COVID-19 Pushes Digital Services from Luxury to Necessity

Zack Quintance at GovTech: “So much of American life was pushed out of physical spaces and onto the Internet this year, including the vast majority of local government services. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and resultant social distancing guidelines, seemingly overnight it became dangerous to wait in line at city hall, or to interact with a public servant in close proximity across the space of a traditional counter.

As a result, long-simmering governmental efforts to modernize and make services digital in 2020 were supercharged. For digital government services, the danger of the virus was like a turbo boost for a race car that had been lazily chugging along. Indeed, public-sector entities at state and local levels have sought to catch up to private companies online for years, struggling to offer a modern customer experience to constituents with projects that have ranged from online permit renewal to 24-hour chatbots. With the pandemic, providing digital services fast moved from luxury to necessity….

A great example of the former at the state level took place in Vermont, specifically within that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Vermont DMV was already working to launch a new online driver’s license renewal platform, one that would enable residents there to avoid in-person trips to the office. The pandemic made the timing of that launch ideal, finally giving users a digital option they could use from home.

And the Vermont DMV is far from alone. There were others at the state level that worked on and debuted new online processes as well. Maryland, for example, managed to stand up a new online grant application in the early days of the crisis, doing so in just eight hours. Digitization efforts like this have traditionally taken far longer, but agencywide buy-in was fostered here by COVID-19. Armed with this, the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) was able to rapidly collaborate with the state’s Department of Commerce to add new small business grant application functionality to a platform the IT shop had launched for a different purpose back in early 2018.

At the city level, Buffalo, N.Y., managed the similarly speedy task of transitioning its 311 infrastructure to be remote-operated as its city staff moved to work-from-home operations. In that instance, City Hall was vacated in the service of social distancing on a Friday, and by the following Monday, the IT shop had 311 up and running again via remote operation, doing so again with a collaboration, this time with the University of Buffalo and Cisco….(More)”.