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Something to Think About – Consumer Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Yash Acharya
February 22, 2017


A few months ago, after a car accident, the police towed my car. To retrieve it from the towing compound, I needed a release letter from the police, but I first had to find out which local police department had arranged the tow, which required calls to surrounding departments.

Once I identified the correct police department, things got a little complicated. It took the police nearly half an hour to find out where my car had been towed because it turns out the towing company that was on duty that day was overwhelmed and had outsourced their work to another towing company. To add to the confusion, that company had further outsourced it to a third company. What should have been a quick transaction to retrieve my car became a frustrating experience.

This got me thinking about making it easier for consumers to access services from various government agencies. For example, in my scenario, would it be possible for me to enter specific information about my car online that would generate a release order using a website that also points to the location of the towing compound?

This approach might work for other scenarios as well:

  • The licenses that I would need to obtain and the order to obtained them for opening a small business, restaurant or a gas station
  • The services available in the Health and Human Services space around food stamps, healthcare services, mental and behavioral health, among others.
  • The services around obtaining permits for various functions such as street fairs, highways, etc.

Consumer Government

In making government agencies more consumer-friendly, it’s helpful to compare the private and public sectors. The private sector focuses, generally, around getting the consumer to buy their product or service and information is presented, sorted, filtered and highlighted to attract the attention of the consumer. By contrast, public sector websites center on the rules and regulations, the internal processes, and most importantly the data needed by their systems to make their transaction successful.

This is a cultural difference between the private sector and public sector. The good news is in the past few years, we’ve noticed several government agencies adopting consumer centric principles. For example: The State of NJ’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ website allows residents to change the address on their driver’s license online. The updated sticker is sent directly to the new home address.

  • Most states and local governments now have websites that allow residents to pay parking tickets, speeding tickets, etc. online.
  • Several health and human services programs have an “integrated eligibility” program tool that allows consumers or the government staff to input specific information and obtain listing and forms for the various programs for which the individual may be eligible. Some states even allow enrollment for several aid programs through one specific agency using a “No Wrong Door” approach.

Something to think about

Technology is giving government agencies the opportunity to share processes, information and data and group certain sets of services that can make life easier for consumers – like what e-commerce sites can do today.

For example, if you applied the capabilities of Amazon or Netflix to government agency portals, consumers would be able to find the service they’re looking for and then use specific filtering2015-03-27_14_58_10_Nevada_Department_of_Motor_Vehicles_and_Department criteria to learn about specific eligibility criteria for those services, before deciding which services to apply for.

Once selected, the portal would automatically provide the forms and supporting information for the consumer to populate and submit the application for the service. The consumer could have the option or mandate (depending on the program) to create an account to track the progress and status of the application and the service. Based on the outcome of the application, specific communication around approval, rejection or any additional information type of letters could be emailed and/or mailed to the applicant.

Being a technologist, I know this is more complex than it sounds. However, I believe for every new system or solution that a department undertakes, the first step should be to design it to be customer focused. Wouldn’t it help if the department asks – “How can we make this system or process easy – so a consumer can apply or obtain information in minutes?” Something to think about!!

Author: CreativeTechNerdie – Yash Acharya is a director within KPMG LLP’s State and Local Government Practice, with a focus on assisting governments with business transformation initiatives. Thinker, coffee fanatic and government transformation passionist. Yash’ s column shares innovative ideas, thoughts and real world challenges for government, companies and the public to think about where we want to go next. Views expressed are his own.

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