As budgets shrink and public expectations for service grow, CIOs are striving to meet the increasing needs of their constituents with fewer resources. Residents nationwide are demanding government transparency and insight into every dollar spent. They are also asking for more ways to conduct business with government, ranging from paying utility bills online to electronically accessing and purchasing building permits, affidavits, judgments, sentencing records and other documents.

Constituent self-service resources allow users to take control of their data, empowering them to access their information from anywhere in the world at any time. The most prevalent self-service opportunity is a Web portal, which lets constituents use electronic forms to streamline service processes and access information online, reducing administrative work for government staff.

CIOs who are thinking about implementing self-service opportunities should keep in mind three main principles:

  1. Go paperless and embracing digital documents
  2. Emphasize the importance of back-end infrastructure
  3. Integrate systems, use electronic forms and repurpose data 

CIOs who stand by these principles create work environments where staffers spend less time on low-value tasks like searching for paper documents and manually entering data, and spend more time on higher-value tasks like managing the department and ensuring that services are efficiently delivered. Fulfilling record and document requests is an important legal responsibility, and doing so quickly significantly improves constituent satisfaction.

As private industry becomes more responsive to customers, the expectation rises for similar service from the government. Providing citizens with instant access to information is quickly becoming the new inevitable standard. A self-service portal is a digital destination where citizens can interact with government, ask questions, get immediate answers and find the information they need. However, it’s critically important that this gateway does not add to the already expanding list of tasks government staffers must tackle. For government officials seeking to maximize resources, creating opportunities for constituents to serve themselves may be the best way to improve services and increase transparency.

Going Paperless and Embracing Digital Documents

By embracing digital documents and enterprise content management (ECM) technology, the immediate problem of running out of file storage space is relieved, but that is only the beginning. ECM technology helps governments not only scan, store and retrieve documents, but also helps them automatically pull relevant information from those files, saving staff time from manually re-entering data. Forms like invoices, packing slips and service requests can all be stored within an ECM solution and digitally shared across multiple departments. Instead of mailing hard copies between departments, staff members instantly access documents when they need them.

Once documents and files are stored electronically, a powerful ECM solution will offer a public access viewer, giving constituents the ability to view, download and print those files via a Web portal. By providing residents with access to information online, waiting lines in the office shrink, phone calls subside and staff members can work on projects that enhance the services provided in their communities.

When considering a constituent self-service opportunity, an important question to ask is: How much extra staff time it will take to maintain a public access viewer solution? Maintaining a public access viewer should take little to no additional staff time. Don’t forget the main reason for implementing a solution like this is to increase transparency and provide public access to information while saving staff time and resources.

Emphasizing the Importance of Back-End Infrastructure 

When CIOs consider providing public access to content, it is sometimes perceived as simple -- as simple as building a website where constituents can create a username and password to begin their search for information. What is often marginalized is the infrastructure required to make these websites work. Without strong back-end infrastructure to connect the website to the data, the site is virtually useless. When constituents discover that the website won’t connect them with the data they need, they will quickly revert to more time-consuming methods for obtaining the needed information.

Creating a constituent self-service opportunity without a strong back-end infrastructure could cost government officials valuable time and the trust of their constituents. A few years ago, a large metropolitan city began a 311 service without the proper infrastructure and it took years to redevelop the infrastructure and public trust they lost. Citizens reported that the issues they called about were not being resolved or even acknowledged. An independent poll was conducted and found that a large percentage of residents felt that their concerns were being ignored. The city originally planned on implementing a more comprehensive infrastructure, but balked when its budget was reduced. Instead of pushing the project back, the city moved forward and lost constituents’ trust when the system failed to address their concerns.

Leading ECM solutions automatically route business processes, referred to as workflows, which include updating public access viewers. Workflow is critical to automating this process and providing public access without spending additional staff time and resources.

Presenting citizens with unlimited and instant access to information is invaluable — it provides greater transparency, builds trust and improves constituent services. Moreover, staff members can spend more time on higher-value tasks instead of answering phone calls, scanning documents, printing records and mailing them to constituents. This is especially important when considering budget cuts and rising constituent expectations for service.

Integrating systems, using electronic forms and repurposing data 

Manually re-entering repetitive data is costly and significantly slows down processes. ECM solutions integrate with existing systems to automatically populate data fields, saving staff time and providing a valuable opportunity to repurpose that data of often as possible. By utilizing electronic forms, citizens can complete a form online and eliminate the need for staff members to manually enter data from paper forms.

Instead of starting a procedure with a paper document, start it with an electronic form. Streamline the process by allowing constituents to enter their information so staff members can repurpose it instead of manually entering the data from a paper form and then physically storing that document. Using electronic forms and workflow, processes begin with a form being completed online, where it is automatically routed to the appropriate person to handle the request. Once it is in the system, constituents track the request online, saving staff from taking phone inquiries about the status, searching for the paper file and returning a call to the concerned resident with an update.

As constituents become increasingly accustomed to having access to any and all types of information online, they now expect the same from government. It’s crucial to develop a strong constituent self-service plan and platform that can handle public requests without creating additional tasks for understaffed offices. An ECM solution with strong workflow capabilities helps streamline processes while seamlessly integrating systems and providing public access to content without adding tasks for staff members. Even with a shrinking budget and staff, transparency and superior service are achievable with the right technology.

Terri Jones is a government industry manager at Hyland Software. In Terri’s more than 10 years in state and local government, she's managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and wrote legislation and program policies. She has also designed and implemented data systems and websites to manage compliance and funding in excess of $90 million annually.

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