Technology is an enabler. It not only facilitates and accelerates the delivery of information, but fulfills the basic human need of belonging and connectedness. Look at Facebook or LinkedIn. Both platforms serve as hubs, instantly connecting those with similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences—both personally and professionally. Technology has also enabled remarkable growth and innovation in the quality of products and the seamlessness of services. A failure to embrace it has taken down legacy brands, like Kodak, that had once seemed ironclad – serving as a cautionary tale that no organization is immune from disruption.
As technology accelerates the pace of innovation, how should the public sector react? Public sector agencies, whether it be at the federal or local level, aren’t commonly recognized as innovation leaders. To be fair, in most cases it’s not their place to play that role. Taxpayer funds shouldn’t be gambled with high-risk chances on forward-thinking moves that may or may not generate expected return. Nonetheless, generating return on investment in technology is possible, and the government must consider prudent applications of technology as it’s been proven to enable organizations. States or agencies should be looking at best practices and methods from the private sector to find integration points where technologies can reliably help public sector organizations better fulfill their missions, investing in solutions with proven use cases in commercial industry.
As a connector of people, technology also enables interaction with a wider and more diverse group of citizens. Access to digital content is universal, and interactive designs, focused on the customer experience, can engage all people, prompting broader reach and higher-value interactions with citizens. These improved outcomes aren’t just qualitative in nature, but can quantitatively represent a better return on investment of tax payer dollars. For example, suppose that a local government sets up a single online management portal for all of its services – including taxes, traffic violations, trash collection, etc. By digitally facilitating a “one-stop” payment experience, citizens will find that paying dues, taxes, and fees is faster, convenient, and more seamless. In turn, the government is more likely to collect revenue.
Take, for example, mobile–a technology that the public sector hasn’t fully adopted, causing many government websites to not be mobile friendly or compatible. For example, women expecting children in 2018 are of the age where they may or may not own or have access to desktop computers, making the process of filing for temporary leave benefits an unnecessarily complicated task. Recent data shows that total smartphone consumption in the U.S. has nearly doubled from three years ago. In comparison, tablet usage was up 26 percent over that same period, and desktop usage was down 8 percent. Additionally, the overall time spent using digital media has grown 40 percent during this same timeframe. With the recent decline of desktop usage, government agencies have an opportunity to re-orient their experiences for the mobile and tablet platforms on which citizens today prefer to connect. In the case of managing temporary leave benefits, this isn’t a risky play, but one that would better enable expecting mothers to provide necessary information to the government. This, in turn, ensures the government has the data it needs to effectively, and efficiently, deliver necessary services to citizens.
Passing laws to enforce technology adoption won’t get the job done correctly. Whether or not the federal government tells the 50 states and U.S. territories to embrace technology solutions doesn’t mean it will actually happen, or be done correctly. Instead, the onus is on organizations to assess the entire technology landscape comprehensively to determine where technology can add value through enabling citizen experiences. A solution alone won’t fix a problem or make an agency better. Organizations should instead take a holistic view of a technology transformation—focusing on the impact to processes and people to ensure that new ways of operating are tested and adopted for sustained application. In an age where technology is evolving, connecting, and advancing at an increasing pace, it’s never been more important for public sector agencies to focus on their core missions to determine where new solutions can advance the citizen experience.