Case Study: Welcome to the Digital Age
Improving Efficiency through Digital Transformation at an Arizona State Agency
Ours is a world of efficient convenience and in this world it is not acceptable for a customer-facing process to take up to two years to complete, nor is it acceptable to offer only paper-centric interactions with agencies/companies. This is true of commercial organizations and it also applies to government agencies. To serve clients, an organization must be faster and more customer-centric.
Recently, I was part of a transformation team engaged to lead a large State agency through their digital transformation, automating the application process to lease parcels of land from the State. Prior to the transformation, the only way to submit applications was to manually complete them and mail or email them for processing. The turnaround time to process an application ranged from a few months up to two years, and the process did not allow applicants to check the status of their application. Determining interim status was also very manually intensive.
This digital transformation was an exciting opportunity to help this agency completely revamp their processes, both internally and externally. Our team developed the strategy, created the solution, and managed the transformation process of the agency from a manual, paper-based system to a paperless digital operating model.
The effort to drive the transformation encompassed key processes at the agency, including electronic workflow, paperless application processing, real-time information availability for internal agency personnel, and a user-friendly customer interface. Key items to include for success during an effort of this magnitude include the following:
- Plan for and execute the digitization of the current documents
- Utilize a user adoption model, including training planning, managing resistance, and deployment
- Plan for migration of data from the existing legacy systems to the new digital platform
- Utilize project management and governance to ensure the program remains on track
- Document current and future State functional and technical requirements to be implemented
- Implement a digital solution platform
The agency’s legacy system acted as a database and an enterprise resource planning system, interfacing with multiple functional areas. In the first phase of the transformation, our team was responsible for leading the replacement of the transactional activity portion of the legacy system, leaving the underlying database in place. We wanted to provide open communication with the entire agency so all of the impacted stakeholders felt like they were a part of this major change in processes.
Throughout the project, we used periodic surveys for this communication to inform the employees of the upcoming changes, and to take the ‘pulse’ of the agency. We also communicated to the public by updating the agency website to post announcements and build excitement about the upcoming changes to go paperless.
One of the major challenges we faced was determining how to contact one segment of the customer base: ranchers and farmers. Would they be able to be part of this new transformation? Do they have access to the technology needed to access the online applications and transact business with the agency? As part of our change management methodology, we decided to send postcard surveys to the customers in this demographic to determine if they would be able to take the leap with the agency. Interestingly enough, nearly three-quarters of these customers had some access to the internet, computers, and scanners, even if they had to utilize public access, family, or friends to do so. Tackling this challenge helped the team feel much better about the final solution meeting the needs of that portion of their customer base.
Additionally, prior to go-live, we posted frequently asked questions (FAQs), and solutions, for the most common inquiries on the customer-facing website. We also provided a support structure to accommodate questions and concerns as they were submitted. Posting the FAQs, resulted in very few support calls and emails from customers.
As part of the transformation, we assisted the agency in digitizing their in-process application files. There were over 1,000 of these file types, presenting a significant digitization effort. We did come across some resistance when we asked the administrators to ‘give up’ their paper application files to be scanned and indexed. One of the biggest challenges was helping them to realize they needed to do this to be part of the digital transformation to a paperless system. We had to be creative in determining plans to meet the goal of scanning all open applications. We also assisted them in realizing the vision of accessing this same information they needed to perform their jobs, only in a different manner – online through their document management system.
As we neared the testing, training, and go-live activities, the Subject Matter Expert (SME) team became concerned about the time commitment needed to support the project. To mitigate this discomfort, we developed a resource requirements matrix, detailing their weekly time commitments required over the final two months of the project. By breaking up the responsibilities into manageable chunks, and providing realistic expectations for involvement, they were able to plan for and manage their time more appropriately. Separately, we created an execution roadmap, which was communicated to the steering committee, so leadership was aware of the tasks to be done and the weeks where a significant workload was required from their teams. This helped management provide the support needed to the SME team, so they were able to be successful.
Based on the trends and expectations of the public, if the agency did not become digital and update the application process (and associated internal processes) they may have experienced customer dissatisfaction and internal disorganization. Remaining with the status quo would simply not support Governor Doug Ducey’s goal for state government to operate at the speed of business.
By utilizing a structured approach to project and change management, we successfully completed the transformation project on time and within budget. The digital transformation should take the original lease application process time of up to 2 years, down to days or weeks, with enhanced communication and customer updates.
Based on this experience, it is realistic for an organization of this type to be more customer-centric and bring it into the digital age. To manage a transformation such as this, there are three strategies to consider:
- Make both internal and external communication and support a priority
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions to determine if resistance exists, so that it can be addressed before it becomes a barrier to success
- Utilize a proven project management and governance strategy to monitor and control a transformation of this magnitude