6 Ways to Create a Citizen-Centered Business Model

Private sector customers have become accustomed to responsive, reactive and responsible customer service interactions. Companies who have embraced a customer-centered business model have witnessed benefits to their bottom line, building a loyal fan base and attaining a corner of their respective markets. For example, Zappos customer service is legendary and continues to propel the company’s sales, nearly 75% of their sales are from existing customers. Zappos commitment to service and philosophy to “deliver WOW through customer service“ is a primary factor leading to over 1 billion in sales.

And yes, Zappos might make an occasional error, but undeniably, citizens now expect the Zappos experience from government – and why shouldn’t we? Technology is now readily available to help create intelligent systems to improve the way services are delivered and communicated to citizens. Leveraging existing technology enables organizations to take a holistic view of a citizen’s needs, gaining valuable insights about an individual across programs.

Yet, this goal is rarely achieved by government agencies. Today, agencies are not only faced with increasing demands on social programs, but also must combat meeting demand in a restrictive budgetary climate. Even before the Great Recession, the demands on government were growing to provide assistance to aging populations, improve medical support, combat homelessness and deliver a myriad of other social programs.

The chart below is from Recession Trends, a joint initiative of the Russell Sage Foundation and Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, and shows expenditures per capita on means-tested and social insurance programs from a federal perspective. Total expenditures have been means-tested and are represented in constant dollars, divided by the total population of the US. The chart below shows a steady increase over time in the need for government to provide social programs.

(Source and methodology here)

The chart doesn’t tell the whole story. Although expenditures are increasing for social programs and demand may be increasing – this means that agencies can do more to fight waste, fraud and abuse and implement technological solutions to gain efficiencies, eliminate paper, consolidate data and automate processes.

One case study showing the power of transforming social services comes from Alameda County Social Services Agency (SSA). The SSA employs 2,200 workers and works with organizations to support the needs of citizens in Alameda County. The agency provides assistance to approximately 11 percent of Alameda County’s 1.6 million residents, providing assistance for programs related to:

  • Employment
  • Training
  • Financial assistance
  • Housing
  • Homelessness
  • Adult and aging services
  • Children and family services
  • Employment services

Like many public sector organizations, SSA had client data dispersed across their organization, and decided they needed to consolidate and unify customer data across programs. Alameda’s challenges were similar to many across government: employees manually entered data to track clients across systems, which lead to potential errors in tracking benefits and inaccuracy of client files.

At any given time, 1,200 caseworkers were responsible for 500 to 600 cases and the agency was constantly challenged to think of new ways to maximize employee productivity and track agency performance. Alameda County SSA decided to overcome these challenges and improve service delivery by creating a unified platform for tracking their customer data.

A report from IBM notes, “Alameda County SSA decided to deploy a unified platform for tracking all of the data related to its services, benefits, eligibility, clients, and other operationally critical data points.” Alameda County worked with IBM to develop a robust solution to transform how services were delivered. The County deployed a solution they name the Social Services Integrated Reporting System (SSIRS) and under the covers deployed IBM InfoSphere Identity Insight with IBM Cognos and IBM InfoSphere Warehouse. The IBM solution equipped Alameda County with capabilities in advanced entity analytics, business performance and integrated data warehousing. Impressively, the system was deployed and running within 6 months at the agency. The report highlighted some of the features of SSIRS:

  • Consolidated data sources from various programs, which enable administrators to disburse payments only if the client was eligible under program standards.
  • Provided notices to clients with pertinent information on their case, with instructions on how to best contact their caseworker.
  • Verified addresses and tracked address changes of clients.
  • Automated status alerts are provided to caseworkers and administrators with up to date information on clients.
  • Delivered a ROI of 631%, 2 months payback period and an average annual benefit of $24,725,000.

How did Alameda County get to this point? I took some time to reflect and think through 6 Ways to Create a Citizen-Centered Business Model, which is essential to transform service delivery in the public sector and achieved by Alameda County.

  1. Change the Philosophy of Social Service Delivery: Alameda County is a great example, as they created a holistic 360-degree view of the client and program.
  2. Address Core Challenges Facing Agencies: Alameda County knew the challenges they were facing such as data integrity and data residing in disparate data sets.
  3. Turn Data Actionable: The County not only consolidated data, but also made data actionable for employees and clients, by automating certain activities and giving a full view across programs.
  4. Collaborate Across Programs to Gain Single View of Client: Data and client information often extends across programs and agencies, as clients are often part of multiple programs. To gain a full view of a client, collaboration is essential to build a full view of the citizen.
  5. Tailor Solutions for Customer Need: Solutions must be developed that meet customer needs, and every client will have unique considerations and needs. Agencies will always be challenged to meet the needs of the many against the needs of the few, but technology can help assist and automate many common issues, and provided more tailored and personalized approach to more complex cases.
  6. Measure Impact and Develop ROI: Agencies must look at the ROI of the investment, understanding improvements to efficiency, productivity and client service delivery. This involves knowing the key indicators to track, related costs and proper performance measurements.

Social programs play a vital role in providing assistance to those in need and are at the heart of a vibrant democracy. Agencies must continue to look at innovative solutions to improve the delivery of services to meet growing demand. As society continues to change and the role government continues to evolve, agencies must be sure they are positioned to provide the right services, at the right time.

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