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Digital Service Delivery Spikes, Holds Steady in States

Technology leaders from Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont shared their approaches to digital service delivery and developing those services “in a way that brings people in.”

Mark Raymond, Tarek Tomes and John Quinn at the 2021 NASCIO Annual Conference.
Mark Raymond, Tarek Tomes and John Quinn at the 2021 NASCIO Annual Conference.
SEATTLE — When keeping the lights on became physically impossible as the pandemic swept the country, technology leaders in government turned to keeping the services available. Not surprisingly, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’s (NASCIO) annual survey of state CIO priorities in both 2020 and 2021 saw digital services climb to the No. 2 spot, second only to cybersecurity. And the importance of effective digital services hasn’t waned even though many government buildings are once again offering face-to-face options.

Earlier this week at the NASCIO conference in Seattle, three state CIOs offered a look at their digital services strategy, providing ample evidence that the past year and a half made these efforts more critical than ever.

For Vermont Chief Information Officer John Quinn, the state’s increased focus on modernization and digital services can be tied to Gov. Phil Scott’s move in 2017 to centralize Vermont’s IT functions. As part of that change, Quinn was named state CIO to manage the transition. “The centralization model was the right choice for us,” Quinn said.

In recent months, Quinn reports that Vermont has added dozens of digital services, supported by budget allocations from the governor. Their approach is to create easy-to-use online services that keep citizens at the forefront and are recognizable by a standard look and feel. One element of this citizen-focused strategy is a single sign-on solution that Quinn says has enlisted 45,000 people so far.

The state Legislature, Quinn explained, has advocated for replicating good work done in the private sector, rather than starting from scratch, a method his colleagues endorsed. “We rely on the private sector quite a bit to help us along on our journey,” Quinn said.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont similarly prioritized technology work with his statement, relayed by CIO Mark Raymond at the NASCIO conference: “We’re going to build an all-digital government.”

One signature project that grew out of that goal was the state’s Business One Stop Portal, aimed at simplifying the process of doing business in Connecticut. The state released a major procurement in just three months and kept the momentum going as the pandemic hit.

All three CIOs emphasized the importance of user research and testing to ensure services are optimized for citizens. “We’ve got 80 different programs; we shouldn’t expect people to know them,” Raymond explained. And he has stats to back up the fact that the portal is making a difference, including more than 6,300 businesses registered and an estimated 38,000 hours saved by aspiring entrepreneurs. And in the first three weeks that Connecticut’s COVID-19 exposure notification system was available, 800,000 residents opted in.

Connecticut also added digital Department of Motor Vehicles services in February 2021 for the first time, according to Raymond. Without any promotion of the service, online license renewals quickly rose to the top of available channels. “We’re changing people’s lives by making this available and it’s the people you didn’t think were going to use it,” he said.

Minnesota Chief Information Officer Tarek Tomes discussed his state’s connected culture, which he described as a “relentless pursuit of how can we help someone.” Like his colleagues, Tomes emphasized being focused on citizens, and rejecting the tendency to assume staff know what citizens want and need. Raymond offered a compelling example of this approach in Connecticut: Staff thought citizens wouldn’t register their vessels online at a particular time of year not known for that kind of activity. But they put the function online anyway, and 2,400 people registered their vessels.

“Let’s make the door available, let’s see who walks through it and then let’s iterate,” Tomes said, pointing to the state’s modernization playbook that offers parameters on engagement and modernization.

Tomes too had the numbers to support the state’s recent successes in digital service delivery and adoption: 1.6 million residents signed up for COVID-19 exposure alerts and 90,000 people downloaded a digital copy of their vaccine record; there were 47 million logins to the unemployment insurance benefit system, which distributed $1 billion; and 300,000 people renewed driver’s licenses online.

But Tomes seemed most proud of how the state’s emergency food distribution system for kids performed, in which services were provided to 265,000 children. Reporting that uptime was nearly 100 percent, he said, “we should be able to deliver emergency food benefits with the same speed as ordering a coffee from Starbucks.”
Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.
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