The past 18 months have placed a massive burden on state and local governments (SLGs) as they have had to shift from delivering citizen services in-person to delivering services almost entirely online.
While the country is beginning to reopen, the demand for digitized citizen services is only growing. In a new report, MeriTalk surveyed 200 SLG IT and program managers familiar with digital service delivery to understand how state and local governments can make sure they are using this moment to make concrete progress toward more effective and efficient citizen-centric experiences.
Pandemic Exposed Weakness in Critical Service Delivery
An overwhelming majority of SLG leaders – 76 percent – say that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of critical government service delivery systems and the aging technology they rely on. While the pandemic certainly challenged SLG IT professionals, it also gave them the opportunity to achieve modernization success – that would have previously taken years – in only a few months. The majority of respondents said that the pandemic accelerated digital government in state and local organizations by three years or more.
Taking a retrospective look at how their organizations were able to deliver during the pandemic, only 31 percent of respondents would give their organization an ‘A’ grade for its ability to rapidly deploy and scale technology to support citizen needs during the pandemic. In terms of what held them back, SLG leaders cited a lack of funding, security or data privacy concerns, or governance challenges as the top obstacles.
Support From Senior Leadership is Lacking, but Critical
While demand for digital services is high, SLG IT leaders don’t feel senior leadership is committed to modernizing. Only 24 percent of respondents feel their senior leadership sees digital government as “critical,” and are “fully engaged with it as part of a key organizational strategy.”
Increasing senior leadership buy-in for digital government services is critical to success. The survey found that a key feature of organizations that offered “5-star digital service” throughout the pandemic was having senior leadership operate under a “digital government is critical” mindset.
SLG Leaders are Determining Post-Pandemic Priorities
Looking beyond the pandemic, 82 percent said the pandemic proved their organization can move critical services online faster than they ever thought possible.
In terms of what digitization efforts SLG leaders are prioritizing, public records topped the list for program managers, and healthcare systems was the top choice for IT managers. SLGs are working on tight budgets, especially as states are having to cut spending due to the pandemic, so IT leaders are having to be careful with where they are investing their funds.
When it comes to digitizing services, 93 percent of IT managers and 82 percent of program managers say they have or plan to invest in cloud computing in direct support of digital service delivery. In addition to cloud computing, respondents said broadband connectivity (73 percent) and advanced analytics (67 percent) are key to propelling the next wave of service delivery innovation.
The survey asked respondents to share both their priorities for front-facing interfaces and back-office processes for the next three years. In terms of front-facing interfaces, respondents are prioritizing offering more services online, simplifying forms, and automating case handling and other processes. For back-office priorities, SLG leaders are focused on digitizing shared services, simplifying integration with middle and front-end systems, and implementing risk-based controls.
Respondents also urged their colleagues to not view digital government strategies as static plans. Rather, they should revisit their strategies on an ongoing basis and consult with citizens along the path to modernization.