Giving Residents an E-Commerce Experience With a Citizen Service Portal

Digital government initiatives often highlight citizen services portals to change the way residents interact with local government. But how does government deliver on the promise?

Tom Yeatts, ServiceNow’s Chief Strategist for State and Local Government/Higher Education and former county IT executive, shared eight steps to a successful citizen service portal implementation at ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2019 conference.

For Yeatts’ county, digitizing government was a given. The question was, “When?”

Yeatts explained the county had to digitize to provide responsive citizen service. “Long gone are the days when there were enough government employees to personally respond to everyone’s issues,” he explained.

“The pressure is on to make government more accessible, more personal, and more connected,” Yeatts added. Citizen expectations are rising in a world where we call drivers on demand and shop from our homes.

This is especially important for state and local governments. State departments, offices, and affiliated non-profits often work in silos. Citizens often do not have a clear understanding of where to go for the services they need, Yeatts said.

The solution? Yeatts says “copy what works.” With a centralized service portal, an entire county can sync their efforts and provide residents top-notch services.

Portals can include faceted catalogs, easy ordering, tracking and communication. “This will save your organization time and money if done correctly,” Yeatts said, “easy ROI.”

Yeatts says citizens in his former county will be able to search 450+ services across 12 departments. The portal will bring users a faceted search with services most frequently requested by residents, he added.

There are eight steps Yeatts recommends to successfully establish a state, county, or city service portal for citizens. Line up a team, list services, catalog those services, document business processes, develop workflows, convince the team, launch the portal, and request feedback.

Step one is line up a team. Yeatts explained the importance of a team of employees, implementation partners, and other vendors. This helps ensure the portal will scale with growth.

“One of the most important people on your team is that executive sponsor who is going to make sure you have funding and is going to continue to drive this project,” Yeatts said, “and that person does not have to be from IT.”

Next, teams must do research to understand the services they can automate. County staff created a list of services provided at the time. They started with those listed on government websites and the cloud.

“Look specifically for some low hanging fruit,” Yeatts said, “services that are offered as PDFs … those forms can be automated so easily in ServiceNow.”

Under Yeatt’s supervision, his county discovered approximately 440 services – 30 percent of these services were a web form or PDF. Yeatts explained the rest required closer examination as the services were more nuanced. For example, applying to be a youth soccer coach.

Teams should then catalog and document these services with descriptions. Yeatts says to organize by service type, client type, and department. “Think facets and tags,” Yeatts shared, “the same service can be shown in many different views.”

These steps took the county three weeks to complete. Teams must vet, eliminate, or revise each service. Then, they can document the business processes. “If you’re going to digitize that process, you have to document it first,” Yeatts shared.

Prior to setting up the citizen services portal, Yeatts shared that teams left a lot of these processes undocumented. This is one of the challenges governments are facing. Yeatts explained, “We have a lot of baby boomers that are retiring, and there is a ‘brain drain’ that’s going to happen.” We must document and digitize these workflows, he added.

Finally, “spread the love throughout the organization,” Yeatts said, “there’s going to be pockets of resistance, but you can overcome that.” It is important to sell the benefits of online processes. They will free up time, he explained.

The portal also provides improved reporting and minimizes risk by reducing single points of failure.

Once teams are on board, it’s time to launch. Yeatts suggests running a campaign with the executive sponsor. “A lot of times, elected officials will want to be a part of it because this is changing the way citizens interact with their government,” Yeatts said.

With ServiceNow’s out-of-the-box configurations, the demo service catalog takes about a day to build. However, Yeatts recommends leaving some time for cross-departmental testing.

He also emphasized the need for transparency when launching the portal. “Ensure visible updates on request and inquiry status,” Yeatts explained. “Citizens should be able to see the status of all their requests across the organization – without an inbound call.”

With the new system, residents can easily self-service their requests by inputting their ticket number. They can log into one system and gain access to many different services, explained Yeatts.

For other teams looking to digitize citizen services, Yeatts says to start small. “You can catalog a good amount of the services you offer by a thorough trip through your website,” Yeatts explained, “don’t get overwhelmed.” He urges teams to obtain feedback from internal and external users, as early and often as possible.

Many of the steps can run in parallel. “You can always create a service catalog that hands the requests off to more manual processes until you build, test, and deploy all the workflows,” Yeatts said. Or, teams can include external catalog items that point to a resource outside of the portal. This is still a useful guide to citizens, providing clear support for their needs, Yeatts said.

Yeatts also shared that workflows need the most support. “Involve stakeholders early and often,” he said, “business owners need to adopt and run with it … They will be your champions.” In the end, it is a team effort.

And the end result? “Happy citizens who have a delightful experience,” Yeatts says.

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