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by Brian Chidester
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4 Ways to Build 100 Percent Digital State and Local Governments

In the 21st century, Americans are used to having many easy interactions online, albeit mostly in the private sector. Government does not have the same expectations, but many Americans do want to interact with government online and modernization is a key goal of federal officials.


During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many systems moved online to limit face-to-face interactions, including within state and local governments. Government processes that required citizens to show up in person, like renewing driver’s licenses or applying for unemployment, are now available partially or completely online. With the familiarity of online interactions—from online shopping to paying bills and booking travel—citizens have become accustomed to sophisticated digital experiences and have high expectations for government interactions. Citizens want an experience that is easily accessible, reliable and transparent.


An example of a fully online, accessible government already exists. Estonia, a small European country of just over one million citizens, has been transitioning to a digital government since 1997. Today, Estonia reports that 99 percent of its public services—including voting, filing taxes and accessing health care records—can be completed online in minutes. Over the past 25 years, Estonia has replaced legacy technology, cut down on ineffective bureaucratic structures and added free hotspots across the country. All these changes have proved to cut down on costs. According to the Estonian government, digitized public services save the country more than 1,400 years of working time since these projects have begun and 2 percent of its GDP annually.

The shift to a digital government can seem daunting for U.S. state and local governments, but Estonia can serve as proof that it is possible. Increasing digital services and improving citizen experience (CX) is crucial not only to meet citizen demand and continue IT modernization goals, but to increase citizen engagement and trust and optimize the federal workforce. Using Estonia as an example, state and local governments can improve CX by simplifying citizen identity, creating a consistent experience and, most importantly, increasing integration.


Simplifying identity One of Estonia’s first significant steps toward becoming a digital government was creating digital IDs for its citizens. Through a program called e-Identity, every Estonian has an encrypted, digital identity they can access through their mobile phones. They can use their ID for digital signatures, filing e-prescriptions, checking medical records and more. The government claims Estonians can save five days a year by using the digital signature feature alone.


Many states in the U.S. are already considering digital IDs, which supports the transition to a more digital government. In March 2022, Arizona became the first state to launch digital IDs and driver’s licenses that are accessible via mobile devices and allow Arizonians to prove their identities with a simple tap of a smartwatch. Several states intend to follow, including Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.


Building a citizen portal Citizens also expect simple, intuitive government interactions. Citizen portals act as virtual town halls, with one location to accomplish any government-related task. Created in 2018, Maryland’s citizen portal, OneStop, serves as an intuitive search engine to assess citizen needs and connect them to the right resources. The portal allows Marylanders to complete tasks online, whether it be applying for state licenses or filling out government forms, certificates, applications, permits and registrations.


Similar to Arizona’s one-tap digital ID verification at airports, the one-click approach integrates information between agencies while still connecting to a core mainframe.


Creating a consistent experience Alongside creating a single identity and portal, improving government digital services means developing a unified, familiar experience. Estonia has not only created a cohesively branded government website to support citizen experience, but a similarly branded e-Estonia page to chronicle their digital transformation.


Cohesive branding across states and departments—including website colors, logos and fonts—improves the user experience. If every department portal has different user experiences, citizens may become confused about the legitimacy of the sites or frustrated with the overall experience based on one agency’s user interface. Mismatched branding between agencies in the same state can be discomforting to the user and cause citizens to be less engaged in the local government.


Increasing integration On the back end of a digital government, improved citizen experiences and increased digital services rely on integration. Having an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) makes it possible to share citizen information in a reliable, secure way, while also powering a streamlined approach for IT leaders or government professionals overseeing the integration. This solution allows local agencies to easily create communication platforms that streamline government processes, meeting modern user experience expectations that have grown in the wake of the pandemic. iPaaS has the power to create seamless portals through service-oriented architecture (SOA) integration that supports on-premises, public cloud, mainframe, container or edge environments.


While cloud complexity traditionally makes real-time exchanges more difficult, iPaaS almost eradicates this hurdle, allowing governments to improve citizen portals with seamless communication between state and local entities. This seamless communication is crucial for state and local governments that often face data silos with data scattered across many different endpoints. With iPaaS, governments can minimize data silos, centralize information, and ensure data is accessible and high-quality. For state and local governments that implement this technology, it means more seamless data flow between different systems and applications.


Centralized data on the back-end results in a better citizen experience on the front end, making a multi-agency online portal possible. iPaaS would give these agencies more support in automating processes, delivering data correctly, and generating actionable intelligence.


Generally, state and local governments are making IT modernization changes that improve CX, but they should do more to prioritize projects with CX at the forefront in order to support the transition to a digital government. As Estonia showed, this process could take several years, but will be worth it.


Ultimately, the key to improved CX is seamless integration across state and local agencies. This integration can be accomplished with the help of iPaaS. With a low-code, cloud-native iPaaS, state and local governments can modernize their IT infrastructure to meet shifts in citizen expectations for online services and strengthen citizen participation.

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