4 Ways Agencies Can Tap ERPs to Modernize Government
Government leaders are looking to IT to help solve the country’s pressing problems by making agencies more efficient and effective in achieving their missions and serving their constituencies. Modernizing IT isn’t theoretical: it’s something many agency IT leaders took to heart during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing them to speed up digital transformation in order to ensure business continuity. With new capabilities in hand, it’s time for government IT to build on this progress.
Enterprise resource planning systems, or ERPs, played a critical role in managing assets, personnel, and the shift to remote work. These integrated software systems improve public sector outcomes and provide transparency on key capabilities to enable strategic planning. But as expectations and services evolve, government agencies will need to find new, innovative ways of using ERPs to continue delivering for their constituents.
Three government and industry experts spoke at Salesforce’s recent virtual event, “Modernizing Government IT: CIO & CEO Perspectives, Lessons Learned & the Future of ERP.” Here are their key takeaways on change management initiatives and evolving them to meet future needs.
1. Modernizing IT Starts with People
The Federal Student Aid division of the Education Department helps its customers by making information available at the speed of light. During the pandemic, the agency still had to deliver on student loans, so its customer focus, like many government organizations, became more digital. Specifically, it came to rely heavily on engagement through its Digital Customer Care platform, said Federal Student Aid Chief Information Officer Mia Jordan.
“On that platform, we focused a lot on a notification center where customers really began to expect the government to be able to produce and deliver information and resources very much the same way they experienced it in their daily lives,” she said.
Over the last nine months, the Education Department injected more digitization into their processes. The department developed the ability for customers to make online payments, access a personalized homepage with their summarized information and upcoming loan payments, and view checklists. Ultimately, it also gave the organization better insight into its customer base.
“One, you understand your customer, but two, most importantly, you're delivering continuity tools that you can put in the palms of their hands that allow them to make the decisions that are best for them,” Jordan said.
2. Strategically Resource Transformation Efforts
The Biden administration is laser-focused on innovation, and agencies are always looking for new acquisition ideas to adopt technologies faster. For the Defense Department, it’s important to leverage acquisition tools without encountering any pitfalls, which means doing so thoughtfully and strategically.
Importantly, DOD recognizes technology isn’t a substitute for good management practices, and works to ensure that acquired technology will work with people to serve a strategic objective, said Greg Little, DOD’s deputy comptroller for enterprise data and business performance.
Importantly, DOD also accounts for failure tolerance and willingness to learn in its strategy by making sure guard rails exist with investments. Last, it thinks through success rate and scaling in order to to forge a seamless path from startup to sustainment.
“We want these projects that are successful to actually go into production and be used by the masses here in DOD,” Little said.
The Technology Modernization Fund also illustrates the administration understands the standard budget cycle doesn't necessarily meet the urgency for change, Jordan noted. For the Education Department, the fund is a “gamechanger,” and can secure the ability to innovate iteratively as ERP platforms will change over time.
“The TMF, I think will certainly help us accelerate the pace and deliver … world-class customer service to our 42 million loan customers,” she said.
3. Leverage ERPs to Solve Real Problems
When the pandemic hit, emergency management, medical and engineering firm CDR Maguire was responding for 12 hours a day out of its emergency operations center in Florida. At night, it shifted its focus to serve thousands of patients looking for their COVID-19 test results. The firm needed to make a change in order to aid patients more effectively as it took on new volume. To do so, it chose the Salesforce platform. The result: A patient portal was rolled out in just weeks and integrated with seven different labs and the state’s reporting system for test results, vaccination and immunization information.
But it didn’t only aid the patients, it also proved a boon for staff who were, in many cases, working unsustainable hours.
“As a result of that, it freed up our team, not only to be able to sleep, but also to be able to respond to patients faster and to get them their results faster, which became incredibly critical,” Vidal said, noting that the solution kept her, personally, from working 20-hour days.
For DOD, adhering to little to no customization when it came to the ERP system allowed the agency to move much faster with upgrades and security patches. A single ERP platform can include 22 defense agencies with diverse software standards. Too much customization, however, hinders quick upgrades and patching, as well as moving it to the cloud.
“If you do those little decisions smartly and well, moving to different technologies, upgrading, saves a tremendous amount of time and a tremendous amount of resources,” Little said.
4. A More Customer-Centric Future
Vidal sees a future where the government interacts and engages more with users. But more responsive agencies require mass-ERP systems.
To strengthen and encourage the use of ERP systems, experts agreed they need to first be priced accurately, in a way the government can justify (and afford) buying them. They must also be developed with the end user in mind, focusing on mass-communication, automation and the ability to access information rapidly, Vidal said.
Pricing these tools correctly is a win-win for the consumer, DOD, the supplier and vendor partners, Little added. This is especially important for DOD as it plans for future consolidation efforts around its ERPs in the cloud, as software-as-a-service and iterations that entail automation and advanced intelligence.
Industry and government must work together to build future state technology architectures that allow the government to “plug and play,” Jordan said. As technologies evolve, it shouldn’t be difficult to swap out the old for a new interface that better integrates with ERPs already in place.
And what must always remain top of mind, especially for the Education Department, is customer experience.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that we have an extremely diverse demographic of citizens that we have to be prepared to serve,” Jordan said. That means a digital platform and continuous solution with an omnichannel experience has to be built to serve all customers and their various communication preferences.
“We really have to aim to reduce the complexity and improve the stability of the solutions that we offer,” she added.
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