we knew that we were going to be dealing with a lot of calls."

Close coordination between DOR's tax processing applications, the GovConnect-hosted tax-filing Web site and the DOR-operated call center is vital to delivering the service that taxpayers expect. Therefore, DOR and GovConnect created an interface that allows taxpayer data to flow between the agency and contractor on demand via the Internet.

"We had to build a whole process to get information to GovConnect from our legacy system in a live mode. That was something I don't think anyone else had ever done to this level," Peterson said. "There isn't any of the batch processing that you normally see in these hosted arrangements."

The system, now known as e-File Minnesota, began operating on July 1 for sales, withholding and several other business taxes - eliminating the option of filing paper returns for those tax types. As of early October, the system had processed nearly 270,000 electronic returns and taxpayers were reacting favorably.

"We are getting a significant number of positive e-mails thanking us and telling us how good it is," said DOR Assistant Commissioner Richard Alman. "It's been very gratifying to see the response because [taxpayers] do think it's better than what they had before."

Planning the Future

The California DMV hopes for similar results from its DMV of the Future initiative. The agency intended to release a series of customer-service recommendations this fall based on its private-sector research.

Some of the most striking lessons from the DMV's site visits had little to do with technology, according to CIO Ann Barsotti. "These companies felt that they had some of the best technologies, but they kind of took that for granted. The most important thing they were managing was their resources and their staff."

That finding may translate into a focus on better training for DMV workers, said Mimi Khan, deputy director of the DMV's administrative services division. "We need to concentrate on enhanced education because our employees are the first impact that we have with our customer."

Those employees also may eventually see the DMV's internal systems become easier to use. Barsotti said systems used by employees at retailer Nordstrom were startlingly simply to operate, freeing workers to focus on customer needs.

"When we looked at the transactions that the staff had to do, everything was spelled out for them. They didn't need a cheat sheet to know what a code meant. Everything was entered in English," she said.

That's not currently the case for DMV employees, noted Kahn. "They have to know DMV terminology and they need to have some understanding of our vehicle codes. When I sit down at a field office, someone always has to explain things to me on how to move through the screens."

Also intriguing, she said, are incentives used by companies such as Southwest Airlines to lure customers to Web-based applications. Kahn said the DMV is exploring that option, but she added that meaningful incentives are harder to create for public-sector sites. And Barsotti predicts the agency will place greater emphasis on integrated technology that allows citizens to complete multiple transactions at a single online session.

Although visiting the DMV - either online or in person - may never completely match the experience provided by an up-scale retailer, the agency expects lessons learned from customer-service experts to gradually change how the public interacts with the sprawling department.

"There are definitely lessons to be learned," said Kahn. "Any one of these individual things aren't going to make it, but collectively we hope to have a new image for the DMV in the future."

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.