Government Experience Awards 2023: Enhancing Access and Efficiency
The seventh annual Government Experience Awards honors jurisdictions that have elevated tech standards to establish an intuitive, customer-centric approach in delivering essential resident services.
For a complete list of this year's winners and finalists, plus special project winners, click here.
Embracing a customer-centric approach to delivering government agency services can be transformative for both government officials and the residents they serve. It means government agencies can design services and solutions that are user-friendly and accessible while fostering mutually beneficial outcomes that can include a reduction in costs for both residents and agencies.
For seven years, the Center for Digital Government* has recognized exceptional work by jurisdictions to enhance citizen engagement, and states, counties and cities have thoroughly embraced this challenge.
The winning jurisdictions exceeded their residents' evolving needs and expectations by embracing creative data integration methods, developing new digital and mobile-friendly platforms, providing inclusive IT brand development, and introducing an omnichannel, collaborative approach.
UTAH — FIRST PLACE IN THE STATE CATEGORY
Utah's customer service website goes beyond merely consolidating all digital state services and also forges a path for user engagement by establishing an intricate network of key performance indicators (KPIs) designed to guide future improvements and elevate the user experience.
According to Fletcher, Utah witnessed a 71 percent surge in citizen satisfaction compared to the previous year's resident survey results. He attributes this jump to the collaborative, omnichannel approach embraced by various agencies throughout the state.
“Under the leadership of our CIO, Alan Fuller, and others, each agency was assigned a customer experience champion,” Fletcher said. “And those customer experience champions from each agency, over the past couple of years since we started implementing this, have been reviewing all the details from the citizen responses related to their specific agency to identify ways to improve digital services.”
He said an issue facing residents could be something simple, such as a broken link on the agency website or a process that takes too long and has become cumbersome. The designated customer service champion can address the issue directly for a faster resolution.
“Changes brought up to the representative could focus on their online experience, but it might also extend from anything regarding their over-the-counter experience to mobile optimization changes,” he explained.
Utah's website also features a "Give Feedback" tab, allowing state agencies to gauge the pulse of their constituents' needs, serving as a pivotal KPI for multiple state entities. This tool — complemented by the website's integration of mapping capabilities for government locations, including nearby parks, schools and essential services — establishes a comprehensive one-stop hub for both residents and visitors.
“Every minute that we can save our residents adds up and gives them time to do other things rather than waiting or searching for assistance,” Fletcher explained. “They can spend less time paying taxes, spend less time renewing a vehicle, spend less time doing those critical things, and it starts to add up, eventually aggregating to millions of moments saved.”
The state remains steadfast in its commitment to continually improve the ease of conducting business with its agencies by spearheading technological initiatives aimed at simplifying the lives of its residents through the integration of emerging technologies as they surface.
“New standards are coming out across the industry involving digital verifiable credentials, and we are striving to ensure this type of technology is accessible to all our residents,” Fletcher said. “This will be useful if a parent needs a credential that shows their child has been immunized to participate, for example, on a sports team, and must provide a birth certificate and validation of immunizations. The same could be said for someone who needs to provide a birth certificate for a new job. Instead of having to search for and copy paper documents, they can access the information readily on their phones.”
In the state's efforts to continuously build new IT components into the Utah.gov technology ecosystem, the Utah Artificial Intelligence Center identifies 10 to 12 initiatives where the state can benefit from the use of AI on a rolling basis to offer the best and safest services using tools like ChatGPT.
“We have implemented and shared our new guidelines and regulations across the state concerning generative AI, and that's where our focus is the most right now,” Fletcher said. “We’re also setting up secure sandboxes to help ensure that employees entering personal and private data into those customer service portals aren't exposed to the foundational models of those service providers, making them vulnerable to hackers.”
Fletcher believes that Utah has a bright future in innovation as it continues to home in on its focus of making IT services equitable and accessible.
“We possess a remarkable synergy — a tech-savvy population coupled with strong leadership, epitomized by a supportive governor who champions a unifying vision, ‘One Utah,’ which embodies the concept of people working together on common solutions.”
STAFFORD COUNTY, VA. — FIRST PLACE IN THE COUNTY CATEGORY
Stafford County has cultivated a flourishing digital ecosystem for its residents, propelled by innovative brand development. This includes the introduction of a digital mascot into its IT arsenal, a move that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the community.
“The COVID-19 pandemic really pushed us to re-evaluate how we could better serve our constituents when they’re unable to come to us physically,” said Andrew Spence, information services director for Stafford County, Va. “We were already in the process of revitalizing our web services, but we wanted to take our digital service capabilities even further by asking ourselves what we could create to allow constituents a method to communicate their needs to us while also relieving some of our internal challenges in terms of efficiently handling an increase in the number of phone calls and online comments we were receiving. We didn’t necessarily have the infrastructure there at the time.”
To fill these gaps and provide a more seamless user experience, Spence consulted with several internal partners to eventually form the “Ask Blu” AI tool.
