The COVID-19 pandemic has tested everyone, but the crisis has also taught agencies valuable lessons about serving the public.
When times are tough, agencies now know they can improve their operations quickly and continuously. More importantly, agencies are realizing limitless innovation is the secret to getting people the products and services they need when it matters.
On Wednesday, during GovLoop’s latest online training, three government thought leaders discussed how agencies can emerge stronger than ever from crises like COVID-19. The group included:
- Eric Kihn, Director of the National Centers for Environmental Information’s (NCEI) Center for Coasts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
- William Kehoe, Washington’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech).
- Russel Pavlicek, Cloud Solutions Architect at Red Hat, an open-source software provider.
Wednesday’s speakers discussed how agencies can seize the agility emergencies like COVID-19 inspire and move forward:
1. Always be prepared
Agencies cannot predict the future, but they can control their responses to unexpected challenges like natural disasters now.
“You need the processes in place so that when the next left turn hits, you can pivot and get there with the least amount of inconvenience possible,” Pavlicek said. “We need to come up with new solutions as needed.”
Agility is the secret ingredient agencies need for weathering any storm. Unfortunately, some organizations sacrifice agility modernizing legacy technology rather than adopting new tools.
“It’s not just let’s do what we do better – it is let’s do something different,” Pavlicek said. “You need to rethink those terms.”
2. Digitize and automate documentation
Currently, paper frequently slows agencies down. Moving physical documents takes more energy, money and time than transmitting the same information electronically.
How can agencies abandon paper-based workflows? The answer is automation, or machines performing tasks like recording COVID-19 vaccinations with little to no human input.
“We couldn’t go through a high volume of forms without some kind of automation,” Kehoe said of Washington’s COVID-19 experience. “Business process automation is going to be a key part of our strategy going forward.”
3. Look at legacy tools
With aging technologies, modernization can seem inevitable. But Kihn recommended agencies look before leaping into new tools.
“It is important to understand the functionality of your legacy systems,” Kihn said. “When you go to change that system out and you’re talking to a vendor, do you understand completely what it is doing functionally for your organization today?”
Agencies should only upgrade mission-critical tools once their responsibilities can be reassigned to new ones.
Why modernization matters
Americans depend on public-sector goods and services, so agencies must have the flexibility for problems like COVID-19. Without nimbleness, disruptions may end up hurting innocent people.
“I think government modernization is essential to the health of the nation,” Kihn said. “We need to create a culture of agility.”
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