Digital transformation is something of a buzzword for state governments. It’s a broad term invoking anything from excitement about modernization to anxiety over costs to fear of the unknown. Nonetheless, manygovernors have promised to bring digital transformation to state government.
So what does digital transformation actually mean, and how can states deliver it in a way that makes a tangible impact on its citizens and creates a real legacy for the leaders who deliver it?
The First Step: Garnering Support
It’s no surprise that digital transformation ends up front of mind for state governments. The public relies on them to find ways to reduce costs and make citizen-government interactions more efficient and positive. Ultimately, agency leaders need to be on top of the technological, political, and social trends that impact not only civil servants but the people they serve — all while keeping government infrastructure safe and secure.
It’s also true that any major systems overhaul presents a risk. Whole organizations must be brought on board; political capital and budgets must be spent. When people gripe about the government, it is often about specific interactions they’ve had that should have been easy, but in fact were not. Far too often, a simple need like renewing a driver’s license or professional certification, transferring records from one state to another or easily understanding what jobs they might qualify for becomes a maze of bureaucratic confusion and redundancy. How frustrating is it when State B won’t accept documents from State A because they need the “original copy?”
That’s why it makes sense to focus on aspects of digital transformation that most directly impact citizens in their daily lives, while tangibly improving the ability of civil servants to deliver quality services.
Transformation to a digital platform, especially during a state of national emergency and record-high unemployment, should provide citizens with resources and opportunities that are helpful, accessible, and empathetic in times of crisis.
Many governments recognize the benefits of creating systems that make it easy for states to verify and update critical information in real-time. This not only eases headaches for many citizens, but also allows agencies to be more inclusive and expand access to government opportunities and services -- from awareness of available jobs to a better understanding of available benefits. After all, this is the ultimate mission of the government.
Some states are leading the pack when it comes to digital transformation. Virginia, for example, has gone all-in and adopting digital credentialing systems that will make it easier for licensed professionals to stay current on their certifications, making it an easier place to find a job and apply hard-earned skills. The state’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation has partnered with Merit to allow professionally licensed residents to access credentials via an app, and the state sees benefits from greater efficiency when issuing licenses, garnering a better understanding of how and where DPOR licenses are being verified and used, as well as automatic, real-time verification of a person's license -- which helps protect the public.
Government in Real Time
These examples represent a new philosophy of letting data live with the people it belongs to, in real-time. In Virginia’s case, this means that professionals who require a license to do their jobs -- that is, 313,000 Virginians from cosmetologists to architects -- have their real-time, automatically-verified license in their pocket. No longer will they constantly need to ask employers and state agencies to manually update their records, which wastes the state’s time and also unnecessarily keeps workers off the job -- costing everyone involved.
Incorporating such user-centric design with real-time results lets states create user-friendly, one-stop digital shops for citizen-government interaction. This is a stark contrast to the old way of doing things, in which, for example, a person’s social security number might be stored across five different agencies from the DMV to the department of labor — but inaccessible to each other and a reason why people dealing with both agencies have a mountain of paperwork to fill out at each.
Addressing The Issues That Digital Transformation Can Solve
A digital transformation is needed to fix the current issues with workforce development, unemployment, and the systems and offices that handle each. In a successful transition to a digital platform, the main focus must be a positive, efficient, and effective service for citizens and government employees.
During the coronavirus pandemic, over 40 million people and counting have filed for unemployment. An unrecorded amount has been laid off, but have had difficulties filing for unemployment successfully. If state governments could offer a digital platform that automatically presents displaced workers with relevant resources and job opportunities mapped to existing credentials, they will not only provide support for citizens, but will slowly lower the state’s unemployment rate in the process.
In addition to helping those displaced, it will prevent workforce offices from being overwhelmed with the number of people they have to help, verify qualifications of, and limit the administrative labor that comes along with those tasks. For workforce departments in particular, going digital will be a singular, straightforward system from which to track and report statewide credential attainment metrics, efficiency, and effectiveness of each workforce training provider, and track the outcomes of each individual program participant.
When citizens, civil servants, and government leaders understand the value of centralized, real-time systems that make information easily accessible in one place instead of scattered and siloed across the government, the benefits are clear. Harnessing the power of technology, developers, and citizens will create a government that is truly participatory and delivers key services more efficiently and effectively than ever before.