Automating Government and Enabling Citizen Self-Service

Rob Enderle
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I participated in an interesting presentation today and I thought I'd share it because its recommendations would improve my own life as a citizen in the U.S. It could also help the sitting administration, which I commented on previously.

One of the biggest problems government is dealing with today is the need to more aggressively use citizen self-service in order to contain expenditures and live within reduced budgets. These are meaningful efforts that may eventually go a long way toward balancing the U.S. (and other government) budgets while increasing services to U.S. citizens. And IT will be playing a large role. While the session I'm pulling this from is sponsored by EMC, the presenter is an analyst from IDC.


The presenter started by showcasing three programs: the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Social Security Administration (SSA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Practices ranged from a massive use of the Web, huge efforts to provide collaboration tools, and the implementation of consistent and clear navigation so that citizens could easily find, share and understand the services and benefits they needed without needing the help of a staff member.


One interesting example was San Diego County, which, in trying to get away from paper, aggressively scanned related documents for citizens to retrieve online. This move allowed citizens to obtain all the documents they needed from a centralized location rather than having to chase down the documents across a number of branches, which is very time-consuming and costly. The county charges for this service, which has not only substantially reduced costs, but has also created an additional revenue stream into the county.

Another example of the use of citizen self-service is California's Department of Health Care Services. The department has implemented a real-time, interactive correspondence to improve the client experience. Real-time feedback is provided and tracked using virtual documents chosen by the government administrator. The result is the citizen knowing where they are in the process. As a result, the administrator's overhead is substantially reduced because mistakes are caught more quickly and dealing with the mess of prior and often-redundant documents is eliminated.


Looking outside the U.S., a local Russian government, which dealt with 2,600 people processing documents in 33 bodies and between 3 and 4 million transactions, began digitizing forms in what was a massively bureaucratic environment. As a result of the move from paper to a digital environment, they were able to substantially cut staff while increasing services and customer satisfaction. I found myself wondering, "If they can do this in Russia, why the heck hasn't my own country done this?"




Implementation of these improvements requires a four-step process that IDC is advocating:


First, locate and use multiple types of information because you need to encompass the entire process and include all parts. If you don't, the parts you leave out will force manual handling and eliminate much of the benefit you were looking to get.


Second, strategically manage information because you need to think not only about the world of today, but also the world that will exist once the program is complete and what it will likely evolve into. These efforts are extremely time- and resource-intensive; you don't want to have to redo them in your service lifetime. Much more time needs to be put into the planning phases, and much of that planning must be focused on forecasting the future of where the resulting system needs to go to ensure that it can actually go there.


Third, create virtual case files. Information needs a hub so that people can easily and quickly access everything they need. For example, create a case file system that connects relevant information to cases that could represent people, properties, events and perhaps all three at the same time. The nice thing about virtual documents is that they can be in an infinite number of different case files at the same time.


Finally, better serve and empower citizens. Doing so allows citizens to better help themselves and therefore reduce the need for expensive clerks in dull paper-shuffling jobs who are largely ineffective and expensive. By creating a direct path from the individual citizen to the information they need, you have a more responsive and less expensive government and happy citizens who are more likely to re-elect those in office.


Hmm, maybe someone should send this last piece of advice to the U.S. Democratic party.




IDC closed by recommending content management, business process management and business rules management, and a migration to digital media, information management facilities, dashboards to manage them and portals to give citizens access to information.


First, I recommend that you look at what similar organizations have successfully deployed and what lessons they learned from those deployments. Then, move on to the planning steps above, and then to product types and actual products after you have a clear idea of what you want to do. You will undoubtedly go through the process of creating digital media and the rest to enable citizen access, but the path you take will likely be unique to your segment or your organization based on your unique needs.

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