Crises will expose weaknesses and design flaws in processes, technology infrastructure, and even the stakeholder experience. We’ve seen it with almost every major natural disaster, economic event, and most recently with the global pandemic. It’s typically the sectors and organizations still reliant on legacy systems and processes that face the greatest impact.
COVID-19, for instance, forced a massive experiment in virtual work and delivery of services. And while this shift impacted countless organizations in very different ways, government agencies –– many of which had not made the migration to cloud-based systems –– were pummeled. Teams didn’t have the right tools to support virtual work in a secure, efficient environment, and access to certain services became extremely limited as many required in-person, or in-office visits. Simultaneously, many government agencies were battling a massive spike in demand.
In California, the Employment Development Department buckled under the increased demand, revealing the state’s technology infrastructure was not prepared for crisis situations. This perilous situation was played out across the country. According to a report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, which tested the accessibility of all 50 state unemployment websites, more than half crashed when applications surged and a vast majority were not optimized for people using mobile devices. Some states had to resort to pen and paper filings to handle the influx of applications, further slowing turn-around times and making it inaccessible to many.
This scenario is all too common even in “normal” times. In government agencies, demands are continuing to rise as populations grow, yet staff sizes and budgets are shrinking. Teams are expected to do more with less, but don’t have the tools necessary to process requests efficiently because their systems are either built on a tapestry of cobbled-together and antiquated tools, or their existing technology is inflexible and relies heavily on manual processes. Now, many are being asked, or required, to convert the majority of their operations to virtual going forward.
Using Salesforce to maintain business continuity
Well before COVID, we worked with a construction licensing agency in the public sector to build out an optimized Salesforce solution that would enable online applications, automations and virtual delivery of services. This agency manages nearly 40,000 active licenses and investigates an average of 7,000 complaints annually. They receive 3,500 requests from customers a month. Needless to say, digitization of their processes and workflows was necessary to achieve greater efficiency and improve the stakeholder experience.
After the initial discovery and road-mapping phase, we were able to use much of the existing functionality of Salesforce Lightning and other products and APIs to quickly standup a solution within their agency. This configurable solution provided them the flexibility that was lacking in their previous system, and was able to manage the licensing application and renewal process, fee management, complaint management, and legal process management –– freeing their team to handle more complex tasks. Today, 78 percent of their requests come through the Salesforce portal we built.
When COVID hit and stay-at-home orders began to roll out across the country, this agency was already prepared to divert its team to a virtual environment and still deliver services at full capacity –– including having the ability to conduct virtual inspections.
Improving the stakeholder experience
Besides Salesforce enabling this agency to maintain business continuity through crisis, it also helped them maintain a seamless customer experience. Their solution included the integration of a dynamic online portal for customers to submit licensing applications, file complaints and check the status of their requests and submissions.
We also layered on capabilities to create dynamic forms that would configure based on known data and real-time inputs from the applicant. This prefilled information and eliminated unnecessary fields, creating a streamlined and shortened process for the applicant, but also for the employees sifting through that information at the backend.
As self-service becomes even more important, it will become mission critical for government agencies to think, look and act like the Amazon’s of the world. Not only for an easy customer experience, but also for continuity of service delivery and business.
Leveraging APIs to streamline workflows
In addition to various clouds, we also turned to other tools such as APIs and AppExchange products to build in automation. This is where the real magic can happen for government organizations that often rely on third-party verifications or reviews and approvals by other departments.
Specific to the licensing agency, we used tools like SmartyStreets to verify addresses and reduce returned mail costs, DocuSign Intelledox to manage form submissions, and Egnyte (AppExchange) for document management. Integrations with external partners like PSI enabled the agency to automatically receive exam results, and First Advantage provided daily background checks.
Salesforce quickly became a cost-effective way for the agency to overcome the challenges of their limited resources. They’re now saving an estimated 6,000 hours of data entry, application review, document scanning and workflow assignments annually. They were able to eliminate many third-party applications, cutting down their expenses, and the accuracy of their data has improved.
Building a future-proof infrastructure
Government and technology have a complicated past. Many agencies have been burned by over-priced, over-customized systems that never quite delivered on their promises. More often than not, issues arise when agencies choose to partner with service providers that don’t have the necessary industry knowledge, or don’t have the bench strength to maintain support after the technology implementation.
In other cases, the technology used is so customized and complex that it ties the agency to the provider for future upgrades or necessary coding changes. This is where Salesforce and qualified Salesforce partners will prove to be tremendous assets to government organizations going forward. With Salesforce, configuration can be hugely agile, leveraging clicks vs. coding, making for a better all around user experience.
Though many government organizations are contending with budget constraints, they can no longer delay, and there are ways to support their gradual transition to the cloud. The reality is they must start to virtualize their services. The great news is that Salesforce is so highly configurable that it can and will make this endeavor feasible for many of these organizations. A qualified Salesforce partner can show them what is possible and guide them along their digitization journey to ensure they make the right investment decisions.