How can technology transform the often-difficult citizen experience with government into the streamlined and intuitive interactions that the best private-sector companies offer?  On July 21 – we’re going to find out. The countdown to MerITocracy 2022: American Innovation Forum is on.

In the lead-up to the in-person forum in Washington, D.C., we are table-setting a host of big issues that will get serious attention at MerITocracy 2022.

Citizen service – and how government can improve on it – will be getting outsized attention at the July 21 forum.

The MerITocracy lineup features General Services Administrator (GSA) Robin Carnahan, whose agency administers the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF). She is key player in executing on President Biden’s citizen service executive order, and the President’s Management Agenda which places the issue among the administration’s top three domestic government policy initiatives.

Also headlining the July 21 forum are two of the leading technology voices in Congress – House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who represents the heart and soul of Silicon Valley in Washington.  Both are sure bets to share their ideas on how to executive on citizen service improvements.

In today’s edition of Countdown to MerITocracy, Barton Phillips, vice president of public sector at DocuSign, talks about how technology can help Federal agencies fulfill the PMA’s customer service mandates.

The in-person forum – taking place at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. – will host bipartisan leaders from Congress, the Biden administration, and America’s tech industry to examine the most pressing problems facing citizens in our democracy, and map out creative solutions from the nexus of policy and technology. Register today.

Using Technology to Improve Government Customer Service

Federal government agencies are not always known for excellent customer service, but the Biden administration is trying to change that. The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) Vision includes improved customer service as one of the administration’s main goals. MeriTalk spoke with Barton Phillips, vice president of public sector at DocuSign, about how technology can help Federal agencies fulfill the PMA’s customer service mandates.

MeriTalk: Historically, the Federal government has not made customer experience a priority. Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic was an inflection point that forced us as a nation to reprioritize customers in government service delivery?

Barton Phillips: Absolutely. The pandemic challenged the status quo and forced government agencies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts. Now we’re starting to see the long-term effects. With such a systematic shift to digital, citizens now expect access to 24/7 self-serve, mobile friendly digital tools from government – the same tools that are common in other aspects of their everyday lives. And in the workforce, employees are seeking to feel valued and enabled to do strategic, meaningful work that has been transformed with refined and efficient processes. There is no turning back.

Each year, nearly $40 billion dollars are spent on paper-intensive, manual processes at government agencies, wasting time and money that could be spent creating value. This frustrates both citizens and government employees and creates unnecessary risk.

DocuSign’s goal is to help agencies digitize critical processes. For example: DocuSign played a role in the integrated systems that enabled the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to expedite its distribution of $175 billion in grants for the Provider Relief Fund, which supports families, workers and healthcare providers in the battle against the pandemic. As a result, the agency was able to shorten its grant distribution process from three to four months to as little as five days.

MeriTalk: The PMA Vision elevated customer service to a government-wide priority, and the Office of Management and Budget laid out success metrics. What do agencies need in order to meet their objectives?

Phillips: First, they need sponsorship and commitment from agency leaders to align achievement of the mission with the President’s Management Agenda as a catalyst to begin their transformation journey. Second, they will need to consider the expanded definition of customer to include not just the citizen, but also employees. That means they will have to address a broader scope of change to all of the systems and processes these customers interact with.

This begins with expediting the transition from outdated technology infrastructure, refining program management processes, and increasing accountability of organizations that provide services to the government.

MeriTalk: What steps do you see agencies taking to meet customer service goals?

Phillips: They are identifying the high-impact services areas that they are responsible for, and then defining the processes and workflows that are mission critical. Many of these workflows tend to be manual and error prone, leading to delays, lack of visibility, and ultimately a negative experience for everyone involved. Digital tools can streamline these processes.

While we’ve seen agencies have success with an incremental approach that digitizes steps in the workflow, they also need to consider how they’re designing their technology stack so that all of the solutions work together. They should use the customers’ needs and experiences to define the requirements for designing services and identifying supporting technologies.

MeriTalk: What technological solutions are agencies using to reach and assist underserved communities?

Phillips: Mobile technologies are imperative for millions of constituents who rely solely on such devices to access the internet for critical tasks such as completing job applications, conducting financial transactions, enrolling in social services, locating housing and transportation, and much more.

