Connecting state and local government leaders
Online portals can streamline services delivery and even support related applications, but agencies must build trust with staff and residents as they roll out automated services that collect personal information, agency experts say.
State agencies are “inching closer and closer” to online portals that streamline services and improve customer experience, but governments must still build trust with residents reluctant to embrace the technology, panelists said during a webinar this week.
Many states are exploring these one-stop shops that allow residents to conduct their business with the government online, Kelly Davis-Felner, chief marketing officer at digital government payment platform PayIt, said during a webinar hosted by MeriTalk
Good customer experience is especially important in agencies like state motor vehicle departments, which are traditionally more customer-facing but also have been dogged by inefficient, paper-based processes.
And sometimes, agencies can improve customer experience by borrowing ideas or leveraging technology from other departments. Ashley Laymon, chief experience officer at the Maryland Department of Information Technology, pointed to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s introduction of a digital driver’s license that can be used for ID at two airports. That technology could also be integrated into the state’s one-stop portal to streamline applying for a hunting license, for example.
“If we can start incorporating the use of some of these innovations that other agencies are doing and work together, that's a big piece of it,” Laymon said. The IT department is “not going to have all of the ideas.”
But it is crucial to make sure agencies are on board with these digital partnerships, she said. Sometimes, the “crazy ideas” that IT staff have may not make sense as a business process for an agency, so communication is key.
Governments should also be responsive to residents’ needs in their customer service offerings, Laymon said, in some ways mirroring private-sector practices that allow users to do everything online without having to talk to someone. That can be difficult, she said, but is doable.
“Just having these customer-facing portals where you can understand quickly the forms or the processes you need to follow, [and then,] in an automated fashion, to be able to submit the information that you need to submit, upload the documents you need to upload and then pay for whatever licensing fee or permitting fee, you're trying to write something—that is revolutionary in government,” she said.
To get there, Michael Sandor, the director of digital government services at the South Carolina Department of Administration, said he encourages state and local agencies to share their strategies and roadmaps for the future with each other. That helps leaders at every level of government “embrace this idea that if we align from an initiatives standpoint, it gives [government leaders] better visibility as the provider to hit the mark” and help them achieve their goals.
Laymon said agencies looking to modernize customer experience should start with improving just one process or form that is a pain point or is frequently used by residents and look to make “incremental progress” from there. Trying to revolutionize entire government systems is too ambitious for a first attempt, she said.
But while there is enthusiasm for online portals and one-stop shops, panelists acknowledged that they still need to build trust among residents who may be reluctant to embrace the technology.
Laymon said that many people may not want to create an online account—as is typically required on online portals. They may prefer to use a “guest” account to complete certain tasks, like making bookings through parks departments. Finding use cases for anonymous interactions with digitized government is a hard balance to strike, she said.
Certain demographics may exercise a lot of “caution” when engaging with the government online due to generational mistrust, Sandor said. That’s “part of the challenge” IT leaders face as they modernize, he added.
Additionally, agency leaders must assure their employees that modernization and automation of certain tasks is not going to take their jobs away but will instead help them maintain or improve their productivity, Laymon said. She added that having to reassure residents and employees alike means needing to create “trust on both sides.”