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COMMENTARY | Covid-19 has taught us why having a digital strategy is crucial for states and localities.
The coronavirus pandemic has tested state and local governments and imparted many lessons about how they can best maintain the continuity and quality of services during a crisis. One of the most important lessons learned so far is the value of a crisis-resistant digital strategy.
As the pandemic continues and we prepare for the future of government work, a digital strategy must remain a top priority. Especially since remote work, virtual conferencing and a more digital-first economy are all here to stay. A digital strategy will prepare governments for the future of efficient and constituent-focused services.
Digital transformation within state and local governments isn’t new. Tools like automated revenue management systems and digital portals for accessing services have already proven their effectiveness in increasing efficiency. But as the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated, having a comprehensive digital strategy is more crucial than ever before.
Part of the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic is its impact on workflow. Almost overnight, governments had to shift from largely in-person operations to remote workforces that needed digital access to documents, databases and vital information technology infrastructure.
On top of that, agencies suddenly saw spikes in demand from their constituents, as socially-distanced citizens needed and wanted online portals and digital platforms for the government services they used. This only added to the IT burdens local governments are facing.
In far too many cases, legacy IT systems simply couldn’t keep up. For example, unemployment insurance offices around the U.S. suddenly had to process the country’s millions of applicants in record time. But decades-old software, outdated infrastructure and bureaucracy ill-suited for digital coordination prevented a speedy response to citizens’ needs.
That’s why building a crisis-resistant digital government matters. First, government agencies must have a digital strategy. Those that had a strategic plan in place for implementing or expanding digital operations were able to effectively adapt to the challenges of Covid-19.
The Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance, for example, was able to set up a cloud-based contact center in just a few hours, and got its employees up and running for remote work in 30 minutes. In California, forward-thinking digital and cloud investments empowered the state to seamlessly transition 90% of its 200,000 state employees to telework without a hitch.
But a digital strategy helps governments do more than just scale-up and adapt on the fly to the shifting digital needs of constituents and employees. It also can help to modernize and digitize back-office government processes like record-keeping, bill paying, tax administration and jury management.
Take document management as an example. Local governments have massive paper records archives, many of which contain vital information about land ownership, birth certificates, town maps and court proceedings. Of course, during Covid-19, searching these records in person became nearly impossible.
But even beyond the immediate crisis, keeping these crucial archives in paper format creates difficulties for governments. It can often take hours or even days to find an individual file or record. That costs time, money and effort that could better be spent elsewhere. A digital archive would be searchable, conveniently accessible, and vastly more cost-efficient.
Ideally, constituents would pay a convenience fee for immediate access to these records, resulting in an additional source of revenue for agencies. This additional revenue could be used to help fund online records access. That’s important, because lost revenue normally derived from services that have been affected by the pandemic is contributing to budget shortfalls.
Digitizing archives is just one example of how a digital strategy for the future can transform almost every aspect of government. Every city, town, county and state will need to reinvent itself as well as look for new areas to derive revenue in a time of fiscal restraint. Now is the best opportunity for governments to reprioritize digital investment and build a more resilient and effective government of tomorrow.
Ann Kirkbride is business unit director for digital processing services at Avenu Insights & Analytics.
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