Last updated: July 27, 2021

What are Online Government Services?

What are online government services, and what features and components comprise these services? In this article, we examine how the online form is really just the tip of the iceberg for eSignatures, workflows, business process management, and so much more.
Posted by Karl Pawlewicz
As an industry, we must zoom out on the definition of online government services. Too many agencies only think of online services as providing constituents with access to forms without considering what happens to a form after its submitted—the effort required to process, catalog and provide future access to those submissions.

The definition of online government services

According to the Social Security Administration, Government Services Online (GSO) encompasses much more than just a form. Instead, GSO is a suite of applications that allows governmental organizations and authorized individuals to conduct business online.
(An example of how the City of Ferndale offers its online services.)
This includes anything from:
  • Filling out and submitting online applications
  • Making payments
  • Giving eSignatures options for residents and staff
  • Managing and storing confidential information
In many cases, it’s the process of moving information back and forth between different departments and citizens. Conducting business well means your citizens and your department are able to handle inquiries quickly, accurately, and responsibly.

What applications comprise online government services?

Every business transaction—both internal and external—within a government agency must start with a form. Forms might seem like a simple document; however, they are just the interface of a more significant process—the tip of the administrative iceberg.
Forms might seem like the extent of online government services, but in reality they are just the start of how governments do business.

Choosing between a web form or a fillable form

A web form provides an accessible, easy to read option for residents to complete each field in a form separately. This format is compliant with digital accessibility standards, like Americans with Disabilities Act, and is easy for screen readers to interpret. Its contemporary look and user experience aligns with current expectations for a web experience. Web forms can be submitted and processed digitally – no need for printed paper. A fillable form is a digital version of a PDF. In this case, the page will create an interactive version of the PDF, with fillable fields in place of every blank space on the page. The nice thing about fillable forms is they enable citizens to type in information instead of hand-writing. However they typically still require the resident to print out & mail back the form, which necessitates manual processing by the receiving agency.

Does the form require a signature?

Some forms require one or multiple signatures, with varying levels of security and encryption. As part of an inclusive services offering, governments should look for ways to bring all signature types online. Removing the barrier of having to print documents and provide a “wet signature” enables employees and citizens to work more efficiently and receive modern transparency around the status of their form submission. Read More: What To Know Before Implementing eSignatures in Your Government Agency

Does the form require a payment?

If a form also requires payment, even just a filing fee, does your current online system have the ability to process the fee? Increasingly employees need to be able to accept digital payments and route them electronically to the necessary departments and financial institutions. And government organizations must meet the expectations of citizens who increasingly expect to be able to do all things online. Read More: Four Benefits of Online Payment Processing

What happens to the form after it is signed and submitted?

Once a citizen submits a document where does it go? Which department and person(s) needs to sign off on it before processing can be completed?

What backend processes do online services require?

To tie these ‘below the surface’ processes together, agencies must have at least some components of the following tools:
  • Customer relationship manager (CRM): A platform is used to take care of organizational tasks
  • Business process management (BPM): An online interface to encourage citizen interaction
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP): Gives public sector and information technology (IT) leaders way to deliver business insights and updates to citizens
  • Document management system (DMS):  Storage software allows governments to create, manage, and store their documents
Adopting cloud-based systems is one way to help government departments organize citizen requests and develop an infrastructure for data storage, maintenance, and security.

Why should you care about online government services?

Improves citizen engagement

At the core of every thriving community is citizen engagement. The more residents can provide their government with feedback, the more a government can do to provide a safe and economically stable community. Manual processes place time restrictions on resident interactions. Those with full-time jobs and/or families to care for don’t have time to deliver printed materials during government office hours. However, with online government services, anyone with access to a computer and internet can contact their government 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In turn, this enables government employees who operate a lean team to do more with less. With improved processes for online services, employees can spend more time focused on improving their community.

Increases departmental revenue

With improved citizenship engagement comes the possibility of increased revenue generation. The easier it is for residents and businesses to submit applications online, the more chances your department has to collect a payment. Research shows that license and permit revenues represent approximately four percent of the City’s total revenues. By bringing services online, your department is better equipped to process a range of payments types: a one-time fee, a calculated fee, or a donation. Online services also reduce accounting errors by connecting disparate platforms. A fully integrated digital governance platform will connect your front-end processes to your ERP system to automatically associate fees with corresponding documents and provide employees with access to real time accounting data. This level of reporting gives your employees added autonomy through detailed information about payments, accounts, transfers, balance history, refunds, and more. Perhaps more significant than the increase in direct revenue—although arguably harder to calculate—is the cost savings of reduced manpower on manual processes. By collecting payment on any document or web form, your staff no longer has to waste time cashing checks, waiting for them to clear, or manually entering data.

Makes life easier for your citizens

How many forms does your department handle? If you’re like the majority of government agencies you’ll likely deal with hundreds of forms ranging from:
  • Public record requests
  • Business licenses
  • Special event applications
  • Board applications
  • Film permits
  • Pothole requests
  • Use of force reports
The list goes on. Many outdated websites only allow their citizens to print out a PDF, manually fill it out, and physically deliver it to the appropriate agency for manual processing and storing. The process is taxing. This post on Medium details how the City of Boston moved its form services online and, using a conservative estimate, determined the move saved Boston residents just under 10,000 hours over two years.

What are the drawbacks with the current state of online government services

With so many moving parts, and individual departmental needs, your government agency has likely created a Frankenstack, or a combination of multiple systems that solved an immediate problem, but don’t work well with other technology that’s been implemented. This sporadic and chaotic introduction of tools creates disparate systems sewn together, so a system functions but isn’t really alive.

Blended tech and processes create disorganization

With Frankenstacks, agencies fall victim to varying processes from department to department. There is often a lack of shared standards and compatible infrastructure among departments and agencies. The disorganization can also add frustration from:
  • Added work through multiple systems
  • Difficulty managing existing processes
  • Increased need for training
The only solution is recognizing conflicting processes and inefficient technology and replacing them with a tool customized for your comprehensive needs.

Organizational challenges

Launching new technology can create waves in any organization. There may be instances of dips in productivity or push back from users when the new tech launches. To make for smooth sailing, you must get top management support as you work through the products that your agency needs. Employees, especially those who have been with your department for a long time, may show resistance to change to electronic ways. To ward off resistance, focus on collaboration, and host training sessions. If everyone understands how to use the technology, there will likely be less push back against the implementation. You can also find a platform that can provide your department assistance throughout the migration.

Lost trust

Poorly managed documentation, whether online or offline, will reflect poorly on an agency. When employees feel their process is broken, it can lead to lost trust in management, decreased engagement, and higher turnover. Similarly, poor internal processes can affect your citizens too. If they don’t trust your processes, they can become withdrawn from participation and limit the ways they can connect with their government. The best  digital governance platforms are successful when they can build trust through its high performance and execution of document management and accessibility.

How can your agency rethink online government services?

Get a system that can function comprehensively. Technology like GovOS Studio is a singular end-to-end solution that cherry-picks critical features from CRMs, BPM, ERP, DMS to best suit the needs of your government agency.
A comparison chart of different online government services platforms.
This end-to-end solution spans every touchpoint of your departments and agencies needs when it comes to forms:
  • Building
  • Hosting and accessing
  • Submitting and signing
  • Paying
  • Processing
  • Storing and managing
Platforms strewn together are not comprehensive. By introducing an option like GovOS Studio, you can bring organization, cohesion, and distribution of process into your agency.
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