Help Yourself! Creating Self-Service Government with ECM

Back in 2004, I was involved in the creation of my department’s website which coincided with the actual launch of the department. We were lucky because our department began at a time when websites were becoming common in government, and our director knew how important that website would be for our customers. Not everyone was sold on the idea, some pointed to the lack of email addresses for our towns and counties and asked whether it was fair to use a website to replace traditional government letterhead and correspondence.

But then, an amazing thing happened, within 1 year of our website launch, 100% of our county and town customers had email addresses. Why? Because they saw the value of email for the first time and they too liked the speed of an email response from my colleagues and they loved being able to check for the latest grant announcements online. Our website had great traffic and we took less calls for basic information because a new, self-service option was available to our constituents.

Fast forward to today. Unlike 2004, our current government constituents have technology expectations. They use social media, they shop online and they use kiosks everywhere, the movie theatre, the ATM, the airport, the post office. How can government meet the expectations of their constituents? With new technologies like ECM and document management, government can meet these expectations and navigate reduced budget and staffing levels. We needed the vision of a website back in 2004 to be a modern and responsive state agency, and today, we need a vision of self-service to get us through the “new normal” of smaller budgets.

Like the World Wide Web, ECM strategies present so many options for government that it could be easy to overlook the obvious support that ECM provides for self-service. Self-service is not only a strategy for helping to maintain constituent service levels with less staff, it is an absolute expectation of today’s citizen. So, the government entity that fails to branch into these areas does so at the risk of appearing to provide less service because the budget cutbacks will not allow “business as usual” methods of serving constituents but also, constituents simply expect to be able to access government through their computer and smartphone.

So, how can enterprise content management (ECM) help?

First, ECM can provide both the document repository and the workflow automation to backstop your online services. From taking a 3-1-1 request to applying for assistance to requesting a building permit, ECM can help government launch a paperless process and provide a way for applicants to upload relevant documents. This means that the request is immediately routed to a staff person without printing and filing and the request could be worked on by more than one person at a time, speeding up a process. The result? Faster and cheaper government service, without making a constituent travel to your office during business hours.

ECM can also help provide a self-service option for typical public records requests or to view public documents. Using your ECM solution search function, now embedded in your website, constituents can search for documents themselves without waiting to make a records request and without staff having to stand at photocopy machines rather than doing other tasks. The result? Constituents can serve themselves, and your government operations are more transparent.

Kiosks are a great way to take payments, route applicants and begin processes and agencies and universities are linking kiosks to their ECM solutions to help provide better service by making it possible for customers to start the transaction themselves. The result? They can focus their staff time on harder tasks that require human interaction and allow other transactions to be taken care of entirely by a kiosk, reducing wait times and sending customers away happy about the sped of their transaction.

Smart phones now have a role to play in how government services and information is dispensed. As you explore this option for your agency, consider that some ECM vendors have mobile apps for Blackberries, iPhones, Windows 7 and Android phones and support mobile devices like the iPad. With these technologies expanding and with their lower hardware costs, they provide a very viable option for self-service, as well as supporting government field staff. ECM vendors with a smartphone option allow you to create constituent apps with document access, a very customer-friendly face to your government. Your ECM investment, like my website work back in 2004, must support this obligatory option to keep pace with the growing presence of apps as a way to interface with government.

As more government agencies move into ECM, a last self-service option has emerged, an integrated subscription or pay-for-documents portal. This eCommerce option, which leverages your previously internal ECM, can allow you to configure and deploy a document service that is web-based. Constituents can search for documents and then pay to download them. In traditional records requests, many jurisdictions are allowed to recover costs for printing or providing the document. Using your ECM solution with this eCommerce component means that you can recover the costs of your ECM solution while providing another self-service option for your constituents.

ECM solutions provide a number of ways to create self-service government, whether that is backstopping your online services, providing access to government documents, supporting kiosk transactions or helping to recover document costs. The key is to realize that ECM can mean more self-service options and to recognize that this is the expectation of constituents that have grown up with the Web and the kiosk. With the right ECM vendor, the expectations of your constituents and the realities of your budget can meet with an ECM-based, responsive self-service solution.

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