So Long, Spreadsheet–Cloud Platforms Ending Freeze on Public Service Collaboration

Frozen in place by isolated IT management systems and spreadsheets for cataloging data, public sector technology buyers are now stepping out of the cold. Agencies are increasingly dropping these methods in favor of unified cloud platforms that provide interoperability and an expedited means to connect the various threads of business functions.

Enterprise technology is neither a new nor emerging market, but the advent of enterprise cloud platforms is certainly reshaping the market and giving businesses more flexibility in customizing rollouts to suit business needs. Open application program interfaces also are giving developers avenues to further refine the technology with innovative new answers to the same old work dilemmas.

At ServiceNow’s Knowledge18 Conference in Las Vegas, held May 7-10, 2018, community members shared the ways they’ve used the company’s enterprise platform to cut down data entry and manual processes that many employees would likely call one of the most frustrating aspects of their day-to-day.

Businesses as well as government agencies are asking themselves why they’ve been entering data into the same old, self-contained spreadsheets or siloed systems, when that information needs to travel to another source, interact with another system or self-contained data sheet, and consume even more man-hours to connect the dots.

“It’s taking these tools that are out there that we may or may not have the resources in the IT department to support, and bringing it onto a platform that we can support,” said Tom Yeatts, deputy CIO for Howard County, Md.

Yeatts manages an IT department that previously leaned more on institutional knowledge than defined, mapped processes to handle networked assets and service requests. The platform now outlines the relationships between infrastructure and services, leading to better, faster service.

That window into locality-wide operations adds an extra layer of oversight, visibility, and ease in managing IT services, according to Renee Evans, enterprise service management administrator for Ohio’s Office of Information Technology.

We wanted to have a single pane of glass,” Evans said. “If [the state chief information officer] wants to look at a dashboard that has 15 agencies in it, he’s going to see 15 agencies’ worth of data.”

Platform technologies are not only providing better IT service management within departments, but also better service delivery to citizens themselves. For example, solutions for customer service management (CSM) are freeing customer service professionals from the rote task of data entry for clerical purposes, so they can focus efforts on serving constituents.

Yeatts’ team is piloting a process to speed response and bring more transparency to legislators’ interactions with his county’s highly-engaged constituency. If a citizen sends a question to a council member, Yeatts said the ServiceNow CSM implementation will automatically create a case file–previously a manual entry task.

The action items required to answer the question can then be routed to specific members in the department, relayed to outside sources like state legislators, and tracked for completion in one location. IT drives the solution but the workflow to address citizen requests doesn’t necessarily require engagement from the IT team.

Now, one platform can manage tasks previously split between spreadsheets, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or other applications, Yeatts said.

He said his county hopes to expand the CSM solution to an all-encompassing 311-type platform, where citizens can pay their water bill, sign up for recreational sports, even write those council members.

“They want to go to an area where they can get all the information that’s relevant to them,” Yeatts said. “It just has to be easy. That is the goal of our 311 system.”

Making it easier for citizens can also make it easier for the people who serve, said Landon Cook, director of customer service for the state of Tennessee, whose department handles service-oriented work like employment training for citizens.

“Our direct email unit had three spreadsheets they had to document information on,” he said. “Excel and Outlook–these are not tools for customer service.”

Cook’s department took a nightmarish customer service backlog and cut wait times significantly with the CSM solution. That’s made it a model for future statewide investment, and made Cook’s staff even more willing to contribute to the mission. Nationwide, the desire to give back and share insights is growing.

“We are starting up a community focused specifically on our customers in state and local government,” said Sheila Pickett, industry marketing director for State and Local Governments at ServiceNow.

The customer-led group provides resources and a forum for public sector officials looking for help implementing cloud platforms to manage services for IT, HR, citizens and more.

While public sector innovation can sometimes be frozen by bureaucracy or an unwillingness to invest in new technologies, cloud innovations like these could be the thaw we’ve all been waiting for.

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