Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | As states and localities explore whether to sustain work-from-home models, there are key questions, especially around technology, leaders should consider to determine their readiness.
Prior to the pandemic, remote work was extremely uncommon in the public sector. That quickly changed in March 2020, when state and local governments across the country were forced to send their employees home to work remotely, most without a formal remote work policy. As they were forced to adapt, those state and local governments with modern technology tools in place often found that remote work was easily supported and ultimately far more effective than they imagined.
As state and local governments begin to strategize about re-opening their offices, the continuation of a hybrid work environment should be part of the discussion. Determining if your agency is ready to adopt an ongoing hybrid-working environment can be a complex challenge, but there are several key factors to consider:
- Can your agency deliver a similar user experience to all employees regardless of whether they are at home or in the office?
- Can key tasks such as the ability to access documents and workflow-based approval be managed from home?
- Can remote employees access all systems needed to carry out their roles? Can they do so securely?
- Has your agency eliminated paper-based processes and innovated with electronic and streamlined transaction processing?
A siloed IT project won’t address all of these needs; governments need an enterprise-wide transformation that modernizes and improves processes to withstand today’s disruptions, and any in the future.
One jurisdiction that embraced this transformation mindset is Lucas County, Ohio. Processing payments and issuing checks is a core function for the county’s staff. In January 2020, Lucas County implemented a new technology solution that transitioned the issuance of payments from manual to digital. The county’s new system eliminated manual processes by leveraging workflow-based approval and automated invoice processing, which simplified the processing of 8,000 to 10,000 invoices (including supporting documentation) a month for 35 to 45 different agencies.
Home Sweet Office
If an agency does in fact opt for any format of remote work, it’s important to ensure employees have the support they need to work effectively from home. This starts by providing employees the ability to access critical systems anywhere, anytime, on any device. Applications need to be able to conform to the real estate of the devices employees use to access them. Once you solve the issue of access, digital assistants can be a powerful tool to help employees execute tasks remotely. A chatbot can interact with workers to answer questions, perform basic tasks, and point employees to resources. Not only does this save workers a massive headache; it also saves agencies a great deal of time and resources as employees can skip a call to IT.
When Covid-19 hit, Oklahoma, like every other state, had to figure out a way for its mostly office-based government employees to work from home. Office workers unfamiliar with configuring IT gear without hands-on support had issues and questions. Before Covid-19, the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise IT desk fielded about 500 support calls a month. Overnight, that number spiked to more than 1,500 calls per day.
Within eight days, Oklahoma deployed a chatbot to help newly home-based workers get productive as quickly as possible. The chatbot lets users ask basic questions, such as how to reset a password, how to set up a VPN, or how to download workplace applications. This quick and easy avenue to answers was instrumental in reducing the volume of calls to the IT helpdesk and getting approximately 30,000 state employees up and running.
Defending the Homefront
Cybersecurity is another crucial consideration when employees work remotely, outside of their organization's firewall. Government agencies house very sensitive data that must be protected, no matter what device an employee signs on from, or where they sign in from. Cloud service providers can help reprieve government organizations of some cybersecurity duties by automating tasks and lessening opportunities for human error. This is especially important as government organizations might not have the level of resources, expertise, and tools that CSPs can offer. Data encryption is one prime example. Another example is geo-whitelisting, the practice of restricting access based on users’ IP geographic location—even if the user has approved credentials. Without the partnership of a CSP, governments would be left to tackle these resource- and technology-intensive tasks on their own.
Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every area of government. The one absolute amongst all the uncertainty is that reopening will not mean returning to "business as usual." While some operations will return to their tried-and-true methods, most functions will experience some degree of transformation, and that’s for the best. But no matter the level of change, there is a critical need for service continuity across all lines of business. It is clear that technology can be a driving force for state and local governments to be more agile and prepared to adapt to future disruption.
Simon Threlfall is the managing director of Strategy & Business Development for Public Sector, Education & Healthcare in Oracle's North America Applications discipline. Simon has been with Oracle for more than 15 years.
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