This is an interview with Jamie Butler and Brian Tracy, Solutions Architect Managers at Amazon Web Services, from our recent guide, State and Local Technology: What You Need to Know.
Many state and local governments are increasingly focusing on expanding their digital services to increase citizen engagement. However, the rapid pace of technological advancement can challenge many agencies as they pursue innovation. In fact, according to a NASCIO survey of state CIOs, 52 percent of states cite agency readiness as a challenge to delivering digital government services.
To learn how many agencies are transitioning to digital services, GovLoop sat down with Jamie Butler and Brian Tracy, Solutions Architect Managers at Amazon Web Services (AWS). They explained what citizen services should look like to effectively engage with its citizens through next-generation applications and platforms.
Butler and Tracy began by describing what government’s digital transformation should achieve. “An effective citizen service is one that is intuitive to use,” Tracy said. “It provides timely information or service in this connected world, and it is both easy to maintain and cost- effective.”
Butler agreed: “It can’t be something that requires a lot of training or a manual to operate. It has to be simple, and it should engage customers in a way that they are used to being engaged with.”
Butler likened the ideal citizen service to many modern company websites, where users are presented with a clean interface, easy navigation, and suggestions for potential queries or services. He also noted that services should be available over a variety of channels, including mobile, voice, and traditional web portals.
The goals of digital citizen services are clear to many agencies, but creating those functions is not as easy as buying and deploying one-off applications. Instead, organizations strategically craft multiple services that span communication channels and meet a diverse array of citizen needs. For instance, a portal that offers fishing licensing services should connect to other wildlife and agricultural state services and be accessible from mobile or desktop devices. That interconnectivity can spur further engagement and encourage users to pursue other services.
But to create comprehensive digital services, government agencies should rethink the way they approach service development and move away from linear, siloed production methods. Updated methodologies like Agile, human-centered design, and DevOps are better suited to meet the changing needs of technologies because they facilitate iterative development and incorporate constant feedback. However, those approaches require better tools – namely, cloud computing.
Commercial cloud provides an elastic and scalable infrastructure on which agencies can build new services and it can help organizations change the way they approach service delivery.
“The cloud provides a common, secure space that facilitates inter-agency and intra-agency data sharing,” Butler said. Information sharing is a critical first step for government organizations hoping to create holistic, connected experiences for constituents. With cloud, agencies can connect their services across websites and environments, as well as the data that feeds them. They can also use common building blocks to build disparate services, offering citizens a cohesive user experience across applications.
With the right cloud service, building applications also becomes easier. For instance, the city of Ottawa was able to use third-party cloud resources to rapidly prototype solutions and pilot projects in a variety of areas including deploying the internet of things sensors for traffic applications and water distribution, as well as updating the city’s website to handle surges in web traffic.
Cloud can also help agencies better connect directly with citizens, to ensure their services are meeting real needs. “The key in effectively engaging citizens with services is making sure it solves real problems,” Butler said. In Johnson County, Iowa, for example, the justice department is using cloud to connect inter-departmental and citizen-generated data to predict and identify populations that would benefit from a pre-jail diversion program.
Agencies can open their services and the data that informs them to more people, with greater confidence, with the cloud. Then, local and state governments can use those services to directly gather feedback from users, understand how service delivery is being received, and revise digital service strategies.
That iterative approach, coupled with easy-to-use development features, allows agencies to keep pace with changing demands on their digital platforms and applications. That’s the goal of digital transformation.
“What agencies really need is confidence that the technology or services that they plan to build upon are going to persist, and continue to improve over time,” Tracy concluded. “To operate on the bleeding edge, you have to test new ideas and cloud can give agencies the capability to do that.”
To read more about the latest news in public sector innovation, read our latest guide, State and Local Technology: What You Need to Know.