Digitization used to sound like a techie word until scores of government employees were forced to transition from in-office to remote work — leaving behind paper files, printers and manual document routing rituals.
Although much of the workforce went virtual, aligning everyday processes with that shift had its ups, downs and learning curves in between. At GovLoop’s virtual summit Wednesday, government and industry leaders converged to share key takeaways from their efforts to future-proof agencies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attendees heard from:
- Nelson Moe, Chief Information Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia; Leader, Virginia Information Technologies Agency
- David J. Elges, Chief Information Officer, Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Department of Innovation & Technology, City of Boston
- Kevin Albrecht, Senior Customer Advisor, Government, Hyland Software
Their responses centered around findings from an upcoming report that GovLoop spearheaded in partnership with content services provider Hyland Software. It includes survey responses from more than 100 federal, state and local employees and contractors responding to COVID-19 and the need to deliver digital services.
Below, we’ve highlighted excerpts from our recent virtual panel.
How prepared was your agency to work remotely during COVID-19?
Moe: “It was a huge pivot.” The scope of Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s (VIDA) work spanned 65 agencies and some 55,000 employees who had to transition to telework. VIDA’s shift to a multi-supplier model two years ago, where best-of-breed suppliers provide a portfolio of services to adapt at speed and scale, was key in supporting the sudden shift to remote work.
Elges: “It was a bit of a challenge. It was something that the team collectively across the city leaned in to.” Within a two-week period, everyone was working remotely. That required making a centralized workforce decentralized. For agencies such as fire, police and schools, supporting the transition to remote work was tricky. Take schools, for example. Ensuring digital equity and reliable broadband presented challenges that the city had to work through.
What were some of the biggest pain points that you experienced in shifting to digital services?
Elges: “It’s really around change management.” Boston is an older city that’s steeped in how it does things. When a CIO comes in talking about digital transformation, it’s easy to get starry-eyed. In the early days, it was really about putting the salesman hat on and explaining the benefits of digitization to all levels of leadership.
Albrecht: It’s common for agencies to maintain systems that were built in-house decades ago by people who likely don’t work there anymore. Those systems are often good for managing structured content but not unstructured content, such as forms and photos, which are the backbone of many e-government programs.
Who is driving your agency’s efforts to digitize processes and services?
Elges: Sit down with members in each department and team and identify champions that can help with change management and who see the value of transformation. There are generations that want to interact with their government in a different way. Some still want in-person services. That’s where we have challenges around digital equity. It’s not just about the government providing digital services but also the skills and broadband connection required to access those services.
Albrecht: You can’t simply force everyone to fill out a form and submit it online. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still embrace digitization. For example, if someone mails in a form you can digitally capture that paper and maintain it in an electronic format.
How can agencies either get started or prioritize more digital service modernization efforts?
Moe: Look at current processes with fresh eyes. Focus on the cost and what you spend most of your time doing. Are there pain points there that can be addressed through digital transformation?
Albrecht: Go to your agency’s website or county or city. Identify those that have banners at the top of the web page that tell customers to expect processing delays. Those areas are ripe for modernization.
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