Think back to the most frustrating moments of the last 14 months. At least one of them most likely involved struggling to register with your local COVID-19 testing site, or sign up to get a vaccine with a difficult-to-navigate system, or register for online schooling. States and local governments have been seeking better methods to solve for these online challenges of the pandemic since its beginnings.
While this frustration has challenged state and local governments, it has also laid bare how they might solve similar challenges in the future. It has also shined a light on other areas of vulnerability that would benefit from a more flexible, effective digital transformation strategy.
Jennifer Parker, Director of SLED at Quickbase, who has over 18 years of experience in the technology world focusing on public sector organizations, shared her insights on where states and local governments stand now with the pandemic and what they are looking to solve for going forward.
“Putting out the fire” of COVID-19
Even as some locales are transitioning into loosening COVID-19 restrictions, state and local governments are still in the middle of navigating the pandemic.
“Our customers are the proverbial firemen who are still dumping water and trying to put the fire out,” Jennifer said. “The requirements for reporting are constantly changing, and the situation is constantly evolving.” Further, as these customers continue to navigate the end of the pandemic, problems are still going to crop up – tracking re-opening, continued testing, and additional challenges of the situation will stay apart of the challenge going forward.
A year plus into this pandemic, one major learning is that need to continue working to be more flexible. “It is no secret that governments are struggling and learning to become more agile,” she added. Across the board, state and local governments are continuing to find ways to modernize and digitally transform their operations, with pandemic-driven challenges as a major catalyst. This fits in with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services’ survey in the fall, which found that 91% of organizations would be adjusting their operating models due to COVID-19.
Solving IT backlog
With IT backlog as a major problem for states and local governments, finding ways to be more agile will be critical to improving in the future. When getting any changes at all into the queue with IT is a pain point, the odds of successfully making changes are slim. And with processes that require ongoing changes, like the COVID-19 reactions have, it becomes a major pain point for state and local governments. Further, as McKinsey points out, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the backlogs of work across state and local governments in a variety of areas, both essential and non-essential.
McKinsey suggests establishing a governance framework to better coordinate cross-functionally and build out improved services for high priority projects. From there, state and local departments can “pivot staff and resources toward critical projects, such as improved IT services for remote delivery, and redistribute resources to bolster areas under strain.”
Serving massive, public-facing processes
Additionally, one major realization of COVID-19 has been the inability of government organizations to deal with processes focused on “everyone on the internet” – processes where individuals across the city or state need to access a government form or system. As many organizations learned quickly in the early days of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, traditional technology is not always up to the task. And this doesn’t just go for vaccine rollout – COVID-19 proved to be a stress test for numerous state online systems, including unemployment registration.
While government organizations are trying to build in more agility, having tools on hand that can allow those closest to the work to quickly build and solve these systems without having to navigate the IT backlog will reduce the chaos felt by residents.
These kinds of processes aren’t limited to the pandemic. “One government official was saying this kind of technology would be relevant to at least five different use cases for his area,” Jennifer said. From online motor vehicle registration to school lotteries, state and local governments all have multiple processes that need to coordinate a mass of users outside of the organization. With technology designed to flexibly adjust to new needs and make data actionable across systems, state and local governments can leverage operational agility to react to changes in these processes and reliably centralize data sources.