How Governments Can Use Technology to Drive Economic Growth

May 14, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Roundtable: How Governments Can Use Technology to Drive Economic Growth

In this expert-led roundtable discussion, government consultants from Clariti and Incapsulate discussed the long-term effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on governments, and where leaders should look to invest available American Rescue Plan funds to support economic recovery. The panel included Murtaza Masood, former Los Angeles County Department CIO; Deneen Pyle-Tercan, Senior Director of Solutions at Clariti; Steve Carter, Director at Incapsulate; and Jeremy Bosch, Senior Director of Marketing at Clariti. Watch the recording now to listen in on the full discussion, or read on for a summary of the four key talking points covered: the overall impacts of the pandemic; economic recovery and resilience; technology advancements in internal and external change management; and the American Rescue Plan State and Local Funding. 

Watch Webinar Recording

On the Impacts of the Pandemic:

Unanimously, the panel agreed that the pandemic caused a permanent shift in the way government leaders think about how they operate and serve. Faced with an unprecedented public health emergency and nationwide shutdowns, governments had to pivot their business models nearly overnight. This meant having to suddenly transition their entire workforce from in-office to remote, whether they had the systems and resources in place to do so or not. And as highlighted by Deneen and Murtaza, this shift really emphasized the difference in preparedness and agility between governments with technology in place pre-pandemic to those that were heavily reliant on paper. For those governments without technology, pivoting to remote work and services wasn’t easy -- not only did they have to ensure their workforce was supported and equipped to work from home, but were left scrambling for solutions to prevent total shutdowns to public services. While on the other hand, governments with technology in place were able to more easily adapt to remote operations, and if they weren’t already offering digital services, could generally implement a solution more quickly. As Deneen explained, governments with technology ultimately avoided service disruptions, and experienced little to no impact to their business. 

Orange County, California, for example, managed to avoid interruptions altogether, and in fact saw gradual growth in their permitting department activities over 2019. They accomplished this, as Deneen explained, because of their early adoption of cloud-based permitting/ land management software, and overall shift to digital-first processes and workflows. Even before the pandemic, the Orange County Public Works Department was handling all permitting activities online, including: building permits, inspections, code enforcement, and plan review. Even in-office, the few citizens that still chose to come in for services were completing the process through digital self-service kiosks. Conversely, in Connecticut, lacking the necessary technology to offer services remotely, standard elevator inspections were taking up to 90 days to be processed. Such routine activities were significantly impacted because of siloed paper-based processes and an inability to adopt technology as quickly as necessary. In addition to technology adoption taking time and strategic planning, some regulations and laws also got in the way for some agencies in the State, prompting the governor to change a law that prohibited agencies from accepting online payments -- a critical capability for continuing services remotely through the pandemic. Similarly, live chat (unheard of for most government agencies) was widely adopted, albeit hesitantly, by many agencies in an attempt to maintain a high-touch relationship with their customers. These were just a few of the quick-fix solutions governments had to adopt in order to support their workforce and citizens during a time of social distancing. Even when things shut down, as emphasised by Deneen and Murtaza, there’s always a need to do business.

Murtaza, as a former Department CIO of one of the largest counties in the U.S., went on to say that the pandemic was the final push for governments to realize the necessity of technology to present and future governance. Having disrupted society in ways the majority of us have never experienced, COVID-19 may have also changed government business models for good. Having been in-office at the time as CIO, Murtaza explained that although L.A. County may have been 70% ready with remote capabilities, their operations were completely turned upside down. Amid a global public health emergency, in one of the hardest-hid counties for infections and deaths, Los Angeles public officials had to juggle scarce resources, a suddenly entirely remote workforce of 110,000+ trying to also cope with the pandemic, a surge in demand for services like 311, as well as the logistics of conducting one of the biggest primaries in U.S. election history in out-of-the-ordinary ways -- all while trying to keep themselves and their families safe. Thankfully, as Murtaza noted, the County was more prepared than many other jurisdictions when it came to the switch to remote operations as they had already invested in technology as a long-term strategy; but, to Deneen’s point, Murtaza said their pivot still wasn’t seamless as their technology wasn’t yet at the point it needed to be. He again emphasized that agencies who had fully embraced a digital-first strategy were far more flexible, and were able to avoid significant impacts to services and revenue.

On Economic Recovery and Resilience:

Evidently, technology played an integral role in how agencies operated through the pandemic. And now that society is slowly re-opening, and things are getting back to the ‘new normal’, agencies that were hit-hard by their unpreparedness for a disaster will be looking to invest in technology that has helped digital governments weather the storm. Especially now with the availability of American Rescue Plan funding - $350 billion for state and local governments - agencies have a once in a decade, maybe even once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in technology and public services. But where should agencies look to invest for the biggest impact?

When asked by Steve where she thinks agencies should look to make a technology investment, Deneen explained that of course, there will be many critical areas that governments will need to allocate funds to: supporting communities hit hardest by COVID, getting people back to work, ensuring equitable access to vital broadband, and reviving public services severely impacted by the pandemic. For investment in public services though, Deneen points to investment in permitting and licensing technology as efficient systems can support community development, economic growth, and government revenues. Inspectors, for example, provided with remote inspections capabilities, don’t have to start or end their day in-office, saving them considerable time in their day that can be allocated to productive tasks instead. Plus, with workers able to complete their work entirely out-of-office, agencies can more easily work around limited capacities in-office to allow for social distancing. Building permitting especially, when done efficiently, can have far-reaching benefits for communities. Swiftly processing building permits can accelerate building and development (both residential and commercial), create more construction jobs, and increase revenues from fees and property taxes. Efficient licensing processes can also spur economic recovery and growth, as people can more easily obtain a business or occupational license -- speeding up the process to get a new business up and running or go back to work. Pointing again to Orange County as an example of success, Deneen explained that having thought long-term about how they deliver services, the County was able to avoid any interruptions to development services -- building continued, revenues kept flowing, and staff were able to continue their work almost as if life was normal. 

Murtaza echoed much of what Deneen spoke of in terms of technology’s critical role in service continuity, and when asked by Steve to talk about what it meant to be resilient, explained that technology, especially cloud-technology, is key. Leaders have now realized that cloud technology is a better way of doing business. Digital-first government is crucial to recruiting and attracting workers for the future, to service continuity, and to delivering services in a more equitable way. As Murtaza said, not everyone is able to take time in their workday to go into a government office and potentially wait in line for hours on end to get a simple permit or license. The technology exists to offer these services online, so why wait? Unsurprisingly, in an audience poll, the critical need for technology was felt by the majority of participants. When asked what was the biggest challenge their organization faced when the pandemic hit, 43% of participants stated remote work and office shutdowns, while another 43% stated the difficulty in maintaining services levels as the biggest challenge. Without the right technology in place, governments were simply unable to pivot fast enough. Not only were staff dealing with the inability to carry out their work as needed, but to state the obvious, were dealing with a global crisis. As an audience member commented, “So many people were out on leave due to illness, quarantine requirements, and bereavement leave - and deadlines remained the same. [And on top of that], [we] even had the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shorten original deadlines.” Agencies simply couldn’t keep up with the radical changes without the support of technology.

On Technology Advancements in Internal and External Change Management: 

Speaking about technology advancements in government, Murtaza explained that one possible good we can attribute to the pandemic is that it presented an opportunity to rethink government business models, and modernize outdated processes with technology.  In this ‘new-normal’, with a hybrid - or perhaps entirely remote - work model, you can’t have the same business processes. Technology has now made its way into many aspects of government operations, and there’s no looking back. 

In Virginia, for example, Steve explained that one agency began scheduling appointments for customers to stagger in-office visits -- a process that they’ve now adopted permanently as it proved far more efficient. More broadly, technologies such as virtual inspections and the use of live chat on government websites have also proved very effective, so will continue to be used by numerous agencies moving forward. In general, no matter the type of service, online, self-serve availability will be paramount for agencies to set themselves up for success in the future. And now, with one of the biggest injections of federal funding to state and local governments in decades, there’s never been a better opportunity to embrace change, and modernize operations. The question for agencies won’t be whether or not to invest in digital transformation, but rather what service areas need it most. 

When asked what government services were most in need of digital transformation, 57% of the audience voted for a broad focus on citizen engagement and self-service, 39% for permitting and licensing services (you can read about digital permitting and licensing here), and 22% for equitable access to internet/ broadband. Sentiments shared by the panel -- most notably about self-service.

On the American Rescue Plan:

Suggested Reading: Check out this resource for the latest on the American Rescue Plan, and how to secure funding today.

If you work in government or a related industry, you’ve definitely heard of the American Rescue Plan, and the $350 billion of funding for state and local governments. Now available, these funds offer governments a lifeline to recover from the devastation caused by the pandemic, and as Murtaza stressed, an opportunity to make some of the investments made during the pandemic permanent and more sustainable. And best of all, governments have until the end of 2024 to use the funds, offering ample time to plan and invest the money wisely. 

Offering considerable flexibility for governments to spend the money where they need it most (so long as it aligns to the funding objectives), and available within a mere 4-5 days of application, these stimulus funds are easy to acquire, and can be used in myriad ways to help support communities, and kickstart local economies. Compared to previously handed out federal funds, the American Rescue Plan money is more accessible, and available for use almost immediately after a quick, online application -- you can apply now on behalf of your jurisdiction through the Treasury Submission Portal! And unlike previously available funding, the state and local fiscal recovery funds lack red tape; as Jeremy explained, this time around it’s more about giving the money first, and worrying about reporting and documentation later. The funds are needed now. 

So with all of this money now available, how can departments decide where to invest? What technology will bring about some quick wins to show improvements? Well, there’s no doubt that there will be lots of internal competition among departments for some of the funds -- if you want to secure a portion of the funds for your staff, you’ll have to build a strong business case to back you up. You’ll need to be able to show the impact a solution will have on your department’s performance, and compile the data to show your potential return on investment. For a convincing building permit business case for example, you might include data on your permit volumes, turnaround times, staff resources, and revenues; then, find a way to show how performance will improve, and revenues will increase with a digital permitting solution. 

Ultimately, as the panel agreed, the importance of the state and local fiscal recovery funds cannot be overstated. Following a year of crisis that impacted everyone and everything, the funds now offer the chance to recover, and build back stronger than before. 

For everything you need to know about the American Rescue Plan, including eligible uses, how to apply, and information about why you might want to invest in permitting and licensing services, check out, How Governments Can Use American Rescue Plan Funding to Come Back Stronger Than Before.

Have questions about the American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recover Funds, or looking for tips to build a business case to secure funding for your technology project? Let’s chat!

Subscribe by Email