July 21, 2020

Building A Digital Government – Where to Begin

Digital innovation in government starts at the local levels. In this article, we explore ways in which local government can get quick wins when digitizing online services.
Posted by Karl Pawlewicz
An illustration of a city

As consumers grow ever more accustomed to conducting business on their smartphones, online, or in the cloud, government agencies face a challenge to deliver and receive digital information, safely and securely, oftentimes with a limited budget.

As most major retailers realized years ago, customers want and expect a smooth and organized digital workflow that results in the easy purchase of an item. The same is true for citizens and expectations for their government. They don’t want to waste their time filling out handwritten forms, and tracking down a fax machine.

A report from the World Economic Forum labels governments as “the dinosaurs of the digital age: slow, lumbering and outdated.”

As a government agency, the opportunity lies in introducing innovative ways to provide quality service to their citizens, who increasingly are expecting to do everything online. 

One easy way to do just that: adopting online forms and eSignatures. 

Most major industries such as banking, healthcare and real estate have moved many of their processes online, including those that required fax communication and wet signatures. 

In fact, a majority of people who responded to a 2016 Accenture survey said “they would use digital services if offered by government, especially for routine transactions. And over half want to conduct all their government business digitally in the future.”

The survey also found that the biggest challenge facing most government agencies is giving modern citizens what they want: to go digital. 

Going paperless isn’t difficult with the right guidance, and the right partnership

In the following article, we will walk you through the process of understanding and implementing the transition from physical forms to digital.

An image of the city hall building in Dallas, TX.

Online Forms and eSignatures: Where Do I Start?

Moving your municipality’s processes online does not have to be scary, nor does it have to be time-consuming. 

With a digital workflow, employees are freed up to focus on more pressing issues and citizens experience a more streamlined and efficient process. It’s a win-win. 

But Where Do I Begin? 

The most obvious place to start kicking off a digital initiative would be to work with your Information Technology Department. 

For most governments, the IT department is the one responsible for overseeing the municipal website, and perhaps even managing official forms. They are also the ones researching and purchasing software and technology for the government, and managing the implementation of a cross-departmental technology solution. 

Partnering with your IT department is key to adopting new technologies like online forms and eSignatures to improve not only citizen engagement, but employee efficiency. 

Be sure and take the time to discuss and clearly outline the key goals you are hoping to achieve by adopting the new platform for online forms and eSignatures. This will not only make it easier to narrow down the needs and requirements for your system, but also create a clear message you can communicate to stakeholders. 

Start early on collaboration. Bring in key stakeholders from critical partner departments. Everyone’s early understanding of the importance of the project, and their enthusiasm will help gain support from all staff members. You are looking for champions to help ensure adoption and implementation. 

Form Audits: How Many Forms Do I Have?

When thinking about going digital, does your head swim from thinking of the number of forms and processes your municipality deals with on a daily basis?

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And you don’t have to redo everything at once. To prevent a waste of time and money, concentrate your digitization efforts where you will see the highest Return on Investment (ROI). That means making improvements that will benefit the end users. Look for your highest volume forms and services, and the most labor-intensive and expensive processes. 

You can also take a lesson from other governments that have already adopted an online forms platform, like Sacramento, California. 

Sacramento’s Website Administrator began the process of digitizing forms with SeamlessDocs in 2017. The process began by simply reaching out to all of the departments, and asking who needed forms digitized. 

The response was enthusiastic, and the team realized this wasn’t a one-and-done project. It would have to be ongoing to serve the needs of the city’s employees, as well as the citizens. 

To help simplify the process, the team decided to prioritize the forms that would be digitized by determining which:

  1. Forms that received the most submissions/request by citizens. 
  2. Forms that required city staff to process. 
  3. Forms that involved a lot of effort on processing and data entry. 

To gather data to analyze the ROI on the digitization process, the team asked departments to quantify:

  • How much time was being spent on the business processes associated with that form?
  • How much time was being spent processing a paper form or a pdf form?

Over time, on average, the city was saving roughly 3,057 hours per week by bringing certain forms online. 

Much like road repairs and resurfacing projects are done on an incremental basis, the same can be done with the digital transformation. 

