Punch lines shouldn’t shape perceptions—but they often do.
For far too long, jokes about slow service, indifferent employees, and excessive red tape have negatively influenced the way many people view local, state, and federal government agencies in the United States.
Administrators across the nation are finally beginning to rewrite this citizen experience narrative, using technology modernization to change preconceptions about what public services providers can—or, perhaps more importantly,
The case for modernization
President Joe Biden set the stage for transformation when he issued the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government,1 instructing all federal agencies to update their technology to better serve the public. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) also identified improving citizen experiences as one of its top priorities.2 Both suggest similar goals:
– Build trust. Officials believe enhancing delivery of public services may bolster citizen trust in government.
– Promote equity. Digital services can help improve accessibility to, and the inclusivity of, government
– Meet expectations. Citizens have grown accustomed to engaging with organizations electronically, public
Services providers at every level are scrutinizing their operations with these objectives in mind. The agencies making the most progress—and literally transforming citizen experiences—have aligned their approach to what we believe are three key imperatives.
The agencies making the most progress—and literally transforming citizen experiences—have aligned their approach to what we believe are three key imperatives.
Three imperatives for transformative experiences
Regardless of where your agency is in its modernization journey, you’ll ultimately need to do three things well to deliver transformative citizen experiences:
- Ask users to pinpoint experience problems. It’s tough to boost customer satisfaction if you don’t recognize the issues disrupting delivery of your services. The best way to learn about these blockers is to ask the people who engage with your programs and technology the most: citizens and employees.
Gathering information and insights directly from end-users rather than making assumptions leads to informed decision-making. Feedback-driven solution design should also increase transparency, reduce costs, and help you avoid other common pitfalls that can derail transformation efforts.4
Officials at the Department of Human Services (DHS) for one Northwestern state were keenly aware of the service challenges they’d face starting in April 2023. That’s when the more than 1.5 million residents who’d been receiving pandemic-era assistance through the state had to reapply for their benefits.
Realizing the additional demand this would place on its contact center and agents, the DHS worked with its technology partners to build a dual-hosted data center. The new system incorporates data dips, verbal signatures, and an interactive voice response system that automates many of the processes, freeing agents to deal with more complex customer service issues.
By more than doubling the number of shared services agents from 2,000 to approximately 5,000 and deploying chatbots and other digital tools, the DHS was able to handle the increased workload while improving overall service levels for applicants.
- Focus on outcomes rather than output. By concentrating on creating better citizen experiences overall instead of addressing specific problems like long lines, obsolete equipment, and outdated policies, you can create outcomes that are far more impactful than the sum of individual improvements.
Consider the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division (AZ MVD), which reimagined how the agency could configure its IT environment and branch layouts to deliver faster, more efficient, and friendlier service online and in-person.
The agency’s digital modernization prioritized re-architecting front- and back-end processes, rebuilding applications, migrating data, and launching significant data cleansing and management projects. Physical office improvements included updating scheduling and queuing processes, adding digital signage, and redesigning the floor plan so more customers can be served simultaneously.
Since unveiling the new technology, more than 60 services have been moved online for real-time MVD transactions, and payments can be processed in two seconds over a high-speed secured internet line. Plus, MVD staff can work more freely within and across agency locations and can even request additional help during peak periods from virtual customer service staff in other offices.
- Partner with specialists for co-creation. It’s a simple fact: Government agencies often lack the internal resources to manage large-scale technology projects. That’s why many public organizations collaborate with private companies to plan, execute, and maintain the modernization efforts that underpin their customer service initiatives.
If you’re thinking about partnering for co-creation with a technology vendor, system integrator, or third-party advisor, search for a firm that:
– Has deep expertise in your industry and the experience to lead you through the entire modernization
– Contributes to the overall success of the initiative rather than focusing solely on its role in the process.
– Recommends the best solutions for your needs, regardless of who manufactures the product or
delivers the service.
Co-creation is particularly vital when you’re trying to identify root causes and fast-track digital solutions for long-standing challenges without the benefit of proximity.
Such is the case for one Department of Education (DoE) agency in the US. Rather than go it alone, the agency is collaborating with Kyndryl and several technology vendors to modernize the infrastructure for its school systems.
The project will integrate cabling and switches in more than 850 schools over a 12-month period, enabling Power Over Ethernet (PoE) connections in 32,000-plus classrooms. New card readers are also being installed in each classroom to accurately monitor time and attendance for teachers and students.
When complete, the DoE’s digital modernization will provide technology parity to students throughout the region and allow educators to access more content, resources, and materials for classroom instruction.
New expectations for a new day
Past interactions don’t have to permanently define future expectations, no matter what an organization’s track record suggests. By using modern technology to deliver services more efficiently, effectively, and equitably, public agencies can create transformative experiences for all citizens.
Then, over time, the wisecracks and criticism so often directed at government services providers may give way to rave reviews.
Rajesh Jaluka is Chief Technology Officer for US Public and Federal markets at Kyndryl.
- Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, The White House, December 2021
- State CIO top 10 policy and technology priorities for 2023, NASCIO, December 2022
- How can government make digital services more inclusive?, Government Technology, March 2022
- Want to restore trust in government? Start with customer experience, Brookings, January 2022