According to Spence, the inception of Ask Blu wasn’t just about harnessing AI chatbot technology to swiftly retrieve and analyze information from the Stafford County website to address constituents’ inquiries. It was also a method to facilitate direct connections between residents and necessary service providers.
“We aimed to go a step further with the user in mind to integrate a system that would collect their question and direct the question specifically to the expert in that field,” Spence described. “A lot of times when constituents work with government, they have to go through a certain number of levels to get to the person who has the resolve, so what we did is develop a relationship with our partners and brought them together to create the absolute, 360 [degree] experience for users.”
After the implementation of Ask Blu, Spence said, less than 5 percent of service requests experienced delays.
The Ask Blu project incorporates numerous modules under one brand including direct links to the 311 help system through the AI chatbot; the 311 mobile apps available on iOS and Android; a citizens/officials text system; a customized newsletter disseminated by county representatives with applicable news for residents based on their area; and a self-paced citizen education portal known as the Blu’s Academy that allows residents to watch a variance of videos created by county staff explaining each department’s essential functions so community members know how and where to access help.
The complete Ask Blu system is unified under a single mascot, Blu, a heron that can be seen adorning the multifaceted, yet cohesive, website design.
“We have an area known as the Crow’s Nest, which required a collaborative effort involving local, state and nonprofit entities to ensure preservation,” Spence explained. “One of the reasons the area was preserved was because it is home to one of the largest frequent heron nesting sites on the East Coast and this is extremely unique to Stafford County. So, we thought we would capitalize on an educational moment directly tied to Stafford County but also bring that kind of caricature happiness, and the Blu Heron mascot was formed.”
The county is constantly working to enhance and expand Ask Blu’s knowledge base so that it can continue to answer questions from residents as their needs and expectations expand.
“I would like to see improvement in our digital offerings for our Parks Department since a lot of questions from residents come in to Ask Blu about our parks,” Spence said. “We’re working with that department to revitalize their website so that when the AI chatbot goes and scrapes data, it will gather accurate information and answer more complex questions. We just really aim to continuously improve the services we’re providing to our community.”
CORAL GABLES, FLA. — FIRST PLACE IN THE CITY CATEGORY
Coral Gables has successfully orchestrated the centralization of its customer-centric technology services, catalyzed by an initial website overhaul that has since blossomed into an all-encompassing “mastery hub” catering to the diverse needs of the city’s residents.
“The strategy of the city is always, of course, leveraging technology to improve quality of life and improve citizen engagement and communication, so all our platforms — the Smart City Hub public platform, digital twin environments, data marketplace, application store, Community Intelligence Center and more — are part of our innovation and technology strategic plan that fit into this big mastery hub connected by our website,” said Raimundo Rodulfo, director of IT and chief innovation officer for Coral Gables. “It’s now bringing together all the functions of the organization into one single strategy because technology is distributed horizontally ... across citizen engagement, across public service including police, fire, EMS, and of course my department, innovation and technology.”
The website boasts a fully electronic permitting system that enables interoperability with all city enterprise systems, including the 311 help CRM tool, document management systems, community recreation system and the legislative agenda system.
With such a wealth of diverse sets of information consolidated into a single digital tool, Coral Gables Communications and Digital Media Coordinator Nicolás Sáenz emphasized the crucial need for one specific element during the planning and construction of the website.
“When we first created the overhaul design, we saw that everything was headed toward search, and so that was a major component in the design for us,” Sáenz said. “Whether people are trying to locate permit information or learn more about a popular destination in the city quickly, we wanted to make it easily accessible for them.”
Rodulfo and his team incorporated feedback from resident surveys, addressing inadequacies identified in the previous website build, and continue to refine the platform based on ongoing feedback to deliver the best product for residents.
“Our previous website was not user-friendly, and residents couldn’t find their way around, but now this hub is creating a better, more holistic overall experience for the end user, which is our primary focus,” said Coral Gables City Clerk Billy Urquia, who worked closely with Rodulfo to implement the website overhaul.
To help access the website more easily, they also established a Poly Wi-Fi system throughout the city.
“This system helps to connect citizens, students, visitors and tourists with connectivity services who might not have cellular connections,” Rodulfo said. “When we have a hurricane, and we lose connection from commercial carriers there, the small businesses also use our Wi-Fi to remain open for the public.”
Rodulfo’s department is now poised for the expansion of new technology within the city, with plans to delve further into AI tools while preserving the “human component” that residents have come to value and rely upon.
“We are implementing Salesforce and testing new AI chatbot technology to take our communication and mobile platforms to the next level,” Rodulfo shared. “We recently participated in a demo where we were able to ask the AI questions such as ‘How can I report a pothole or graffiti?’ and ‘How can I interact with code enforcement?’ However, it’s never a replacement for that human contact, that customer service that we strive to provide in our city for all.”
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.