Fostering Contactless Government Beyond the Pandemic

The term “contactless” has become increasingly popular in recent months due to COVID-19. Demand for digital and no-touch services has grown by 20 percent in the U.S., according to the consulting firm McKinsey, with governments ramping up online portals and services, rolling out contactless transit systems, enabling remote visits by social workers, and enlisting chatbots to support surging demand in call centers.

Remote work, virtual hearings, digital identities, and other technologies are reshaping how governments operate and interact with their constituents in ways that will long outlast the pandemic. Government leaders now face new challenges to maintain momentum beyond the pandemic. Ten areas to focus on are:

Leadership commitment.
Throughout the country, governments’ response to COVID-19 has been a success story with agencies that had previously made investments in digital delivery rapidly able to bring additional services online. As the pandemic abates, it will take continued leadership to drive sustained change, making it a top priority and investing political capital.

Thinking beyond digital delivery.
In many communities it took the pandemic to finalize a process for online permit submission and approval. Other government services need to be addressed with leadership developing ways to reduce friction points with building inspections, where much of the groundwork and subsequent follow-ups can be conducted online with the inspector only making the in-person visit. Additionally, recreation and other activities can be scheduled digitally and followed up with surveys to monitor the quality of service.

Developing digital identities.
Unified digital identities, a largely missing element to improving digital government, allows citizens to use a single login to access services across all departments and services.

Refining remote work.
Many state and local governments had invested in technology to allow employees to work remotely before the pandemic, but the rapid shutdown of government buildings forced massive scaling. Following the pandemic, government workplaces will become even more hybrid and adaptive, with systems and processes of today, designed for a pure office model, having to be redesigned to work differently.

Rethinking public meetings.
At the outset of the pandemic many states issued executive orders or rulings that temporarily relaxed open meeting laws to allow governing bodies to convene remotely. During the pandemic, some governments found that shifting public meetings online actually boosted citizen interactions.

Addressing the digital divide.
An important realization after schools shifted to remote learning is how many families lack Internet access at home. As many as 24 million households nationwide lack reliable and affordable Internet access. Many governments and school districts are coordinating private- and public-sector efforts to provide low- and no-cost options for students and citizens.

Maintaining options.
While digital services have largely been ramped up by necessity, it’s important to ensure that citizens continue to have other options. Maintaining multiple options can be part of a longer-term strategy.

Privacy and security.
Headline-grabbing cyber and ransomware attacks are coming at a time when more government operations are reliant on digital systems and more employees are accessing them from home. Beyond the threat of cyberattacks, the remote delivery of services requires governments to think in new ways to ensure that privacy laws are being followed. Efforts to implement next-generation contactless technology, such as the facial recognition systems, could fall afoul of legislation banning their use.

Budgeting priorities.
As government leaders await the full fiscal impact of the pandemic, experts point to how cutbacks following the dot-com crash nearly two decades ago slowed government adoption of technology for years.

Look ahead to “no-touch” government.
Governments’ success in maintaining services during the pandemic has made the public more conscious and aware of the impact public servants have on every minute of their lives. Looking forward, the opportunity will shift to making those services automatic.

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States, Local Areas See Common Tech Challenges for 2021

A recent webinar by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and the Public Technology Institute (PTI)  addressed the reality that technology trends among state and local governments are significantly impacted by COVID-19.

The top issue was cybersecurity based on the increase of state and local employees working remotely and the pandemic creating a whole set of new security challenges. The biggest barriers to improved cybersecurity are insufficient budgets and staffing.

The focus on cybersecurity among cities and counties has intensified as ransomware attacks of the past that may have involved demands for $250 or $500, now criminals often ask for six-figure sums.

While more localities are turning to cyberinsurance, it is cyberinsurance that is actually becoming more of a target because cyberinsurance companies are more willing to pay out.

Accessing digital services is another top trend among state and local governments with the pandemic making such services more of a necessary investment to improve the citizen experience.

Other trends show that state and local governments are increasingly tapping into off-premise and cloud solutions for their technology needs in order to make their footprints smaller or to optimize their environment. Governments are finding that managed service providers might be able to do a better job at a less cost.

Broadband was presented as a much bigger concern going into 2021, with the need for affordability to be addressed from a policy perspective.

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Four innovations state and local governments spawned during the pandemic

The Pandemic has required state and local governments to transition services that are normally provided in person to virtual events and digital interactions. IT departments have launched new and innovative solutions to provide new functionality, transparency, and support to residents.

