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Embracing digital within local government in 2021 (American City & County)

The year 2020 has been one of the most challenging on record for states and localities across the country. Overnight, government employees found themselves on the front line of communication between residents and government officials.

American City & County contributor Ryan Park examines how governments continue to adjust to the COVID era and how evolving technology and adaptation is keeping constituents connected.

Strong IT leadership is at the forefront, Park writes, as governments “continue to grapple with budget/cost controls and legacy applications that need to be modernized for 2021; many are working hard and smart to prepare for when we emerge from the pandemic.”

More below:

For some, this raised huge logistical challenges as staff were forced to switch from in-person, paper-based processes to operating remotely in a very short period of time. Constituents required essential services to go online as their world changed in the blink of an eye, causing many to fear for their health and safety as they sheltered in place for months on end.

By March, with significant numbers of government staff working from home, government technology leaders had to quickly figure out how to keep day-to-day operations running while keeping their residents informed of the latest changes to service requests — especially for government agencies in charge of public health, unemployment benefits, economic development, permitting and licensing, and more. Supervisors and workers quickly realized that their traditional, manual, paper-based processes were not suitable for this fast-changing and dynamic digital environment.

Even with a vaccine on the horizon, governments are preparing for 2021 with the understanding that it will not be a return to a pre-COVID world. Here are some ways that we’ll see governments continue to evolve in 2021:

Public expectations of government services will force states and localities to finally accelerate their digital transformations in a meaningful way.

It is no surprise that governments that already began their digital transformation journey were more equipped to handle the sudden shift to remote work and digital services brought on by the pandemic than those that had not. For many organizations, the pandemic exposed weaknesses around maintaining legacy applications and highlighting weak security postures which had to be immediately addressed. In 2021, constituents will no longer tolerate service limitations resulting from a lack of modernization. To get the most value from technology investments, local governments will be expected to — and held accountable for — delivering information in a clear, consistent, secure and structured manner.

This includes everything from increased government transparency by making records and documents publicly accessible, to modernizing internal and citizen-facing services with powerful business process automation tools. With organizations moving from self-hosted systems to the cloud, we can expect to see governments modernizing service delivery to improve interoperability, optimize costs and enhance the government experience for citizens and employees.

Strong IT leadership and partnerships will be critical for government modernization and future success. 

Governments will continue to grapple with budget/cost controls and legacy applications that need to be modernized for 2021; many are working hard and smart to prepare for when we emerge from the pandemic. In fact, many projects in the works before the pandemic are now being accelerated as year-long plans get compressed into weeks or even days. Ultimately, many of the barriers that IT departments faced have been removed in the past year, giving government employees room to be more agile in order to enhance service delivery.

Modern cloud solutions are the biggest drivers of this acceleration, allowing government technology leaders to pivot their organizations to do the things they have wanted to do but never had the chance to previously – such as capturing information previously on paper, automating business processes to bring essential services online, deploying chatbots to help people use digital services, and more. In fact, according to Gartner, 76% of CIOs report increased demand for new digital products or services during the pandemic, and 83% expect this demand to increase further in 2021. As we look to 2021, how governments will invest in modern solutions and partner with proven solution providers to reimagine the citizen experience. Ultimately those organizations that have strong IT leadership and good partnerships are the ones that will succeed in effectively advancing modernization initiatives.

The Future of government operations and services

While COVID-19 has brought on a litany of challenges, it has also shown government leaders the need to deepen their knowledge of business processes to employ the right digital solutions for their constituents. From emergency services to public education to public health and healthcare, every side of the public sector will become more digital and modern. These digital efforts will permeate deeper in a continued effort to serve citizens better and offer more optimized public services in the coming year.

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