The below article is an edited version of the interview between Brian Castle, vice president of federal operations for Xerox, and Steve Towns, deputy chief content officer of the Center for Digital Government.
The Center for Digital Government (CDG) surveyed citizens in March before the pandemic hit and again in August to learn more about their changing expectations for digital government services. Prior to the pandemic, 54 percent of respondents preferred in-person government services. In the August survey, that number had fallen to about 16 percent. In this Government Technology Q&A, Brian Castle, vice president of federal operations for Xerox, discusses the opportunities that digitization and automation bring to this new playing field.
It’s really about government on demand. The survey showed that satisfaction with digital government services is down about 13 percent since the pandemic started — with longer waits, poor customer service and overly complex processes contributing to that decline. At the same time, 60 percent of those citizens approve of their government experimenting with digital technologies to modernize services. So it’s an important time to capitalize on what effectively is a citizen mandate. We encourage a multi-channel approach to citizen communication and service delivery. It’s about having a predictive, personalized process and automating paper-intensive workflows to accelerate service delivery and reduce costs. As one example, the city of New York saved $2 million in the first year alone with our managed print services offering.
We know 45 percent of government work could be automated utilizing existing technology and infrastructure, so agencies have boundless opportunities. We advise customers to start small and target the proverbial low-hanging fruit. We’ve seen small workflow automation pilots work very well. The goal is to learn from relatively simple implementations, and then build from there to improve costs and the citizen experience. Websites are another good opportunity. A better, more intuitive user experience is relatively easy to design and implement, and it enables citizens to move through online processes or applications with more ease.
Chat bots are relatively easy to deploy and are a quick win. They drive down call volume to expensive call centers by helping callers resolve certain issues online. They also free up human operators to handle more complex requests in a more personal way, which drives employee and citizen satisfaction. Robotic process automation (RPA) is another way to streamline processes. Organizations can digitize workflows on the front end and then apply RPA on the back end to support high-volume, repetitive citizen-facing processes such as benefits claims and unemployment claims.
It means that digital government will expand at an accelerated rate as we move forward. Government organizations need to digitize paper-based information so that it can be shared, stored, retrieved and protected in the most secure manner possible. We know unequivocally that doing this improves efficiency and drive down costs. We worked with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Health and Human Services department to help digitize 400 paper-based forms. Doing so saved 80 staff hours a month and reduced turnaround time by 90 percent, which really drove client satisfaction.
The more organizations digitize services, the faster and more effectively they can deliver them. To effect lasting change, government agencies have to embrace that mindset. We encourage customers to digitize documents, design and optimize processes, invest in a leveraged workflow automation solution, and develop document templates that allow for indexing and quick retrieval. Then deploy these new and better processes using secure and modern architecture. Everyone needs to start with the finish line in mind, build in that automation and continue to perfect the process from there.
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