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Using Technology to Provide Public Services

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

By Jeffrey Zimmerman
September 1, 2o15

Using technology to provide public services has become a focal point for city managers, city councils, county commissioners, state legislators and other public sector leaders. In an age of technology, it only seems logical for public sector organizations to find ways to provide as many services via technology and for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons include reducing costs, which allows governments to shift the funds not used to provide these services in the traditional manner. Other reasons include increased efficiency, improved productivity and increased customer service and satisfaction. These reasons are important for public sector organizations who are continuing to squeeze every penny out of budgets as the nation continues to recover from the recession.

Hafedh Chourabi asserts in a 2012 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences article titled “Understanding Smart Cities: An Integrative Framework,” that more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and that cities and megacities generate new kinds of problems. Difficulty in waste management, scarcity of resources, air pollution, human health concerns, traffic congestion and inadequate, deteriorating and aging infrastructures are among the more basic technical, physical and material problems.

With the majority of the population living in urban areas, governments are feeling the strain of providing public services to the increased population with limited resources and budgets. This increase of populations in urban areas is a driving force for public sectors to reduce expenses by providing public services through improvements in technology. Using technology in order to provide  the best services effectively to the public is important. It shows good stewardship of taxpayers’ money. For any government organization, using technology should be a top priority.

zimmerman Two public services are provided to customers by way of technology: the ability to renew your driver’s license and renewal of motor vehicle registration. Most divisions or departments of motor vehicles also allow customers to update their contact information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses using a secure website. These are two examples of how technology is providing public services to citizens at a much lower cost to the government while increasing customer service and satisfaction.

For example, the North Carolina division of motor vehicles just launched the ability for customers to renew their driver’s license online. Customers need only appear in person once in a 16-year period. Customers in North Carolina have had the ability to renew their motor vehicle registration online for many years.

Another example of the North Carolina division of motor vehicles using technology to provide public services is the elimination of the inspection sticker on vehicle’s windshield. The inspection sticker signifies that a customer’s vehicle passed a safety or emissions inspection for that year and identifies when the vehicle was due for another inspection. Instead of a sticker placed on a vehicle’s windshield, the expiration of the vehicle inspection is attached to the expiration date of the license plate or vehicle registration. This process saves the state money by not having to purchase the physical inspection stickers. This change also greatly improves customer service by aligning the expiration dates of the inspection sticker and motor vehicle registration plate in the database.

In order to grow and provide public services in an efficient and effective manner, governments must continue to leverage technology. However, leveraging technology to provide public services could cause strain on the information technology (IT) departments within the state or local governments. This strain on resources could pose a significant problem unless it is addressed by adding qualified IT employees to keep up with the technology push.

The public sector always has the option of outsourcing these responsibilities to private companies, which can be beneficial because of the cost savings. The most important part of using technology to provide public services should be centered on conversations to develop a plan of action that can be properly implemented within a reasonable period.

Author: Jeffrey R Zimmerman currently serves as the director of processing services within the North Carolina division of motor vehicles. Zimmerman can be reached via email at [email protected]

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