The past couple of years have been a disruptive, stressful time for government leaders, but these experiences also have sparked a revolutionary opportunity to improve how governments deliver services to meet constituents’ needs.
During the crux of the pandemic in 2020, demand skyrocketed for many public services from human and food assistance programs to unemployment benefits. And, as many governments struggled with processing volumes of cases and claims never seen before, it became clear that much more would need to be done to adapt and rise to this new level of challenges. Many governments were dealing with antiquated systems and struggling to keep up even before the booming demand. Add in the enormous population growth happening here in Texas, and it created the perfect storm for governments across the state when trying to meet the rising need for services.
This pressure put the delivery of government services — which are lifelines for many people (especially during emergencies) — at risk. The pressure has shaped an opportunity, though, by creating a sense of urgency needed for innovation, modernization, and transformation in government.
Private-sector leaders have a pivotal role to play in this. We have a chance to come out of this stronger and to forge new ways of working, like innovative public-private partnerships, that can help governments deliver what matters most to the people they serve. To get there, we need to understand the unprecedented challenges government leaders are facing and be prepared to help them think through how to break down barriers, prioritize investments, and achieve the best outcomes to make a difference in people’s lives and the economy.
People want citizen-centered government that is often described as “my government, my way.” It’s a standard that has been set by their experiences in the private sector. People have come to expect digital technologies that offer personalized experiences where and when the user wants them. This trend will only continue. In the private sector, 77% of CEOs say their company will fundamentally change the way it engages and interacts with customers.
There’s no exception for governments. Whether people are interacting with a food delivery service, bank, or branch of local government, they now expect a digital-first, personalized experience using the latest and greatest technologies to augment human services.
We’re already seeing examples of how powerful these transformations can be for helping governments both meet expectations and grapple with demand. When the Texas Workforce Commission’s call centers were overwhelmed with millions of calls in one week amid the COVID-19 crisis, Accenture worked with them to launch “Larry” the chat bot. This automated chat bot can answer common questions people have about the unemployment insurance process, deflecting a very large portion of call volumes that would otherwise have to be handled by a person. That puts less strain on human agents in the tele-center, who have time freed up to focus on more complex questions.
Today, “Larry” can support around 100 questions and 20,000 concurrent users – a 233% increase in capacity from launch. It has served over 2 million people and answered over 9 million questions. With its artificial intelligence, it will also learn how to answer more questions.
On top of needing to catch up with digital expectations and disruptions brought on by the pandemic, governments are facing a major workforce challenge. The baby-boomer generation is exiting the workforce en masse, with 75 million baby boomers estimated to retire soon. And, while this workforce is exiting, the workloads for Texas government are greatly increasing with the state’s tremendous population growth.
Governments will need to figure out how to not only transform, innovate and provide services in a different way, but how to transfer workloads from people to platforms to grapple with the exodus of talent. It’ll be a very different model of working to some governments, but it’ll be a familiar one for the private sector. Private sector insights will be crucial to helping governments realize the benefits of digitization, automation, and new approaches to keep up with growing workloads, especially in the face of a diminishing workforce. In automating processes and using digital capabilities more extensively the government will greatly appeal to incoming workforces who expect and will only work with modern technology in how they do their jobs.
A major hurdle to transformation for governments is that they are often steeped in decades-old approaches to work. Without changing this, adopting new technologies alone won’t necessarily lead to better outcomes because most often processes and policies must also be updated to facilitate new ways of working and citizen-centered digital services.
We’ve seen many headlines over the years of instances where new technologies launched but the existing ways of working weren’t updated too. Often, this ends up creating significant challenges or, even worse, in some cases proves to be disastrous.
Transformation depends on a three-pronged approach: modern technology, new ways of working, and strategies to address the impacts to the workforce and people that provide services. New systems and technologies can lead to real improvements. In my experience this is best accomplished with a well thought out roadmap addressing all the changes that will be required and with a special eye on the processes, policies and people impacts.
Given that governments must contend with these new priorities on top of their existing mission, how can they decide what improvements to make first? It’s a delicate balance. They must continue to serve their mission and provide services while figuring out how to make changes for new systems and ways of working.
It’ll take new thinking for how the public and private sector can come together, including in partnerships, to help spur government innovation at the pace that’s now needed. The call to action is clear.
Considering all this, we have an enormous job in front of us in Texas — and in Austin, as the technology epicenter of the state. The good news is we have many companies right here that understand how to tackle the challenge, helping and are ready to do more to help.
It’s an awesome opportunity for all of us in the private sector to play a role in making government better for the people it serves and for our community and state overall.
Accenture is located at 323 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX, 78701. Visit their website here. Their social media accounts are listed below.
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