As citizens become more dependent on technology in their lives, they expect more digital services from the government. A recent Accenture report found that 85 percent of respondents said they expect the same or higher quality from government digital services as they do from commercial organizations. This is a 12 percent increase from a similar survey in 2014.

While expectations are on the rise, satisfaction with government digital services is also increasing. From 2014 to 2016 the number of citizens satisfied with government digital services doubled–from 27 percent to 58 percent.

“Government has made major headway in satisfying citizen expectations for digital services, and demands and opportunities to do better keep growing,” said Peter Hutchinson, strategy lead for state and local government consulting at Accenture. “The public sector must strive to get further into the digital revolution as one of the keys to delivering better outcomes for citizens in an increasingly efficient manner. Citizens are demanding it, and smart government leaders will accelerate their digital transformation.”

Brian Paget, technical director for public sector at Adobe, has 20 years of experience in the technology sector. (Photo: Adobe)

In an interview with 21st Century State & Local, Brian Paget, technical director for public sector at Adobe, discussed how government agencies can optimize their digital services to increase citizen satisfaction. Paget, who has been in the technology space for 20 years, stresses the importance of taking the best of what Adobe has from a commercial perspective and translating that to what is relevant for a government client.

Optimization is the name of the game for Paget and Adobe. Paget mentioned that frequently government customers are focused on optimizing and improving the source of information–the government website–but clients should focus on optimizing the point of interaction or the transaction–the government form.

“The goal is to remove friction from the process,” Paget said. “The greatest friction isn’t getting information from a government agency; the friction is the transaction with the government.”

While governments might focus on the website, frequently the first digital interaction a citizen has with the government, Paget says the real benefit is in optimizing forms and transactions. Not only does this optimization improve the citizen experience, but it offers real cost savings for government agencies. Allowing citizens to digitally apply for licenses and permits, pay parking tickets, or start a business eliminates the need for costly call centers or overtime pay for workers staffing government offices, Paget explained.

While upgrading technology can be seen as costly, Paget says government agencies need to look at the total cost of a transaction, not just the cost of technology.

“The thing that we see in the commercial world is that they focus on the total cost of the transaction, including call centers, overtime pay, and paying contractors. Commercial clients look at those costs as a component, along with the technology costs. Government agencies need to focus on the total cost of interactions, not just technology, and then look at ways to implement technology to lower overall costs.”

While citizen satisfaction with digital services has doubled since 2014, roughly 40 percent of citizens are still unsatisfied with their government’s digital services. Paget said that massive overhaul is required to increase satisfaction, but smaller easy fixes can help.

“Back-end technologies are much more expensive than user experience fixes,” Paget explained. “Leave the legacy stuff in place and put a veneer of citizen-facing technology on top of that. It’s not a major overhaul, it’s making tweaks here and there.”

One area that governments need to focus on in Paget’s view is personalization, specifically on their websites.

“If you go to a commercial website, it adapts to you and treats you differently from other customers. Government websites are largely static today. Two users see the same thing, even if they are doing radically different things,” Paget said. “Different individuals should be treated differently. The next generation of government services needs to do this really well.”

That being said, governments have an obligation to respect and protect that vast amount of personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) that they have access to. Paget believes that governments can both protect data and provide a customizable experience.

“Governments should secure and maintain that internal citizen information and never share that with any external provider,” Paget cautioned. “Leveraging third-party data, while still protecting PHI and PII, is a good balance.”

Paget does caution that investing in digital services isn’t a replacement for in-person, on-paper services–governments will still need to offer those. However, by improving digital services, they can take a significant burden off their workforce and move services to a cheaper channel and save the government considerable money.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs