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Digital government and the transformation of service

A 21st-century approach to government can greatly improve the lives of citizens.

May. 28, 2014 - 12:15PM   |  
By SCOTT QUEHL   |   Comments
Scott Quehl leads Accenture Federal Services Strategic Government Efficiency offering. He formerly served as Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.


A family is gathered around the kitchen table. The principal wage earner has lost his job. Despite playing by the rules, the family is just making ends meet. The parents want to know what services are available to help them stay in their home, re-tool for the workforce and keep their family healthy as they regain their footing. Solutions extend beyond any one program, agency or level of government. There are thousands of web sites to sift through, and many offices to visit and lines to stand in. Piles of forms request the same information. Time passes. Frustration mounts.

Digital government offers a better way. It can enable a 21st century government to deliver services and information more effectively, cutting through the inefficiencies of 20th century infrastructure, processes, and agency silos. Digital government can do this through customer engagement, service and employee and agency collaboration.

■ Engagement. This family can be engaged in a manner that is more accessible and personalized, providing “no wrong door” to the services they want through any channel of communication. Social media and online customer communities can support this. In addition, agencies can gain better understanding of the family’s needs, helping make informed, proactive decisions about additional services.

■ Customer Service. This family expects the right answers as quickly as possible. Self- service capabilities should provide the parents with greater control over when and how information is provided, at any time, day or night. The service channel should be secure, and safeguard privacy. When a family member needs personalized help, call centers and service providers should be equipped with knowledge management, client relationship management and unified desktop tools to have a holistic picture of how best to provide support.

■ Employee & Agency Collaboration. Because no one employee or agency has a monopoly on solutions streamlined systems and processes can promote collaboration between employees and agencies. Whether across federal organizations or with state and local governments a collaborative approach to case management can mean serving a specific customer or achieving a shared result, such as solving a crime, curing a disease and preparing and responding to a natural disaster. Cloud-based tools, real-time communication and online presence can strengthen cooperative solutions to common cases

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Digital government centered on treating citizens more like customers is already associated with federal management transformation. While consolidating business-serving agencies into a single department has proven difficult, BusinessUSA offers a virtual solution. Led by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration and connected to more than 20 agencies, BusinessUSA serves as something of a digital point guard, quickly passing the customer through thousands of programs and information sources to those that best meet their needs – such as starting and growing a business, how to access financing, exporting, promoting investment in the United Stat, hiring employees, resources for veterans, disaster assistance, or learning about taxes and credits and new healthcare changes.

The Veterans Relationship Management initiative aims to transform interactions between veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The web-based service VA started in 2009, eBenefits, lets veterans submit claims electronically, check the status of their claim on demand, and strengthen protections of personal information. The service provides clients with more than 45 self-service functions otherwise requiring a regional office visit or call to a call center. According to, as of September 30, 2012, there were 1.9 million registered eBenefit users; one year later, there were 3.1 million.

In a country accustomed to banking and shopping online, it is not a surprise that readiness for digital government is growing. The majority of respondents to a recent Accenture Digital Citizen Pulse Survey said they would use digital services if offered by the government, would welcome proactive digital communication from the government, and are increasingly comfortable accessing services through mobile devices. Out of 1,400 respondents, 70 percent expressed interest in using websites and portals to access services, 69 percent would welcome electronic alerts from the government, and over half indicated that they would consume digital services via mobile websites and apps.

This is good, because there may be little choice for the federal government other than accelerating its digital direction. As reported by Floyd Norris in the New York Times on October 22 last year, the federal civilian workforce in October 2013, stood at basically the same headcount as it did in 1966, but serves more than double the per capita population. Budget pressures are too heavy and citizen expectations too great to drain resources on duplicative data centers and other siloed, outmoded service delivery infrastructure and processes. Instead, the family sitting at the dinner table considering what to do next in an uncertain future should have the digital tools at hand to help them seize opportunity.

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