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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