Shonte Eldridge, formerly Deputy Chief of Operations for the City of Baltimore, and now Senior Director of State and Local Government Strategy and Solutions at DocuSign, knows a thing or three about what it takes to harness technology to improve government processes.

With more than 20 years in state and local government (SLG) service, she laid out the path forward for government digital transformation on September 13 at DocuSign’s Public Sector Symposium organized with MeriTalk.

“I understand government. I understand what it’s like to have cumbersome, long, expensive processes that need to be changed. And I know what it’s like to have constituents complain about how long it’s taking to get the services they need,” Eldridge said.

She added, however, that her presentation was not only about her experience from when she was in the public sector, but also what she’s seeing from state and local government leaders across the nation – “how they’re solving these challenges; how it’s making it easier for them to do business.”

“Because as we all know, and I love this quote by Will Rogers, ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there,’” she said.

Eldridge acknowledged that many government leaders feel that new technology won’t fly because they don’t have the time, money, or personnel. However, governments across the nation are leveraging solution providers like DocuSign to establish successful digital transformations to save money, improve constituent services, and meet their modernization goals.

She emphasized that government is always changing – and at an accelerating pace due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I remember I was actually already in the private sector when COVID hit, but I heard so many of my former government colleagues saying that government was now on a timeout. They sent everybody home. However, the processes that they had in place were mostly for in office work,” she said.

As a result of the immediate need to go to remote work, many governments were struggling, particularly with how to make sure that they provided the services needed when nobody was in the office. “As we all know, constituents don’t have a choice. They have to get their water from their government. They have to drive on the government roads. And for those that need certain services, they have nowhere else to go except to government,” she said.

From that perspective, Eldridge presented her top government process improvement trends based on service in local government, and with DocuSign. “These have been battle tested. These are common ways that leaders are really utilizing to make sure that they have lasting change, that they have adoption from their staff, and most importantly, that the constituents that they’re serving get the services they need in the most efficient and time sensitive way that they can get them,” she said.

Four Guiding Principles

Eldridge admitted she would be remiss – being from DocuSign – not to highlight “Go Paperless” as the number one trend.

“I’ll give you a little stat. It takes on average 1.8 hours a day for a person to look for documents. We’ve all been there. Folders are in file cabinets. We may not know what drawer. Paper on people’s desks. Sometimes it’s scattered in bits. Pieces of the documents are in legal and other parts in HR,” she said, citing General Services Administration (GSA) stats that Federal government agencies are spending a combined $38.7 billion on paper intensive processing.

The second trend Eldridge highlighted is increased collaboration. “I still talk to my former government colleagues. And what I know to be true is that hybrid is here to stay. They realize people aren’t always in the same office, especially as is the case in hybrid or remote work,” she said.  By increasing collaboration through the entire signing and approval process means things get done much faster.

Next, Eldridge pointed to digital equity in a unique way. “I used to hear the term when I was in government, everybody thought it meant broadband, right? Oh, you know people need internet. People need access to be able to submit things. But digital equity is beyond just computer access. It’s beyond just internet,” she said.

The COVID experience is a really great example. During the early days when vaccinations were becoming available, a lot of governments were able to put their vaccination requests and applications online to schedule appointments.

One of the problems that quickly became evident was that some populations were not being able to access that information, and most often that group was the elderly – the most vulnerable and the very group that the early vaccinations initially were rolled out to. “They didn’t know how to print out the forms and fill them out. They were having trouble downloading them and signing them. They were having trouble making the appointments. That wasn’t equitable. Digital equity means that everybody has the ability to receive the services that they need in the format that they want to receive them,” she said.

Eldridge’s final trend, and her favorite, is making technology part of everyone’s DNA.

“When I was in government, one of the things that I was able to do was code. I knew technology fairly well, and so a lot of time I was working with the IT department as a business leader to get things done,” she said. That wasn’t always the case. Usually only the IT department was well versed in technology, and the project manager or the department heads or leaders didn’t really understand what was needed.

Just Get Started

Eldridge maintained in wrapping up her talk her that this is changing for the better.

“I go back to COVID. Government program leaders and technology leaders were at the table at the same time because technology is now becoming everybody’s focus. And the reason why that’s important, I know from experience, government leaders change, department heads change, program managers change, and elected officials change,” she said.

Eldridge emphasized that unless the technologies are in everybody’s DNA, when the government administration changes, the tech thread may become lost. “When technology becomes part of everyone’s DNA, when you’re reviewing processes and everybody is looking at how to use technology to improve processes, you’re are going to be successful.

“This effort can be sustained and leveraged, meaning that it is now a fixture as part of that process,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter who the new players are, it doesn’t matter what new law comes down, they’re able to really adopt and adapt quickly,” she said. “Because now everybody’s looking at the technology aspect, not just the IT department. The IT department, the program managers and the leaders have now all become partners. Everybody is looking at technology to improve how government gets done.”

Eldridge ended with a rallying cry: “Just get started,” despite all of the apparent challenges.

“You have to start somewhere,” she said. “And if you don’t start, you’re going to find yourself in a situation where constituents aren’t getting the services they need. And we all know in government, sometimes those services are a matter of life and death.”

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.