May 27 2021

NASCIO Midyear 2021: Mass. IT Chief Commits to Improved Citizen Services

Gathering customer input is essential to digital government, says CIO Curtis Wood.

The pandemic prompted Massachusetts to renew its focus on the citizen experience for the state’s digital services, CIO Curtis Wood said Wednesday during the midyear conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

To encourage social distancing during the pandemic, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles introduced a reservation system, for example. Citizens seeking to get new driver's licenses or to register vehicles made an appointment for services. This proved so popular that the state committed to continuing it after the social distancing guidelines relaxed, Wood said.

"We found out through surveys with our citizens that they like this. They like making an appointment to come to the registry and get a license."

The young Massachusetts Executive Office of Technology Services and Security became a stand-alone, Cabinet-level agency only a few years ago, and one of its early projects was to update motor vehicle registration services from a legacy mainframe system. The new reservation system continues a focus on improving the customer experience, Wood said.

State Agencies Adapted to Meet Citizen Demands

In Massachusetts, individual state agencies manage their business applications. Wood’s agency provides a framework, infrastructure and services in support of those business operations.

The overwhelming demands of Massachusetts citizens for information about unemployment benefits and other pandemic-related questions emphasized the importance of continuity of government for the state’s agencies, Wood said. “This past year has been a challenge for everybody, but it’s also shone a light on a need.”

“Every state is a little bit different,” he added. “We operate probably thousands of businesses in government, and none of them are really the same.” Government services vary based on geography, population, target audience and other factors.

“How do we reach these populations? How do we communicate with different groups? How do we communicate to underserved communities?” Wood said, describing the questions agencies must ask themselves. “Citizens want to interact with government whenever they want from wherever they are.”

Different people access different services via various media, and state agencies must be prepared to serve them all, Wood said.

“Citizens of western Massachusetts sometimes feel frustrated that the state tends to forget about them in favor of the large metropolitan area surrounding Boston,” Wood said. “It’s not a rural area, but we have challenges like broadband and things of that nature.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Explore the technology behind states' COVID-19 tracking and vaccine rollouts. 

Government Operations Must Seek Customer Feedback

Some of the reorientation of state agencies comes from simply paying attention to citizens’ needs, Wood said. Agencies have been paying more attention to social media, for instance, reading feedback rather than simply issuing statements.

The state’s registration system for vaccine appointments experienced a rocky rollout. Once the state listened to citizen feedback, it adjusted and produced a successful system, Wood said. “At the end of the day, the people of Massachusetts taught us a very valuable lesson that really strengthened our organization to think differently and to be able to adapt and to deliver.”

The state’s goal is to escape bureaucracy and find fresh approaches to delivering services, Wood said. “We’ve gotten back to thinking about resiliency, and what does that really mean?”

Wood related the delivery of digital services to purchasing a new vehicle. Once someone buys a new car, the buyer hears from the dealership, which seeks feedback on the shopping experience. A customer also will hear from the salesperson and the car manufacturer, each seeking input on the experience of owning the vehicle.

“We should do the same thing in government,” Wood said. “We’re not there yet. It’s a mindset change, but we are working on that."

Check out more coverage from the NASCIO 2021 Midyear Conference and follow us on Twitter at @StateTech, or the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO, and join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO21.

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