Public sector: the paper form consigned to history
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When California legalised cannabis in November 2016, the state government had several challenges on its hands. While it would no longer need to enforce a section of the criminal code, it required new regulations to govern legal sales and the management and collection of taxes.
With analysts predicting that legal marijuana could become a $5bn industry, injecting $1bn annually into Sacramento’s coffers, the Californian government expected to see a spike in business and trademark registrations as businesses rushed to set up as legal purveyors of cannabis.
At the time, trademark registrations were handled by just three people in the California secretary of state’s office. Previously, budding business owners had to submit their applications by mail or in person.
“We were anticipating lines [queues] around the building,” says Betsy Bogart, chief of the state’s business programmes division.
To try to ensure it would not be overrun, the division decided to digitise the registration process. “By offering our trademark and service mark application process online we’re making it quicker, easier and more convenient to do business in California,” says Alex Padilla, secretary of state. “[Businesses] can submit trademark or service mark applications in minutes from the convenience of their laptop, tablet or smartphone.”
Ms Bogart admits that many people in government perhaps thought about their work as a series of forms.
“Traditionally there are a lot of forms — drivers’ licences, tax returns, property registrations,” Ms Bogart says. “But if you think about forms as the collection of data and representative of an underlying process, you can then evolve that process and how you deliver government.”
California’s trademark registration system has become a model for other transformation projects within the state and is the envy of governments around the country — not just because the whole project took seven weeks from design to implementation.
As well as letting people fill out trademark and business registration forms, company formation application review, payment, approval and updates can all be done online. What once would have taken hours of queueing and weeks to process now takes minutes.
Under Mr Padilla, the state has gone from being “very paper driven to increasingly online,” he says, allowing citizens to file limited liability company formations, statements of information and annual results with the state.
Paul Hirner, founder of SimpliGov, the start-up that designed and implemented the system for California, says the push for change in government is coming from inside and out.
“On the one side, citizens are driving interface changes and demanding better ease of use in government, while the people working within the system want to be more productive,” he says. “They want working lives that are about helping people get things done, not just about processing forms.”
SimpliGov is building a digital library of the forms that governments use and it will include the logic necessary to walk users through the filling-in process. The goal is to be able to offer county, city and state governments better forms and workflow automation that cuts costs, improves response times and makes public services generally better.
Seventeen hundred miles east of Sacramento lies fast-growing, well-heeled Collin County, in the Dallas, Texas area. The courthouse is where much of the county’s everyday business takes place; as well as local court cases, Texas counties also handle legal matters such as jury duty, jail inmate management, land filings, foreclosures, lost pets and elections.
Over the past few years county employee Tim Nolan has been working with his team to put most of the county’s services online. He has built a search system that lets the public look up jail inmates, legal cases and warrants. It has about 2m page views a month in a county of just under 1m people.
“Jail inmates, legal cases and warrants all used to be separate searches but now they feed into each other,” says Mr Nolan. “If a person in the jail also has an outstanding warrant and an upcoming court case, they or their family can find this all out with the one search.”
It is the county’s management of elections that has gained the greatest attention. After voters experienced long queues at polling stations during the 2010 midterm election, Mr Nolan worked with the county’s election administrator to come up with a digital solution.
His team developed an app that lets voters see how long they will have to wait at their preferred or nearest polling station. If the queue is too long, the app generates a route for them to travel to one that is less busy.
In the 2016 presidential election, when 366,483 county citizens voted either early or on election day, Mr Nolan’s app provided queueing information 114,953 times and generated 136,340 routes.
In last year’s midterms 357,034 registered voters voted in the county. The app gave queueing information 89,630 times and provided 110,973 routes for voters looking to cast their vote more quickly.
“The days when a government didn’t have to provide high quality and efficient services are long gone — if they ever existed,” says Mr Nolan. “Dealing with government should be easy. Citizens expect it.”
The case studies below showcase combining use of data and technology in business operations. They were compiled by RSG Consulting.
Case studies: technology creates better perceptions in the public sector
Sonoma County (California), IBM Watson, IBM Global Business Services and SimpliGov
Sonoma County works with IT company IBM on Access (accessing co-ordinated care to enable self-sufficiency), a project that provides vulnerable people in the community with “whole person care”. The consent forms designed by SimpliGov, a technology start-up, enable data to be captured and used in a cloud-based app that combines several IBM services. The tools, Connect360 and Infosphere Master Data Management, take data from separate sources while Watson Care Manager acts as an interface to manage individual cases. Sonoma is able to ensure that public services work together to care for vulnerable people.
HM Land Registry
HM Land Registry, run by the UK government to register the ownership of property, has one of the largest databases in Europe. The organisation has implemented various initiatives to improve its service and is testing blockchain technology to make property transfers speedier, secure and transparent. AI automation allows the registry to manage 16,000 documents daily. A partnership with 18 homelenders, including Santander, Nationwide, RBS and NatWest, allows parties to sign all documents online so that application/approval can happen instantly rather than over days or weeks.
Collin County (Texas) and Laserfiche
When Collin County decided to go paperless, it turned to Laserfiche, a business-to-business data company. The council scanned all its records over five years, reducing its use of warehousing from 101 per cent capacity to 16 per cent. It also cut the time taken to collect, file or deliver documents to citizens from days to seconds, which has improved public perception. Laserfiche is also used in Collin’s banking process. By depositing cheques digitally, money is in the authority’s account instantly; this has increased Collin’s ability to earn interest to $1m a year.
Leeds City Council
Faced with funding gaps after a decade of austerity, Leeds City Council changed how it delivers its services. Its focus is on better outcomes for all residents, which includes forming strong partnerships with the National Health Service and using technology to streamline services. It is making sure that citizens are technologically able and has connected 57,000 homes to the internet. Another initiative, the Leeds Care Record, allows family doctors to see patients’ health and social records in full.
London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
The Social Progress Index (SPI) is used by 33 nations to track economic and social progress and has been implemented on a district level for the first time, by the London borough of Barking & Dagenham. The data are used by Community Solutions, the borough’s social service provider, which covers housing, healthcare and employment. The use of SPI data has led to the creation of preventive measures for specific social issues and savings of £3m on resource and service allocation.
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