Aug 05 2016

Citizens Want Self-Service Solutions From State and Local Governments; Technology Can Help

Giving citizens the tools to get public information, assets and resources at their leisure — and not the government’s schedule — is key to modern civic engagement.

While people have been used to doing it themselves when it comes to pumping gas or withdrawing cash from the ATM, self-service is a concept that’s just now picking up steam in state and local governments.

But with people’s rising need for speed, citizens have an increasingly strong demand to retrieve or file documents from state and local governments themselves.

In a guest column for Route Fifty, Kumar Rachuri, former CIO for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, highlights this fundamental shift in civic demand and the rise of self-service portals within government technology.

Studies show more than 70 percent of people get frustrated when forced to handle government transactions in-person or by phone, and would prefer to take care of tasks quicker and from the comfort of their homes.

Today, it’s easier than ever to grant citizens access to self-service portals to conduct most of their government-related business. By logging into secure portals, they could be managing their own user account profiles, accessing documents, making payments and searching for government-specific information via a computer or mobile phone. This option empowers citizens to oversee their own information and avoid the feeling of getting stuck behind red tape.

While meeting citizens’ desire for convenience, there are palpable organizational benefits and efficiencies to be gained from offering more self-service technology, Rachuri notes.

Citizen self-services are proven to help agencies provide quick, efficient assistance in the face of shrinking resources, and free up employees to provide more value-added services elsewhere in the organization.

Governments should not be shy about modernizing their service delivery functions. One online interaction costs 10 cents or less to an agency or department, compared to $14 for in-person customer service interactions. But these estimates are conservative: In Ohio, in-person interactions cost up to $35. The upfront investment in portals can be re-paid quickly — through labor savings, deferred expenses on hardware maintenance and more efficient operations.

An obvious area that make sense to offer self-service solutions right away are departments of motor vehicles. For example, North Carolina’s DMV has been encouraging citizens to use its online portal to get what they need faster.

“Today, we are finding that 70 percent of folks that come to DMV brick-and-mortar for their driver’s license could’ve done their transaction online,” said DMV Commissioner Kelly Thomas in a article.

Legislation and regulation is also pushing more state and local governments toward more self-service options. Mercer County, New Jersey, launched a self-service portal for property information throughout the state as a step toward complying with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act, according to a Patch article.

Rather than staffing up to meet civic demand, the county just opted to let people get the information themselves.

“People ask for copies of their property records more than just about anything else. We wanted to make it easier for them and to reduce some of the costs of staff assistance, and photocopying, and damage to original documents,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes.

As state and local governments continue to modernize, this trend in self-service is important to keep top of mind. In short, more governments need to help citizens help themselves.

Dave Winer/Flickr

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