Why does self-service help us all?

January 16, 2022 by Meredith Trimble

Why does self-service help us all?

Entering 2022, things haven’t exactly returned to “normal” in the public sector as we may have expected. Instead of focusing on upcoming budget timelines and training for newly elected officials, staff have turned toward the complicated logistics of mask and COVID-19 test distribution. Agencies and schools alike have dealt with staffing shortages and continued disruptions. Residents still need uniquely high levels of service and information in areas where a new virus variant is exploding, making public waiting areas and in-person meetings seem off the mark.

In some ways, the surprising twists of the pandemic, now nearly two years in, create a frustrating sense of moving backwards. In other ways, the pandemic context forced governments forward at an accelerated pace. As noted in “An Industry Journey: Transformation and Opportunity in the Cloud,” the pandemic “accelerated adoption of technology that enabled remote work and facilitated virtual services.”

New Castle County, Delaware, for instance, transitioned to a cloud-based ERP solution and is now enjoying intuitive, user-centered workflows, self-service capabilities for customers, and increased transparency and dashboard reporting. This shift makes day-to-day work easier for all involved, something that will matter even after the pandemic’s end.

Helping Government Staff

In New Castle County, replacing the legacy financial system with a more modern, enterprise-wide solution proved beneficial for staff at all levels. A redesigned chart of accounts, fully integrated purchasing, and flexible budgeting are just a few improvements. To everyone’s relief, real-time reporting replaced offline spreadsheets created from point-in-time extracts. Touchless, paperless workflows are now the norm. These efficiencies significantly increased productivity.

Elsewhere, technology that enabled remote work will continue to be important as community and staff needs evolve. Familiar, in-person workflows, for example, transitioned to web-based cloud solutions like digital content management, electronic time sheets, and employee self-service.

It’s also the case that helping residents access services and information on their own relieves staff burden, freeing up resources for more strategic, higher-level tasks.

Helping Partners and the Public

Moving to digital processes in community development, for example, transforms interactions that used to require valuable time and resources, such as in-person permitting and licensing, into tasks that can be completed with a click of a button. Residents and business partners can easily engage with government on local development projects on their own time and without the need for phone calls or office visits.

El Cajon, California, accelerated online services to include virtual inspections and plan reviews along with a civic engagement app. Richmond, Virginia, saw more than 700 new contractors and developers making payments online instead of waiting in lines in city hall. In Kansas City, Missouri, thousands of constituents now use an online portal to access the daily inspection tracker and fee estimator, among other resources, instead of creating in-person traffic at city hall.

Residents are also skipping lines in Mississippi, where an online scheduling tool allows them to schedule in-person, phone, or virtual appointments with agencies such as the Department of Public Safety. The system provides agencies with a way to communicate with constituents through automated text and email reminders. Notably, it can also electronically collect required information, forms, and payments ahead of in-person visits, saving additional in-office time and hassle.

Departments even figured out creative, and likely lasting, ways to help residents through major life events. The Washtenaw County, Michigan, Clerk/Register of Vital Records used self-service software to create a virtual marriage license application process, including online document uploads and fee payments, as well as virtual witness appointments.

Moving Forward, Better

These types of self-service opportunities often result in more equitable communities. New and creative ways to break down barriers and create more accessible government present better steps forward in any context. The Oregon Judicial Department, for example, helps self-represented litigants navigate complex court processes and fill out forms correctly on their own with a web-based platform that simplifies documents into plain-language questions. Similarly, the Los Angeles Superior Court uses a cloud-based online dispute resolution tool to help co-parents create parenting plans without having to hire a lawyer, find childcare, take time off from work, or travel to a courthouse.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services uses a cloud-hosted case management system for its IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) Waiver program serving more than 22,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities. The system provides users with a way to manage their own benefits, directing their care and retaining agency over their health while at home or in another care setting.

Public-facing community engagement tools across the country are allowing residents to make payments, participate in virtual meetings, report non-emergency issues, and request and respond to services in convenient, intuitive, and immediate ways. Moving further into 2022 and, hopefully, out of a pandemic context, the benefits of self-service can continue to make things easier all around.

Self-service solutions can make internal operations smarter and more sustainable. And the benefits of mobility, online engagement, and remote citizen interaction will continue to enhance service and drive communities forward.

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