To properly reach and support underserved communities, government agencies are digitizing processes and creating omni-channel experiences that enable secure access for anyone from anywhere. That’s why DocuSign has invested in a growing list of key mobile capabilities. These include text message delivery; responsive signing, which allows users to sign on any devices without needing to zoom, scan, or pan across the document; and smart sections, which creates collapsible areas on a document so users are not inundated with irrelevant portions. These features enable agencies to improve the mobile signing experience while expediting countless government processes that almost always begin with a form.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisville metro government needed to distribute Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. It used DocuSign PowerForms to create an intuitive, mobile friendly application process for citizens to access utilities and rental assistance. As a result, grants were processed six times faster than usual.

MeriTalk: The PMA directs agencies to strive for “a simple, seamless, and secure customer experience on par with or more effective than leading consumer experiences.” What does seamless government service mean to you?

Phillips:  Seamless government service is frictionless. Accessing services is easy. Citizens don’t need to print and mail a form; they can just fill it out online. It’s also engaging. Citizens can easily navigate through processes. It’s clear what information is needed. When the same data is required in multiple places, it’s automatically populated. And it’s responsive: Once the citizen has submitted their form or document, they can track its status. For critical services such as benefits or funds, this is absolutely essential.

Here’s an example: a COVID vaccine provider in Georgia implemented a DocuSign system to obtain documentation of the patients’ informed consent while also complying with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws. Patients could submit necessary documents using their cell phones or a tablet supplied by the provider. The system transmitted the vaccination documentation directly to the Georgia Department of Health. At its peak, the provider was vaccinating 700 people a day.

MeriTalk: A report last year showed that just 2 percent of more than 1,000 forms on Federal websites fully comply with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA). IDEA, which requires that executive agencies transition from paper-based to web-based forms, has been law since 2018. What has held agencies back from progress in this area, and how might the new Federal focus on customer experience spur action?

Phillips: Incremental transitions from paper to web-based forms are happening, but slowly in many places. A combination of dedicated funds, mandates, and guidance could serve as a catalyst to help agencies make progress.

A DocuSign study assessed how documents, forms, and agreements were being accessed and submitted by the public. We looked across states at processes like applying for a professional license or driver’s license, disability benefits, or a Federal program like Medicaid.

We found that 23 states provide Medicaid forms that are not fillable, and yet, each of these states allow the public to upload these forms via their state portals. Can you imagine the errors these states must receive and the type of delays that result? This example shows why we need IDEA.

MeriTalk: What are essential features of human-centered design (HCD)? How does DocuSign help agencies implement HCD?

Phillips: HCD starts with understanding the people you’re serving and their needs. What are the challenges facing them? What resources and tools do they have? As you design a prototype, the technology components need to work together, creating a seamless system experience. HCD improves an organization’s problem-solving approach and workflow, promoting a more collaborative culture and solving complex, everyday issues to drive organizational success. Throughout the design process, DocuSign and its partners work with agencies to enable solutions that are secure, mobile friendly, and customizable to support the organizations’ needs.

MeriTalk: How has HCD helped the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)? Please tell us a bit about your work with the department.

Phillips: At an organization like HHS – which has more than 5,000 unique forms – paperwork costs approximately $10 billion per year. HCD can dramatically reduce administrative burdens and improve the employee and constituent experience. DocuSign played a role in the integrated systems that enabled the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to expedite its delivery of $175 billion in grants for the Provider Relief Fund, which supports hospitals and healthcare providers in the battle against COVID-19.

HRSA implemented DocuSign for their onboarding process to make it easier for people to sign all the forms electronically. HCD helped the agency shorten its grant distribution process from three to four months to as little as five days. The agency saved thousands of hours of work and reduced the burden on the grantees. In addition, the system was established in less than a week, has never been down, and has had four live upgrades since inception.

MeriTalk: How is DocuSign’s technology different than other solutions on the market?

Phillips: DocuSign brings together a comprehensive set of applications, serving over 3,000 local, state, and Federal public sector organizations. We can accelerate service delivery by streamlining benefit applications, speeding up legal casework, and centralizing document storage for search and audit purposes. DocuSign integrates with common government platforms and has more than 350 pre-built integrations with other products for managing data and processes. This makes us unique in the industry.

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MeriTalk Staff