As the lights turned off, the frantic calls started coming in — and NIC, the digital services company, started working to help government solve some of its most urgent problems in the middle of a pandemic.
When the country closed, government — along with everyone else — discovered a sudden, urgent need to do things through the Internet.
Tech vendors have stepped up to help in many, many ways. Granicus worked with the state of Oklahoma on unemployment insurance claims. Citrix helped Illinois set up remote work capabilities for thousands of public servants. Deloitte created a new software suite on top of the Salesforce platform to manage recovery efforts.
NIC found itself at the crux of what many governments needed: to serve people online. So during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has been busy deploying more than 100 solutions to help governments stay functional.
“Most of them we put up at no cost to the government and the citizens,” said Harry Herington, NIC’s CEO. “That’s a thing that’s really impressed me throughout all of this, is everybody stepped up and said ‘How can we help,’ and NIC was no different.”
That’s an old stand-by for NIC, which has long relied on a business model that involves offering services for free and then collecting revenue through service fees. Some things, Herington said, don’t bring in revenue.
When the company started getting calls from government — sometimes just as they received the orders to head home, and they were literally in the process of turning off lights, locking doors and driving home — employees were faced to quickly put up services for government offices caught off guard.
“They were put in a position that they weren’t ready for, and that’s not their fault,” Herington said. “Think of this like a thousand-year flood — everyone prepares for the hundred-year flood.”
GovStatus, a cloud-based service for information websites and notifications, became a workhorse for the company’s customers. Agencies have used it to deliver COVID-19 statistics, executive orders and other information to residents, whether that comes through a website or a text to their cellphone.
They’ve been heavily used, Herington said.
“Those sites across the … country were getting hammered. We had no idea, just the, I would say, the terror,” he said. “In this country, when this crisis hit, nobody knew where to turn, and so they started turning to government. And they were scared, we were scared, everybody was scared. And this gave them not only a place to turn to, but it told them when something changed.”
Some things have been relatively easy. For example, NIC already had an appointment-scheduling tool in place that started becoming useful for agencies that couldn’t take walk-ins anymore.
“Several agencies lost their innocence, is what I like to say, during this, because there wasn’t a need — and this isn’t anything that is negative on them — there wasn’t a driving need from their constituents to do stuff online. So they did face-to-face. Individuals would come to their office, would call them on the phone, they would do things face-to-face,” Herington said. “When the pandemic hit and they shut the doors, that was no longer an option.”
One of the stories he’s particularly proud of is when the state of Louisiana turned to NIC to help speed up virus testing.
“Louisiana, they’re trying to set up the testing and the issue they had is by their regulations they had a form … that had to be filled out in triplicate and sent in and then processed manually. Well, the offices shut down. No. 1, how do you get the forms? No. 2, who is processing these?” he said. “We were able to turn that around real quick so that it could be done online and it could be vetted by that agency almost instantly because testing was critical.”
In a similar vein, the company has stood up services to help retired nurses reinstate their licenses so they could help overwhelmed medical centers, to help businesses quickly attain certificates of good standing so they could be eligible for federal relief funds and to help agencies coordinate on finding personal protective equipment.
While the initial rush for those kinds of services might have cooled off, the country is currently undergoing an ominous increase in new cases, as well as the percentage of tests coming back positive. So Herington is expecting more.
“This isn’t over, and there is a sense that it might be over, and it’s not,” he said. “Nobody knows the magnitude it can go to. We have an obligation to keep the citizens informed and calm, and that’s what government’s doing.”
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