In St. Louis officials counteracted financial losses by keeping track of every penny spent to slow the spread of the virus by using a new open data portal that keeps track of purchases of personal protective equipment, additional IT services, COVID-19 test kits, and how much the city is spending on COVID-19 relief areas.

Jackson, Mississippi became one of the first U.S. cities to include a “cough bot” in the corona virus screening platform the enables residents to send a recording of a cough so that a machine learning powered tool can analyze it and distinguish between a regular cold and COVID-19.

In Los Angeles, as the need for resources like food banks, child-care centers, and job placement offices increased, it became more difficult for residents to access these services due to changing locations and transportation issues. To assist residents, the city put together a map of the food banks including hours of operation and who is able to access the food. They also published a “resource hub” to help accessing digital services based on user groups.

The pandemic accelerated the modernization of local governments, pushing them to transition traditional services into automated digital transactions. Suffolk County, New York accessed robotic process automation to free up the county’s nurses from spending an inordinate amount of time doing paperwork required to log coronavirus cases.

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How cloud computing can unlock city innovation

Cities are generally slower to embrace emerging technologies to enable innovation than other sectors of the economy because these essential services don’t invite the kind of experimentation and risk-taking that is seen in the private sector.

The growing realization is that emerging technologies coupled with innovative processes can lower the cost of operations, deliver better community experiences, and automate and accelerate many services.

Cloud computing is beginning to deliver on the promise of positive change with “everything as a service” or XaaS.

XaaS cloud services include software applications, storage and identity management, development platforms, communication suites, artificial intelligence, and much more. XaaS provides flexibility, little or no maintenance, peace of mind with built-in disaster recovery, reduced capital expenses and implementation timelines, freed up staff, and better financial terms. Xaas is a core driver of digital transformation and is supporting smart city initiatives across the country.

On the flip side, XaaS means losing some level of control in an architecture in which vendor infrastructure is designed to deliver consistent experiences on the same scale to all users who receive the same services. Additionally, discontinuing services from one vendor to another can present difficulties in moving data smoothly. Lastly, cities are required to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, meaning that some data must be handled in certain ways.

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Leveraging emerging technologies to transform the citizen experience

People rely on government to deliver vital service and information that impacts their quality of life and economic well-being with the expectation that they are able to interact with the government as conveniently and easily as they do with their favorite commercial brands and service providers.

COVID-19 has exposed the urgency for governments to improve the way they deliver information and services to the public, accelerating the use of self-service tools and other technologies that enable people to easily engage with government remotely.

Citizens have grown accustomed to ordering groceries delivered to their doorstep, scheduling telehealth appointments, streaming entertainment, collaborating with teammates online, and communicating with families and friends from around the world.

As government agencies have shifted to meet these changing expectations, traffic to contact centers has risen exponentially as people seek to learn about COVID-19 symptoms, apply for unemployment or support for small business, check the status of a vaccine, or complete the everyday functions of government. More than ever, the public needs access to services that solve problems and work within complicated schedules.

With more Americans out of work, applications for financial assistance programs increased in volume to levels that dwarfed the applications submitted during the Great Recession. Many state and federal government website and contact centers have not been modernized in years and simply cannot respond to the volume of public demands.

Government leaders should make much needed investments to digitalize and modernize contact center infrastructure. A recent survey of 250 contact center leaders by Cisco showed that 62% of contact center decision-makers plan to implement a cloud contact center within 18 months.

Technology such as chatbots, AI, and SMS empower more flexible hours of operation for government agencies that fit customers’ lives, reduce wait times, and meet special language needs. When government customer service representatives move from work to home, they can access the vital information needed to solve citizens’ problems. The use of AI and chatbots also allows the government to provide consistent answers across multiple channels.

To effectively answer the call and deliver a 21st century experience, agencies need to prioritize modernizing digital call centers with these emerging technologies.

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How Cities Lost Control of the Urban Tech Revolution

Local governments have found themselves increasingly struggling to manage the changes that alter the many aspects of urban life. For many years we have been promised that the marriage of technology and the city, the “smart city,” would revolutionize urban life. Major technology purveyors who hoped to sell enterprise-level solutions for things like managing water and sewer systems or automating transit operations backed the first major wave of smart cities.

This generation of smart cities was the product of companies that had a long history of focusing on client needs. But it turned out that there weren’t that many cities willing or able to purchase this kind of very expensive solution.

A second generation of American smart cities came in the form of the open-data movement. Governments at all levels decided to post their data online or even make it available in real time through application program interfaces allowing the public, software developers and others to use it for their own purposes. This form of smart cities had an immediate win with the advent of transit tracker apps that allowed people to know when the next bus would arrive. The downside of this advance was data that was poorly organized.

