Nearly every natural disaster, or in this case, a global pandemic, exposes weaknesses in government technology systems. We saw it with Hurricane Katrina, which spurred a four-state consortium to migrate to the cloud. We saw it with the Great Recession. And now we’re seeing COVID-19 cripple, or in some cases completely take down, certain legacy systems and agencies that have been reliant on manual processes.
In California, individuals trying to apply for jobless benefits were met with jammed phone lines, online error messages, frozen screens and glitches. The services offered through the Employment Development Department buckled under the increased demand, revealing the state’s technology was acutely underprepared for crisis situations.
This wasn’t limited to California, however. According to a report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, which tested the accessibility of all 50 state unemployment websites, more than half crashed when applications surged and a vast majority were not optimized for people using mobile devices. Considering 20 percent of Americans access the internet via their mobile devices while at home, this presented a significant barrier.
Some states had to resort to pen and paper filings to handle the influx of applications, which added delays and made it inaccessible to those who either didn’t possess a printer, or couldn’t go to a physical location to pick-up the form.
But this scenario is all too common even in “normal” times. As demands continue to rise, staff sizes shrink and teams don’t have the tools necessary to process requests efficiently. This is because their systems are either built on a tapestry of cobbled-together and antiquated tools, or the existing technology relies too heavily on manual processes and is inflexible. This not only makes rapid response a challenge, it puts state and agency officials in a scramble any time improvements or updates need to be made.
Public sector licensing agencies must think about digitizing now more than ever. COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses inherent to manual, paper-based processes and, undoubtedly, stakeholders will be calling on agencies to make significant changes.
A Shift In Stakeholder Expectations
Customers and constituents have come to expect the same level of service, self-service and ease from their governmental institutions that they’ve grown accustomed to in the consumer landscape. Whether they’re filing for unemployment, applying for a license or making a claim, they expect to be met with a system that allows for flexibility and ease of use. They want the option for self-service, to get answers when and where they need them, and to be able to complete the process in a user-friendly virtual environment.
And they’re not the only ones. Across the country, many local government officials have set forth initiatives that compel the government to move at the speed of business. They’ve challenged agencies to look under the hood at their workflows and processes, to see how they can get through applications, claims and requests quicker—to remove the bottlenecks that stymie production and, ultimately, economies. Similarly, lobbyists from national organizations are putting pressure on agencies to increase capacity to allow their association members to move through filings that are inhibiting workflow.
Concern For Safety And Security
Public sector entities could be unknowingly exposing themselves to cyber threat if they’re using legacy technology. Often, these tools aren’t regularly updated and many don’t have the right securities baked in. This creates incredible vulnerability for organizations that are dealing with sensitive information. Cloud-based systems are able to make security and compliance updates quicker, reducing the risk of an agency falling out of compliance.
The Ability To Do More With Less
So for licensing agencies in the public sector, there are two truths: They’re operating on limited budgets and staff size, and managing an ever-increasing number of customer requests. Inadequate resources naturally translate to longer processing times, and yet, there is still immense pressure from outside influencers—customers, local governments, industry lobbyists or national associations—to process these requests quickly and with total accuracy.
That means licensing agencies are left with three possible outcomes. Leadership can simply choose not to act, thus allowing processing times to grow even higher. They can add staff, which is a costly and not always guaranteed way to improve results. Or, they can introduce the right technology that enhances the workflow of their existing teams, a solution that makes it easier for them to meet customer demands and that is nimble enough to be configured for ever-changing customer demands.
In fact, the best way for licensing agencies to truly overcome the challenges of their limited resources is to invest in the right technology. Digital transformation can enable one person to process 10 applications instead of five. It can help organizations move beyond their dependence on manual and paper-based processes to a more efficient and automated system. It reduces errors, resulting in lower deficiency rates which translate to less re-work, customer inquiries and frustrations from the licensing rep and customer.
Future-Proofing Saves Valuable Resources
Government and technology have a complicated past. Many agencies have been burned by over-priced systems that never quite delivered on their promises. But more often than not, issues arise when agencies choose to partner with service providers that either don’t have the necessary industry knowledge or don’t have the bench strength to maintain support after the technology implementation has been completed.
In other cases, the technology used is so customized and complex that it ties the agency to the provider for future upgrades or necessary coding changes. And, unfortunately, so few of these providers have the resources required to provide state organizations with the proper level of maintenance and technical support.
Five years down the line, licensing agencies often find themselves with expensive technology that’s essentially obsolete. Any updates they decide to make with the small service provider come at massive additional costs. Or, they’re forced to task internal employees with the job of developing inefficient workarounds, wasting money and creating more work for agency staff.
Licensing technology that’s worthy of investment grows and adapts with your agency. It’s built to match the unique workflows of your various teams and departments, and it evolves to keep up with changing regulations as well as industry needs and constraints. And because it evolves, it eliminates the need to reinvest in pricey technology every few years.
You can bet state governments will continue to put pressure on agencies to modernize their systems, especially as many begin to realize that the technology problems existed well before COVID-19. The pandemic just put it all under the microscope.