Over the past two decades, online services have entered every part of our professional and personal lives. As internet accessibility and usage have consistently grown throughout most parts of the world, businesses and governments started offering services online.
Online citizen services have the potential to bring public sector bodies like governments and municipalities closer to their citizens. Online portals work well for a wide range of services, including applications and licensing for land use and construction or code enforcement. Here is a closer look at internet-based citizen services and their benefits.
What Are Online Citizen Services?
Before we consider the advantages of these services in more detail, it is worth clarifying the term. Online citizen services, or e-government, includes the use of communication and information technology for government functions or services. According to Statista, this type of governance has “become almost indispensable in recent years.” More than three quarters of Americans are already using the internet to access government services or related information.
The coronavirus pandemic certainly accelerated the development and distribution of online services by governments to citizens. As lockdowns and social distancing made it impossible to visit government offices in person, e-government provided the solutions to citizens. Technology enabled administrations and citizens to connect.
It is fair to say that, to some degree, e-government kept things on track in many communities during the pandemic. But even as the virus recedes, online citizen services are here to stay and expand further.
Benefits of Online Citizen Services
- 24/7/365 connections
- Easy access to information
- Time and cost-effectiveness
- Increased trust through transparency
- Improved information sharing
Connecting Governments and Citizens 24/7/365
Gone are the days when most people’s lives adhered to a set schedule of working from 9 to 5 between Monday and Friday. Fueled by remote and hybrid working, today’s gig economy has brought with it much more fluid work and family schedules.
Rigid opening times of government offices no longer meet the needs of taxpayers. Citizens in your community expect government offices at all levels to move with the times. That means increasing their services beyond limited opening hours.
This is where online services excel. Offering online citizen services automatically extends “opening hours” far beyond the classic but somewhat outdated 9 to 5 schedule. These services allow municipalities and citizens to connect whenever it suits both parties.
Here is an example: just a few years ago, submitting building applications meant preparing a large number of papers and plans and handing them to the relevant authorities in person. With the help of an online portal, citizens can make life easier by uploading documents as they prepare them before submitting the entire application.
Government employees benefit, too. We will go into more detail about that when we look at information sharing between individual departments.
Easy Access to Information
Simplifying and automating some of the daily work of administrators is one of the overarching goals of using digital technologies within government. In most government offices, giving information about the likes of application processes and licensing takes up a large part of the day for some staff.
Making this information available online has several advantages: citizens can access the information they need when it is convenient for them. Rather than having to rely on their memory following a meeting or paper brochures that are easily lost, they can download guidelines. Plus, if part of the information has slipped their memory, anything that is digitally available can be accessed again.
Once again, the benefits also extend to government employees. As little as a decade ago, updating guidelines could be a convoluted process, not to mention the waste created by out-of-date printed materials. E-government allows authorities to update documents and simply upload a new version to their online portals.
Citizens accessing information and procedures can be confident they are looking at the most up-to-date information. Making information available online avoids misunderstandings and errors with countless administrative procedures and tasks.
Time and Cost Savings
Digital technology is transforming every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Businesses have been taking advantage of increased efficiency and cost savings associated with technology for a while. Government bodies are starting to catch up.
Time and cost savings are just as important for public sector entities as they are for private businesses. Using digital technology to provide online citizen services is only one aspect of this transformation. Automation of service delivery is another huge benefit. When it comes to simple, repetitive tasks, software is often faster and more reliable than a human staff member would be.
Automation beats humans especially when large amounts of data need to be processed. Computers can take care of data analysis faster and more accurately than their human counterparts. But that does not mean the technology is rendering humans obsolete.
Despite the advances in artificial intelligence (AI) software and its growing capability to copy the workings of the human mind, qualified staff members remain essential. However, AI and data analysis allow staff to work smarter and focus on those tasks that are beyond the computer’s capabilities.
For example, an AI-based software analyzes thousands of lines of data about a certain problem within minutes. Based on its analysis, the software suggests a handful of solutions. But it takes human minds to compare the solutions, understand their consequences for the overall scenario, and choose the most suitable one. What AI has done in this scenario is take care of the time-consuming, monotonous part of the task.
Time savings equal cost savings for public and private sector businesses. This is especially important as labor costs continue to rise, and organizations struggle to fill positions. Automating citizen services means becoming less reliant on people and being able to deliver better services to citizens.
When it comes to simple processes, like license renewals, an online portal can potentially take care of the entire job. Citizens save time, and governments benefit from optimizing staff time while saving costs.
Transparent Processes Build Trust
Online citizen services promote transparency between citizens and government bodies. Rather than relying on information or notes from individual phone calls, citizens can look up the information they need on a website.
The details are there in black and white, increasing the level of transparency of the process in question. With complex processes, online citizen services help break down the task into individual steps or stages. Public sector organizations could even provide a roadmap, making it easier for citizens to understand what is happening behind the scenes.
In fact, a well-designed citizen service portal breaks down the barrier between the public and the behind-the-scenes part of any administrative process. With a truly transparent online portal, citizens can follow the progress of their applications in real-time. They can see which department is dealing with their information at any given time.
Plus, there are advantages for municipality employees. Through online portals, staff members can easily reach out to citizens if they need clarification throughout the process. The result is greater satisfaction on both sides.
Improved Information Sharing
So far, we have focused on how online citizen services improve the relationship between citizens and municipalities.
But these services can also transform internal processes at government agencies and municipalities. Well-designed and purpose-built software makes it easy to keep citizens’ information safe, while also simplifying the sharing of relevant details between departments.
For citizens, that means they only need to submit their information once, assuming their municipality has installed an efficient, safe software program. For example, rather than divulging the same information repeatedly on different forms, they upload their details and simply grant access to the relevant departments. Storing information safely in one place is easier than keeping track of the same sensitive details stored by several departments in individual locations.
By combining the benefits of data protection and regulated access, public sector workers can share relevant information where necessary. Citizens will see a difference in wait times and expedited license renewals, for example. Automation allows both parties to remove some of the roadblocks commonly associated with similar services delivered exclusively in person.
The benefits of online citizen services are obvious, but are there any disadvantages? Consultancy firm Ernst & Young has pointed out that governments and municipalities need to be aware of just how connected their citizens are.
It is true that more and more citizens are accessing services online. However, a sizable minority remains unable to connect either because of a lack of skills or a lack of digital services. To treat citizens fairly, government offices need to be aware of that part of the population to ensure continuous service to them.
The overwhelming majority of Americans are already accessing information related to government services online. Improving these services to streamline applications, payments, renewals, and other services even further benefits both citizens and municipalities. Everyone stands to gain from easier access to relevant information about permits, licenses, and other certificates.
Digital technology for online citizen services has the potential to transform service delivery to citizens while helping government organizations save time and money. To see what online portals can do for your municipality, schedule a demo now. Our team is ready to help you to transition to online services!