For the time being, we have averted the fiscal cliff. However, as local governments return from the holidays, they continue to face the same struggles with budget, smaller staffs and continued expectations from their constituents. As cities and counties face the new year, how can they simplify their approach to IT and feel good about selecting the right trends to follow?
Here are three resolutions that will launch local government onto a path for better constituent service and more efficient government:
1. Go digital: By eliminating paper and moving to electronic forms, document management and workflow automation, you save time associated with filing, printing and copying information – a very good thing if you have had to reduce staff. Paperless processes eliminate lost documents and speed up processes, making constituents happy as well as supporting green initiatives.
Automating paper processes also makes it easier for government to collaborate between departments that may be serving the same constituents, whether it’s a case management approach to permitting inquiries, human services or economic development. Eliminating duplication of efforts and tasks that are simply the burden of paper will immediately increase government efficiency. Now is the time to capture some of those savings!
2. Go mobile: If going digital is transforming the core of traditional government, going mobile is the recognition that having the right IT hardware to do our jobs in government is no longer a luxury. Children are using smartphones and will grow up thinking of them as necessities. As a result, it’s essential for government to harness this extreme mobility. Doing so allows staff to do more work in the field. With the prices of handsets and tablets so low, it’s also cheaper than buying a desktop, not to mention the fact that field staff are seldom in the office to work on that desktop.
The additional time available to field staff by avoiding the drive to the office, collecting and re-filing paper documents and the ability to know about an emergency situation instantly will change the backlog of work and the perception of your service. As you move to a paperless world, going mobile gets easier. As a result, it makes sense to couple your paper elimination with departments who need access to documents in the field so you can increase the impact of these two resolutions by making them work together.
3. Go self-service: Some time ago, I wrote that I believed one of the things we dislike about government is waiting – waiting in line, waiting on the phone, waiting for things to happen. Coupled with the availability of so many self-service options through services like online shopping and banking, pressure has been put on local government to offer the same experience. Self-service opportunities are no longer “nice to have.” The availability of the Internet, the smartphone and the “always connected citizen” have simply changed the game.
Today, constituents expect everyone to have a website with services – not just static text. The good news for strapped government is that this trend has positive benefits in so many areas that it must be prioritized as you look at your IT investment for the coming year. If your most popular paper-based forms were available online, people could conduct their business at their convenience. And, if they could see how this process is moving forward by visiting a portal, receiving a text message or an email, they would enjoy this convenience rather than waiting for one of your overworked staff members to answer the phone during business hours. Imagine if this could happen automatically so you didn’t have to worry about an application languishing in a backlog or even getting lost in the mountain of paper on a desk. The advantage of a self-service government process is that it moves faster, keeps constituents informed AND relieves your staff of tasks AT THE SAME TIME. And it all starts with going paperless and being aware of the tremendous opportunity offered by affordable mobile technologies that are now in the hands of many of our constituents.
Technology is always touting the next big thing, and it can be difficult to select or to risk scarce dollars on a trend you aren’t sure about. However, these trends are proven to save money and time while embracing something that our constituents expect. Going paperless, mobile and self-service are the essence of faster, cheaper, better government and will serve your community well if you resolve to make this your IT road map for the new year.