GovTech Reimagined in the COVID-19 Era
June 25, 2020 by Jeff Puckett
We tend to think of innovation in technology as a private sector phenomenon. Companies that can move fast do, keeping pace with — if not driving — modern advancements. But innovation is not only born in the private sector. It has been an increasing priority and focus of government for over a decade.
Throughout 2019, cites and counties asked, "Do manual systems that don't automate tasks meet today's needs? Are we keeping useful data away from potential partners? What valuable insights are going unnoticed?" These questions can only be answered through modern technology that enables innovation. From these questions, counties began to explore and attend to new, integrated technology foundations to break down siloes for greater efficiency and solution-bearing connections. Old paradigms were shifting, though in a slower, conservative approach.
Acceleration of Change
Then, our context changed. The COVID-19 pandemic emerged and accelerated these advancements. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing changed government operations and constituent engagement overnight. The new urgency laid bare the unfortunate shortcomings of outdated tech stacks. The limitations of legacy systems became obvious to public servants, highlighting critical capability gaps. Industry publications such as GovTech noted how the pandemic exposed other vulnerabilities in the public sector including cybersecurity weaknesses.
Recently on The New Yorker Radio Hour, Mayor Marian Orr of Cheyenne, Wyoming, noted, "Perhaps the way we do business and deliver government services shall be changed forever." This is a certainty. But how can counties thoughtfully pave a way forward that meets our current challenges while also ensuring long-term sustainability?
Creatively Leverage Existing Tech
I believe the way forward is two-fold. First, examining new ways to use existing systems will help provide uninterrupted service to residents while maintaining business operations.
The unique ability of cities and counties to act as pioneers in creatively leveraging mission-critical technology systems to continue services and respond to emerging needs has been apparent in many ways. Adding COVID-19 categories to existing 311 systems, using school bus transportation software to facilitate student meal delivery, leveraging data to inform action and communicate with the public, and exploring video technology for virtual courts are all recent examples.
As social distancing increases in scale, expanding functionality to conduct business with government online is critical. In Buffalo, New York, leaders created a centralized hub for employees and the public to access key COVID-19 information. Richmond, Virginia, added more than 700 users to its citizen self-service portal in just two weeks in April for online permitting applications and payments. The City of Los Angeles used its data to fuel a "food access" map in response to increased need.
County examples abound as well. In San Bernardino County, California, county leaders pivoted to a "remote command center" model to go live with a virtual court case management system to keep justice moving forward. Delaware County, Pennsylvania, moved valuation appeals from in-person to phone appeals, helping property owners meet deadlines during an unhalted reassessment process.
GovTech Stacks and the Cloud
Second, establishing strong government technology stacks will enable near-term crisis navigation. These stacks, which are government's digital foundation, are also essential for continued sustainability and scaling new programs into the future.
A solid GovTech Stack requires that governments think beyond the department level to determine how any system serves business partners, serves the public, and provides internal and external decision-makers with actionable insight. A complete GovTech Stack accounts for this expanded definition of "stakeholder" and contains:
- Integrated administrative and business management systems
- Two-way citizen engagement tools
- Modern data storage and integration
- Data analytics for actionable insight
Encircling these four key elements are robust cybersecurity and privacy controls along with an enterprise-wide cloud architecture.
At Tyler, we've been purposefully working toward this model for more than a decade. We've done this to meet the needs of an evolving digital world and to support our clients by reducing complexity and making their jobs easier.
Accelerating this vision with cloud technology provides counties with remote access to data and systems when buildings are closed. The cloud mitigates security risk with built-in disaster recovery, security compliance, and remote updates. It also improves the agility of government to respond quickly to crises and rapidly evolving situations. Tyler clients such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Bexar County, Texas, are benefiting from the cloud in a reduced physical IT footprint, capital and infrastructure savings, and newly streamlined workflows with relevant information accessible to all stakeholders.
Tyler is right there, ahead of the curve, in this transformation. We're evolving our technology ecosystem to support the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and anticipate the public sector's future needs.
In a context of uncertain fiscal impact and budget cuts and shortfalls, strategies that make operations smarter and more sustainable are critical to weather this crisis and be ready for what comes next. The focus on continued development is especially important as cities and counties realize the value of mobility, online engagement, and remote citizen interaction. In many ways, integrated workflows hold the key to effectively manage greater demand with fewer resources.
The importance of remote work, secure networks, and improved communication and access will drive ongoing innovation. Partnerships, too, will have enhanced importance in overcoming challenges. Our association and technology partnerships with NLC and NACo and our collaboration with AWS are good examples, as they help move the needle in delivering better services and improving communities.
While we can't predict what the future will hold, no one can deny that we can no longer afford to navigate across multiple silos to get timely, accurate information. Cities, counties, and other levels of government that implement strong GovTech Stacks bolstered by a common cloud infrastructure will significantly benefit from successful integration and data strategies.
The public sector was on the precipice of great change, but we now face an expedited timeline. We will emerge from this crisis not only with a new technology trajectory, but with a renewed appreciation for partnership and connectivity, and new hope for what we can achieve for communities across the country together. We can turn old models upside down and become known drivers of innovation that the private sector will follow.