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Mission-driven Modernization: How Agencies Are Digitizing Citizen Services

While COVID-19 crisis has presented a number of hardships for constituents, businesses and government organizations alike, it has been a catalyst for IT modernization. Here, Salesforce’s Casey Coleman explains how agencies can continue this momentum beyond the pandemic.

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Just over a year ago, long lines at government offices like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration were more common than not. These processes weren’t pleasant or efficient, but in many cases, there was no alternative. 

For Casey Coleman, that era of in-person government services feels like a lifetime ago. 

“We have really reached an inflection point in government modernization and transformation over the last year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has forced years of transformation into a space of weeks or months. And we're really not going to go back,” she explains. 

Coleman has witnessed this shift firsthand. Having served as the chief information officer of the General Services Administration, Coleman has spent much of her career looking for solutions to government-specific challenges. While at GSA, she oversaw several IT modernization initiatives, including an agency-wide cloud migration effort. Today, she serves as senior vice president for digital transformation in the global public sector at Salesforce, where she helps government CIOs and IT leaders navigate their own challenges.  She understands the specific roadblocks that come with this type of government innovation — because it wasn’t long ago that she was in the thick of those processes herself. 

“Having been a federal agency CIO for many years, I have empathy for the work that they're doing and an understanding about how technology can play a part in the modernization journey and what else is needed to bring it all together successfully,” Coleman said. 

A Pandemic-Driven Move Toward Digital Government 

While COVID-19 crisis has presented a number of challenges for constituents, businesses and government alike, Coleman says it has accelerated efforts to modernize cloud and IT infrastructure. 

“Some of it has to do with policies that were part of a former era that is no longer needed, things like citizens having to come in and sign up physically to get benefits or apply for unemployment insurance. Patients being able to take advantage of telehealth [or] agencies that were able to pivot quickly to take their mission online and put digital first as the key channel of engagement. There's example after example of agencies that have used the crisis as a way to bring about long-needed change and modernization,” Coleman says. “It's really inspiring.”

These changes, of course, will have lasting impacts beyond the pandemic. Coleman has seen a number of agencies take it upon themselves to improve the citizen experience. Take New Mexico, for instance. The state’s unemployment claims shot up 600% as businesses small and large felt the economic impact of the pandemic. Around the same time, a number of the state’s call center agents were asked to stay home, which meant there were fewer staff onsite to respond to the uptick of questions and requests. 

“It was a perfect storm of demand and supply working against one another,” Coleman said. 

She and her team at Salesforce worked alongside the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions to build a virtual contact center, enabling agents to continue doing their jobs from home. They also added AI-powered chatbots into the mix to answer common questions and respond to simple requests. That helped take the burden off of actual agents. 

These efforts allowed New Mexico to get unemployment claims under control and, most importantly, deliver funds to the constituents most impacted by the economic crisis. 

Coleman hopes to see that momentum continue. Her recommendation to government leaders: Take a page from leading business-to-consumer products and services. 

“We do our banking, our shopping, our connecting with others … all online through digital channels,” she says. “And we expect the same from the government.” 

Start Small But Think Big 

Understanding the importance of moving toward digital government is one thing; actually making it happen is another. Coleman knows that this process is a massive undertaking — especially in the public sector. 

“Change in government is difficult and time-consuming, and part of it has to do with the complex work that government does,” she says. “That's really at the forefront of meeting the needs of the public. They have really important jobs to do and modernization has to be done thoughtfully.”

She advises government leaders to start with some small wins — and then build on them. 

Moreover, while technology and processes are important ingredients for success, government agencies also need personnel that can champion these changes. 

“You need a trailblazer. You need a person or a small group of people with a vision to make things better,” Coleman says. 

The measure of success for government agencies, after all, is whether or not they’re effectively meeting the needs of their constituents. And Coleman says the widespread shift to digital government can help make that possible. 

“Trust is the currency of government. The public extends their trust to government to fulfill its promises and commitments and to deliver on its mission,” she explains. “Trust is increased with good customer service delivery in a way that's effective and that meets people where they are, through any channel, anytime, in a way that's personalized and intuitive. When it's delivered, all of that really fulfills the public’s expectations.” 

Hear more from Casey Coleman at the Salesforce Public Sector Transformation Summit. Sign up at https://publicsectorsummit.com/register

This content is made possible by our sponsor Salesforce; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec’s editorial staff.

NEXT STORY: 5 Ways Security Can Help Agencies Achieve Mission Success

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