Dec 19 2023

State and Local Agencies Should Seize the Moment to Enhance Digital Services

Generative artificial intelligence opens the door for governments to quickly improve the lives of citizens.

Municipal regulations can sometimes be a tangled mess that requires a lot of time to unravel. Take the case of a property owner in an unincorporated part of a theoretical town in Pennsylvania. Say this homeowner has a septic tank on their property and now wants to sell it. They become aware that the town not long ago enacted an ordinance requiring homeowners to upgrade their leach fields to residential water treatment facilities to protect nearby wildlife in a state or city park area.

In this scenario, the homeowner was grandfathered into compliance with the new requirements as a legacy homeowner. But now they are selling, and they are required to upgrade the septic tank prior to completing the sale. They require permits to do the work, and they may face overlapping state and city regulations for obtaining those permits. They also need to know how to be compliant, and they may require surveys of their land and infrastructure.

Such a requirement can quickly become a series of daunting tasks for the homeowner, who traditionally may face many phone calls and hours of filling forms to figure out where to begin with the upgrading process.

But a smart city that has a generative artificial intelligence system in place could guide a resident through questions in natural language, whether verbal or written. The AI system initiates a conversation with the homeowner, starting with the address and what kind of septic system the homeowner has. It then guides the homeowner through a series of follow-up questions to lead them to compliance for selling their property.

The homeowner interacts with the AI in real-time, providing the necessary data. The generative AI system knows all the local codes and regulations. In the background, it completes all forms. The homeowner e-signs the forms, which are submitted automatically to the correct departments.

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Digital Services Pay Dividends for Residents and Employees

In September, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers released “Creating A Citizen Centric Digital Experience: How Far Have We Come?,” stressing the importance of digital government in modern citizen services. According to the report, “‘Digital government/digital services’ has been in NASCIO’s Top Ten Priority Strategies, Management Processes and Solutions every year since 2018 and has been holding the second highest priority every year since 2020.”

The report examines the biggest drivers to expanding digital services, concluding that state governments seek better online experiences for citizens and an increase in public engagement. They also want to empower frontline employees and enhance interagency cooperation.

In the homeowner’s scenario, the agencies involved have incentives to make their data work smarter for them. By having regulatory guidance on hand as well as residential data, agencies can cooperate to speed the delivery of citizen services. This helps not only residents but also government employees, who can spend more time doing meaningful work rather than the rote filing of forms — increasing employee satisfaction and leading to recruitment of additional qualified personnel.

At the dawn of wide public access to the internet, organizations had to navigate this access and change the ways in which they did business. Generative AI now presents a similar paradigm shift and an opportunity for agencies to become more agile. Agencies must figure out how to train their staff in relevant systems and to maximize the budget for new initiatives to take advantage of this paradigm shift and the opportunity that it offers.

Plus, embracing AI for digital transformation may attract new business to a city as well. The ease of doing business may pave the way for more companies to relocate to a city or more new companies to form there, increasing tax revenue and bolstering community satisfaction. New York City has launched a program based on this very idea with its MyCity Chatbot.

REVIEW: How agencies can navigate the digital transformation process.

A Shifting Tech Landscape Calls for Embracing Transformation

The NASCIO report cites challenges to implementing digital services, including a dearth of workforce skills, lack of organizational flexibility, limited funding and no agency appetite for taking risks, among others.

Organizations may want to stick to things that have worked well in the past. But with changes in technology and enhanced capabilities to do more with less, agencies that stand still are not providing the best services to their citizens. Realizing this, many state and local agencies have accelerated their migration to the cloud in the past decade.

But agencies are not in the business of cloud maintenance. They are in the business to operate public sector entities and to supply citizen services. Generative AI and digital transformation can help them achieve their goals. Agencies should look for strong partners that can help architect and deliver the resulting services.

A managed services provider can administer the IT enterprise while frontline employees focus on upskilling or innovating. CDW Velocity Services has the capability to be that partner and to look at challenges from a pragmatic approach.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on X (formerly Twitter).


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