A third generation of American smart cities came in the form of the open-data movement. Governments at all levels decided to post their data online or even make it available in real time through application program interfaces allowing the public, software developers and others to use it for their own purposes.

A new generation of smart cities is using technology from the private sector that interfaces directly with the citizenry, bypassing the normal regulatory processes. The best known are Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb that have allowed the smartphone to become the way people interface with the city beyond the regulated sector. In these cases, the private sector is setting the costs and terms without involvement of governments.

The smart city revolution has arrived but it is controlled by the private sector, leaving government out of control of the urban tech revolution.

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How Companies and Governments Can Advance Employee Education

Access to an extensive amount of data, from social media, online browsing, and an increasing number of mobile devices, make it feel as though things are moving faster every day. To gain and maintain an advantage, governments and businesses must increase their ability to react, transform, and improve.

Any governments can invest in advanced technologies but creating a workforce that’s ready to use them is a greater challenge. Success requires workers who can understand data, serve customers across virtual and physical interaction points, and keep up with changing software languages. A global survey of 4,300 managers and executives shows that 90% of workers feel the need to update their skills annually just to compete.

Three strategies are recommended to create a more educated workforce:

Upskilling is the practice of teaching employees how to use new tools and
practices that will help do their jobs better or faster and ensure that the
expertise is being put to the best use as new tools and technologies emerge.

Reskilling is a form of education focused on helping employees make career
transformations by learning new tools and practices to gain an ability to changes jobs entirely. This can be a significant cost saving when compared to the cost of severance, recruiting, and onboarding new employees.

Government Investments should focus on a multifaceted infrastructure for
lifelong learning and education.

Summarized from Harvard Business Review

How Technology Can Help Reduce The Power Imbalance Between The Government And The People

Technology platforms over the last several years have been crucial to holding powerful people and governments to account, an example being smartphone that give people instant access to filming capabilities that make it easier to document incidents of mistreatment and abuse.

Additionally, technology tools, particularly social media, are enabling societies across the globe to expand and demand civil rights. The world is now too interconnected, with technological advancements providing unprecedented access to information. In addition to utilizing this information keep governments in check, technology will continue to benefit the world’s poor by providing new access to necessary information.

This technology is not without flaws as social media has been used to promote election interference, hateful rhetoric, conspiracy theories, mob violence, online radicalization, and the spread of misinformation. It is incumbent on the world’s leading technology companies to increase regulation and explore alternative business models to avoid repeating the mistakes of early development.

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New cyber guidelines out for government contractors

Foreign countries are targeting and compromising U.S. contractors so frequently that the Department of Defense (DOD) requested that the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop custom security guidelines.

The result was 31 new recommendations for contractors to harden their defenses and protect unclassified but still sensitive government data including Social Security numbers and other personally identifying information.

Recommendations include implementing dual-authorization access controls for sensitive operations, employing networks segmentation where appropriate, deploying deception technologies, and employing threat-hunting teams and a security operations center to monitor system and network activity. Additionally, DOD has taken steps to beef up participation in information sharing programs and rolled out new cybersecurity standards for its contractor base.

These security guidelines are mandatory for approximately 65,000 primary and subcontractors who work with DOD. Implementing these guidelines can be an heavy financial burden but it is hoped that nonfederal organizations implement alternative, but equally effective security measures, using CMMC as a model.

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Why cybersecurity will impact everything in the new decade

Big Tech is embedded in every level of government as millions of citizens have become comfortable working online with local, state, and federal agencies. Information is rarely more than a few clicks away for both law-abiding citizens and anyone bent on breaking the law.

Up until now, government IT has been focused mainly on function: process automation, implementation, and establishing network policies. Now highly publicized data breaches, election vulnerabilities, and the social media influence on everything from currency to health care, have resulted in government IT professionals and cyber-savvy lawmakers to move forward with purpose and speed to better data protection.

The Defense Department’s security-first initiative and its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) requirements protect every mission and ensure security in every vendor along the supply chain. With the move to the cloud, mission-critical priorities must be certified for security due to supply-chain exposure and third-party vendor risk. Under CMMC, all contractors will be required to meet new standards before they can respond to RFPs or renew contracts.

The expectation is that similar initiatives will spread across all federal, state, and municipal agencies. This security-first mentality will become a national government inspired standard that will be in contrast to the slow trickle-up security of the past decade.

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