Why Governments Need to Invest More in Self-Service Technology

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Connecting state and local government leaders

This option empowers citizens to oversee their own information and avoid the feeling of getting stuck behind red tape.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most people can’t remember the last time they stood in line to buy something other than food. But when it comes to things like obtaining birth and death certificates or applying for benefits and services, it’s still routine to go in person, wait for hours and hand-fill paper forms.

Our increasingly connected society is demanding change: Citizens no longer have the patience for snail mail, phone calls and office visits to find information or complete tasks—and governments can no longer pay for the infrastructure needed to support these services.

Your Citizens Demand Freedom to Do More Online vs. In Line

Studies show more than 70 percent of people get frustrated when forced to handle government transactions in-person or by phone, and would prefer to take care of tasks quicker and from the comfort of their homes.

Today, it’s easier than ever to grant citizens access to self-service portals to conduct most of their government-related business. By logging into secure portals, they could be managing their own user account profiles, accessing documents, making payments and searching for government-specific information via a computer or mobile phone. This option empowers citizens to oversee their own information and avoid the feeling of getting stuck behind red tape.

Just one decision to try a self-service tool can make a difference in the lives of millions—and reduce costly errors and streamline business processes within your agency or department.

Improve Efficiency and Lower Operating Expenses

At the beginning of my tenure as chief information officer at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, citizens mailed in their required biweekly unemployment benefit forms and handled all issues over the phone with our in-house call center. When mail occasionally got lost by the postal carrier, the citizen didn’t receive pay until we manually resolved the issue.

This process was not only labor-intensive and error-prone, but it also sapped our resources: It cost at least $1 million to build the call center system and an additional $1 million every four to five years to maintain or refresh the hardware technology.

Just six months after we decided to implement a self-services portal, we drove 60 percent of our traffic to the website. This significantly reduced costs and halved our call center staff, allowing us to place 20 people in other areas of the department. We had only hoped to help citizens, but the extra perks helped us recoup the costs of the software in less than two years. After that, it became the gift that kept on giving.

Citizen self-services are proven to help agencies provide quick, efficient assistance in the face of shrinking resources, and free up employees to provide more value-added services elsewhere in the organization.

Governments should not be shy about modernizing their service delivery functions. One online interaction costs 10 cents or less to an agency or department, compared to $14 for in-person customer service interactions. But these estimates are conservative: In Ohio, in-person interactions cost up to $35. The upfront investment in portals can be re-paid quickly—through labor savings, deferred expenses on hardware maintenance and more efficient operations.

Other benefits include:

Get Started with Self-Service Solutions: What to Expect and Consider Before Making the Jump

Hesitant to change? You have the option to ease in and modernize incrementally—and even keep your legacy application as your system of record.

If your government agency is using legacy systems more than 15 years old—and you don’t have a solid budget to build a brand new system—you can simply update the front-end experience for citizens while keeping the back-end processes the same for your employees. This means your citizens will get the brand new digital experience they’re demanding, but your internal process remains the same. You can upgrade the back-end system over time—when you’re ready. Citizens will never see this change, and your investment in a modernized front-end is secure.

You will need the following, which your service provider(s) should guide you through:

  1. Software suite that supports rapid implementation
  2. Citizen-facing web infrastructure
  3. Implementation services

Change is never easy. And implementing self-service portals sometimes requires investment and significant behind-the-scenes work.

Some government agencies believe they need a custom-coded solution to personalize self-service features to their exact liking, but don’t realize the exceedingly high upfront costs and maintenance overhead that come along with that. A typical government procurement process will take anywhere between six to nine months to issue an RFP and select a vendor. That’s months of back and forth labor before a decision is even made on who will build the product—and before any work ever begins. Then it requires up to two or more years for the systems integrator to custom code the solution. By the time a portal is ready to roll out, the political atmosphere and your agency’s policy needs could be unrecognizable.

But before you let sticker shock or the labor requirements scare you away, know that there are other options. The saying goes, “You buy a solution where you can. You build a solution only where you must.” Building a solution for self-services is certainly not necessary and often not recommended.

Citizens simply want a clean, fast and easy-to-use self-service site that works on all their browsers and mobile devices. This can be achieved quicker with a “commercial off-the-shelf” (COTS) software that allows agencies to build a dynamic user interface, content management system, workflow automation process and mobile-enabled tools—all in one integrated platform. While 70 percent of the solution is ready out of the box, professional services can customize the remaining 30 percent to fit your business needs. You could be up and running in less than a year—at half the cost of a custom coded solution.

Kumar Rachuri is Adobe's director of state and local government solutions, working with technology leaders to align the Adobe products and expertise in resolving the needs of their business challenge. Prior to joining Adobe, Rachuri spent 18 years working with the State of Ohio, most recently as the chief information officer for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

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