For years, everyone knew that a push towards digital services has been on the horizon for private businesses and government organizations alike. However, most people didn’t realize that “the future” would come along quite as quickly as it did.
In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to quickly make its way across the globe, everything shut down seemingly overnight. Employees found themselves working from home with no indication of when they’d be back in the office again. Citizens needed a way to stay in contact with their state and local governments for pressing updates.
If nothing else, this moment we all collectively went through underlined the need for a digital-driven society, creating the type of technology-based flashpoint that comes along once in a generation, if that.
Embracing Digital to Create a Better Future
In a lot of ways, the current situation with state governments and the push for digital has been a long time coming.
Arguably, it began in the late 1990s and early 2000s as computers and internet connections became more commonplace in people’s homes. At that point, the emphasis was simply on gaining access to information online and basic data about public services.
After that had been accomplished, governments began to focus on the user experience itself. You could do more on the Department of Motor Vehicles website than simply look up basic contact information; you could now renew your license, pay parking tickets, and perform similar tasks. Digital service units have become commonplace as some of the trends in the consumer tech world made their way over to the government side of the equation.
For a time, though, things fell stagnant. Innovation effectively stopped, and the priority became maintaining the status quo. But given the lessons we learned during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new phase of digital transformation for state and local governments may finally be upon us.
Many states used the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate their migration into the cloud, allowing employees to be just as productive from home as they could be from their own offices. Once that framework was in place, it also created a chance to deliver even more services digitally — something that benefited citizens significantly.
Several instances within the state government lead to a new phase of digital transformation that in many ways was due to the challenges posed by COVID-19. For example, Colorado developed a new unemployment system that was based entirely on cloud-based software. It replaced their old system that had been in use for years. The creation of the system was prioritized largely due to the enormous strain that was placed on the old one in the early months of 2021.
Not only did this technology make it easier for people who are out of work due to the pandemic (or for any other reason, for that matter) to apply for benefits, but new data collection methods have also made it easier for state officials to tackle problems like unemployment fraud and identity theft. It also became accessible to people participating in the state’s unemployment insurance program, along with those who submitted applications under the federal government’s various COVID-19 relief programs.
Regardless, it’s an effort that requires several key elements to succeed. First, this type of innovation and projects of this scale requires an “all hands on deck” approach, meaning that the leadership at the upper levels of the government must be on board.
Experienced professionals will also need to be in place to help handle things like development and project management to help keep everyone involved on the same page and moving in the same direction.
In the end, the stresses that were put on state agencies in 2020 in terms of digital transformation were unprecedented, yes — but they were also nothing if not valuable learning opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of. People made mistakes, but out of that came insights that would have otherwise taken years to achieve in a different climate.
When a state agency combines the aforementioned elements, coupled with a deep understanding of the people it has dedicated to serving and the immediate challenges they’re facing, a successful digital transformation is no longer a matter of “if” but “when” — which is crucial, especially now. For a deeper look, download our State of Maryland case study.