You can also start with the simple fixes. That means think of those forms that are most commonly requested to fill out, constituents constantly complain about, and city employees hate processing. Once you’ve digitized those forms, move on to the longer, more complicated ones. 

Pro tip: Find the help you need to make the process more efficient, saving you time and money. SaaS products can do much of the heavy-lifting for you. Platforms like SeamlessDocs require few technical integrations and typically operate synchronously with a municipality’s website. They rarely require a complete website redesign. SeamlessDocs’ engine is lightweight and easily configurable, and government partners are usually up and running within hours.

Most Common Digitized Forms

Sims City Smaller

When considering the forms your government agencies may want to digitize and bring online, it’s important to balance internal and external forms. 

While every government agency will be different, it may surprise you which forms are most commonly requested, both by the public, as well as internally. 

SeamlessDocs has found that the following three departments usually experience the greatest impact when going digital:

Examples of Government IT Forms

Given that IT manages the city’s website, and typically oversees forms for other departments, this department handles a lot of forms and processes. Not only is IT dealing with other forms, but it has its own forms:

Examples of Government Human Resources Forms

While this is a department that doesn’t involve the public, HR is hugely important in the effective and efficient running of government. There are rules and requirements for almost everything. Government employees are constantly interacting with HR for:

Examples of Parks and Recreation Forms

A municipality’s parks and recreation services are some of its most used, and typically involve a ton of paperwork. Anything from park maintenance to special event reservations involves processing a form. Some of the more common forms:

Determining where to start depends on which forms your citizens are most often requesting, and the forms that can help streamline internal processes for employees. 

The Benefits of Online Forms

When speaking of going digital with local government administrators, there is often hesitation due to inaccurate assumptions about the time and money it takes to go digital. 

In reality, staying with legacy, manual processes can actually cost municipalities more – in time and money – in the long run. 

With the right software system, bringing your government processes and forms online can benefit not only your city employees, but also your residents. 

Here are a few benefits to going digital with government processes and forms:

Frees up valuable staff time

When you move processes and forms online for residents, your employees are not spending as much time having to handle requests for permits or applications, thanks to automation. 

Most government processes start with a citizen filling out a form, which lands on the clerk’s desk. The form is then put into a queue with other requests. Each of those forms now needs to be vetted, approved or denied, and then recorded and organized based on document control protocol. This requires a host of supplies, tools and labor to process a single form. Moving forms and processes online, saves clerks and city employees from having to spend hours on a single form, freeing them up to focus on more pressing, complex issues. 

Increase access, transparency, and citizen empowerment

When forms and processes are moved online, individual departments are able to reach more people, of all socio-economic backgrounds. By removing barriers to access vital information, the relationship between municipalities and their constituents fundamentally changes. 

Moving forms and processes online also means being able to consolidate data, and eventually even making it accessible to the public. Greater transparency with your citizens can lead to greater trust in the government. It can also lead to more citizen engagement in government. 

Improve citizen engagement and satisfaction

The public is used to conducting business online and to having essential services at their fingertips. From shopping for groceries, to renewing a driver’s license, people want to do more in less time. Moving services, processes and forms online, municipalities can improve their overall citizen satisfaction. Both the federal and local government historically score far below the private economic sector in user satisfaction, according to the ACSI. Saving people time will improve their satisfaction level. 

In Boston, the city adopted SeamlessDocs in 2016, moving 122 city forms online in the first two years. This move saved residents 1,000 hours of their time

On average, moving a government form online can save citizens five or more hours. It not only reduces the amount of time to submit a form, with cloud-based software that allows citizens to fill out a form anywhere, but it also reduces the amount of time it takes to process a form. 

Easy payment processing

Moving online also means constituents can pay tickets, taxes or utility bills online, without time-consuming manual processing or approval. City employees are saving time from running to the bank to process checks and money is deposited more quickly into city coffers. 

Modernizing your municipality’s processes by moving forms and other functions online, will not only upgrade your relationship and interactions with citizens, it will also streamline the backend through automation. 

Going paperless saves precious time, money and resources. Digitizing your government processes is the first step to creating a better, more accessible government.