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Will local government be our next ‘on-demand’ service?

During the pandemic, government offices are using technology in new ways to serve citizens.

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A city hall building with columns on its front side. The sky above the city hall is blue with light clouds. Photo credit: timgeorgi

This year has upended nearly everything we know about doing business: we’ve learned valuable, sometimes tough lessons from lockdowns, quarantines, and working from home. And one of these biggest lessons we’ve learned, oftentimes the hard way, is that we need better access to our government.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all government institutions, from municipal courts and DMVs to town halls, have closed to the public. Even if our institutions and offices reopen anytime soon, many people are wary of stepping through the door: in March 2020, 54 percent of citizens preferred to access government services in person, according a study by Xerox and the Center for Digital Government.

Xerox has understood that increasing digitization can only help our most important institutions stay productive. Because life goes on, with or without a pandemic. Going online isn’t just a safer option, it’s a necessary one.

A confused young man wearing a jacket and looking at a black smartphone. Photo credit: Stockbusters

Local governments need to adapt, and quickly

According to the CDG study, traffic to government websites increased by 18 percent since the start of the pandemic. That surge is driven by people who now need services, like unemployment benefits, that they might have never expected, or getting information on reopening regulations and local case numbers.

Meanwhile, the percentage of citizens who say they’re ‘very satisfied’ with digital government services has dropped by 13 percent, with common complaints including long loading times, poor customer support, or the absence of online services in the first place. But across the U.S., 60 percent of people approve of their local governments experimenting with digital technologies. In some local governments, officials are embracing this time as a chance to show genuine leadership and innovation — a tough feat even under typical circumstances.

Stacks of green binders covered with white paper labels, all in a pile. Photo credit: Allexxandar

Expanding beyond paper

To address the human toll of this crisis requires unprecedented change. Municipalities across America are turning to the private sector, to experts at companies like Xerox, to implement cutting-edge digital services that are more crucial than ever.

Xerox, no stranger to revolutionizing office life, might have begun as a maker of printers. But today it complements its paper solutions with digitization and automization, transforming the way we interact with our governments. The company’s recent research on The Future of Work has pointed to the need for automation and cloud-based services, with increased security for sensitive data at every point of interaction.

Paper is still required for nearly half of behind-the-scenes governmental services, and up to 58 percent of citizen-direct services, according to research by the marketing-intelligence firm IDC. But almost half of government services could immediately be digitized, as estimated by Xerox and McKinsey. Fortunately, Xerox digital services work hand-in-hand with existing paper solutions. For any major institution, managing the two is critical.

The stone front of a government building that reads TOWN HALL above the doors. Photo credit: LanceMB

A better future ahead?

By reducing or eliminating cumbersome manual processes, digital governmental services can make life easier for both workers and citizens alike. Imagine less paperwork, faster response times, and an environment where workers can thrive. Reducing operational costs saves taxpayers’ money, simple as that. And citizens can use multiple points of access — through phones, computers, or kiosks — increasing accessibility across the board.

For example, by managing print services in New York City, Xerox helped save more than $2 million in taxpayer money in the first year alone — and saved about $58 million overall. But arguably one of the most successful implementations of Xerox digital services came about when a large federal government civilian agency wanted to shift from offices scattered across three buildings into a single, state-of-the-art headquarters. Even before the pandemic, the agency wanted flexibility and efficiency while allowing workers to telecommute — without any dips in productivity.

“We wanted to use this new space to transform the work environment,” said an agency representative, “and better meet the demands of an increasingly digital and virtual workforce.” Here, Xerox’s Digital Citizen was a key enabler. First, the company helped improve security through Personal Identity Verification, as well as managed device statuses through alerts, reducing the need for IT intervention. To streamline work, the updated office also incorporated a consolidated printing system, offering easy-to-find units on each floor and allowed for remote printing from anywhere.

Modern services lead to satisfied citizens. There’s a beauty we can all appreciate when things just work as they should, and the same is true about getting help from our government. It might seem unusual that this push for digitization is being led by a company that built its trade on our interaction with paper. But Xerox always has recognized the need to evolve with the times. Right now, there’s plenty of opportunity for government agencies to do the same, too.

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