As states reopen amid COVID-19, these guiding principles of government technology are more important than ever
This month brings both continued stay-at-home orders and loosened restrictions state by state. Wherever your community is in the process of reopening from COVID-19 shutdowns, these guiding principles of govtech are as important now as ever before.
These tenets can help guide those working in local and state government on what to prioritize before, during, and after communities reopen in this unprecedented time.
Effective Government Technology Should Provide . . .
Easy Access for Everyone
The public sector is unique in its mandate to serve every person, inclusive of their diverse needs and preferences. Government technology should equally promote ease of use for people who run their lives from a smartphone, cash-preferred customers who pay their bills in person, and those who want to talk to a government representative about a complex issue.
Here are some questions to consider to promote access to public services — during COVID-19 and beyond:
Can people find and complete all tasks online? How about on mobile?
Even as some government buildings begin reopening, many people are choosing to conduct as much business from home as possible — and often from a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device. It’s a trend that began before COVID-19, and we predict that it will continue long after.
Provide online functionality that lets customers complete an application or a payment in one sitting. Work with a technology partner that enables full functionality on any mobile device for web payments and online forms.
Are there safe, self-service options for in-person customers?
Although many people choose to conduct business online, many still require in-person service. In fact, we saw one utility’s in-person kiosk usage jump 19% in April 2020 even while their payment centers were closed due to COVID-19. People may choose to come to a government payment center in person to pay water bills, property taxes, child support, and other important payments. In-person payments may be the only option for people who must pay in cash because they are underbanked with limited access to banking services like credit cards and checking accounts.
Payment kiosks provide a contactless, self-service payment option for customers paying in person, fully eliminating person-to-person contact. They can also extend business hours and shorten wait times, providing a customer convenience even when your cashiers are back in government offices and payment centers.
Can remote staff provide excellent customer service?
COVID-19 has pushed administrative staff in every sector to do as much of their jobs remotely as possible. The public sector may not be as readily equipped with technology that allows for seamless work from home. But there are cloud-based govtech solutions out there that are fast and easy to implement now, and battle-tested for longevity.
You can prioritize your staff’s health and your customer service at the same time, by arming remote staff with technology that allows them to effectively answer customer questions and resolve issues. Look for government software solutions that:
- Provide secure login off-premise, with full functionality on remote devices
- Have no cap on users, so you can quickly onboard new staff as needed
- Allow multiple teams to share the same source of truth for data, with role-based and department-based permission levels
- Make it easy to locate specific customer records, and resolve issues from the same tool
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Transparency and Trust
People are looking to their local government as a trustworthy source of information and support. Keeping constituents informed is so crucial to a healthy local government that we called it step 1 in our 5-step roadmap to digitizing government back in 2019.
It’s even more important now during the urgency and uncertainty of COVID-19. People are navigating resources and processes they may be completely unfamiliar with, and trying to find new information about rapidly evolving local policies.
At CityBase, we believe technology should aid government transparency and build trust between constituents and their cities, counties, and states. Here are a few things to consider as you manage public sector websites and service delivery platforms:
Is information easy for everyone to understand?
Keep content at an eighth-grade reading level. Remove or translate legalese into layman’s terms. Provide language options for the most commonly spoken languages in your communities. Even if you only provide information in English, free translation services like Google Translate are most accurate when you keep wording simple.
Can people find the information and services they need?
Many people don’t know exactly what services are available to them, or which government departments oversee those services. Make it easier for people to discover relevant information by grouping resources by topic — even if they are managed by various departments.
Do constituents know the status of their request?
Government resources are stretched as unprecedented numbers of requests are flooding their systems — from economic relief applications to small business loans, to unemployment resources and payment plans. Give your staff some breathing room by automating common but critical tasks like keeping people updated about the services they’re counting on.
If you’re newly digitizing forms and applications, use a form-builder that has a staff interface and business process automation tools baked into the solution. For instance, CityBase Screendoor allows staff to set automatic alerts that tell constituents when their application status changes, so they can trust their request is being processed.
Explore related case studies:
- How Indy Transformed Government Services to Launch a Digital City Hall
- COVID-19 Economic Relief in Sacramento, California
If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that we must be prepared to evolve quickly to meet unforeseen demands. A resilient technological infrastructure should be reliable, scalable, and adaptable.
Think about the following as you look for new solutions or consider retiring legacy technology:
Is our system prepared for an influx of activity?
As a customer, it’s discouraging to fail to access an online service because the website times out from too many users. When that service is a public benefit that’s meeting an urgent need, that scenario is unacceptable. We’ve seen huge usage spikes for digital government applications surrounding COVID-19, but the scenario is also common during important deadlines like Tax Day or Election Day.
Your technology partner should have a plan for “always uptime.” For instance, at CityBase, we do this through things like zero-downtime software updates, releasing technology more frequently while mitigating risks. And Kubernetes, our infrastructure management system, scales elastically to meet demand.
Are we vulnerable to a single point of failure?
Resilient government technology should account for unexpected events — including those of pandemic proportions. Even in the best times, a reliable solution should be able to evolve to meet future constituent needs, government staffing, and upgraded technologies. Ask yourself (and your technology partner):
- What system security monitoring is in place? As governments make more services digitally accessible, information security should be a paramount priority. Robust security measures should include proactive, real-time monitoring, alerting, and response capabilities on system events that may be security-related.
- Can staff learn software quickly and use it effectively? If there’s only one person in your office who knows how a system works, you are vulnerable to that system failing. We believe govtech providers should obsess over the user experience of staff-facing technology, making it easier for people to do their daily jobs and to onboard new staff even as older generations retire.
- Can we upgrade our tech stack without disrupting service? As technologies and your community’s needs evolve, your system should be flexible enough to upgrade technology without compromising availability. Work with a vendor that can provide a consistent, unified experience for both constituents and staff, even as you replace outdated tech or bring new services live. For instance, we worked with the City and County of San Francisco to launch 20+ payment types in a few months, replacing a legacy vendor without service disruption, as well as bringing new payments online for the first time.
Are we working with a technology partner we can rely on?
We applaud the unsung heroes in local and state governments who are facing unprecedented challenges to provide public services to America’s communities. Please remember, you are not alone. We believe that engagements between local governments and technology vendors should be a true partnership. At CityBase, our technology is stronger because of the insights we’re lucky enough to gain from working with innovative governments across the country. In return, we promise to tackle challenges quickly, creatively, and enthusiastically, undeterred by the scope of the problem or the complexity of the solution.
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Also published on Medium.