and be transparent about it: That’s the overall goal of an open data portal,” Partsch said.
If governments do not move towards digitization and learn the lessons of Google Maps, which can instantly show users a whole variety of goods and services in their vicinity, Partsch said they risk being left behind.
“We can’t let that chasm that exists between the differences in functionality that government apps currently have versus business apps get any wider,” he said.