Donate to Hurricane Recovery

We Are NC Gov 2.0: Citizens' digital experiences with government evolving quickly

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Dustin Haisler, chief information officer for e.Republic and Government Technology magazine, recently found himself stuck with a speeding ticket in a small town in Texas.

He did what any self-respecting leader in innovation for local, state and federal governments would do. He used the donotpay app on his phone to settle his ticket with the local court.

“I used a chatbot to successfully beat a speeding ticket that I got in this little court,” Haisler told more than 100 North Carolina state government leaders and technology experts during NC DIT’s We Are NC Gov conference, Nov. 28.

The app downloaded, completed and printed the appropriate paperwork. Haisler signed it and mailed it off to the courthouse in Texas. Case dismissed. Literally.

Haisler used the story as an illustration of how citizen experiences in dealing with government agencies are evolving quickly.

The judge and the court’s employees likely had no idea that Haisler’s legal filing was prepared by a smartphone chatbot. “This was an experience that the court did not own, the court didn’t set up. But it was actually an interface with that court.

“It may sound crazy, but this is what is going to happen. You are going to see more of these third-party experiences interface with government.”

Third parties, such as the developers of donotpay and Rushmypassport.com, are being offered by the private sector to smooth citizen experiences with the public sector. Further, Haisler said, such arrangements are likely to become much more common in the near future.

Haisler said that citizens have been conditioned to expect that their digital interactions with local, state and federal government will at least equal the experiences they have with online businesses. In other words, government agencies are being called to offer their citizens the same kind of intuitive, predictive, and reliable experiences that Amazon, Google, ebay, and other online companies offer.

Meanwhile, he said, government interactions with the greater population are quickly evolving.

Of course, government agencies already build and control online interaction experiences with websites. But now, governments are being called to move to and build experiences for platforms they do not own, such as Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.

And finally, government agencies have to learn to understand and interact with platforms they do not own, or build content for.

What’s more, Haisler said, governments must learn to operate under all three lenses simultaneously.

Better experiences for citizens is becoming a top priority at all levels of government, Haisler said.

“We have to be proactive and anticipate new needs,” he said. “A lot of times that means we have to work directly with the private sector to anticipate these new constituent needs as they arise.”

Government agencies must improve their online game especially now, he said.

The world is not just connected, but hyper-connected. Some 7.7 billion people on the earth today use about 8.7 billion connected devices. Yes, devices now outnumber their users.

“And government is at the forefront of all of this. Where does all this connected infrastructure live? It lives in our cities, and government is going to have a role and responsibility to make use of that.

As society’s hyper-connectivity is centered on connected devices, more and more citizens are using their mobile devices as their primary connections.

Meanwhile, we are no longer only consumers of online content. “We are now all creators and our citizens are creators and our employees are creators. In every 60 seconds we are creating vast amounts of data, from 41,000 Instagram pictures being uploaded to 50 billion Whatsapp messages.”

These technological changes have been accelerating, reaching a critical tipping point much more quickly than radio, telephone and television of the last century. However, Haisler said, government agencies at multiple levels have responded in several remarkable ways.

“It used to take a high degree of effort to have a little degree of impact,” he said. “Customers had to go to the physical state office and fill out long forms to get services.”

Today, Arkansas, Nebraska and other states are working with the gov2go app to offer citizens a quicker and mobile-convenient experience. Denver offers pocketgov, and Utah has worked with Google to make Google Now Cards available to its citizens.

Governments are also working closely with the private sector to offer better citizen experiences. Miami-Dade County in Florida had AT&T’s help in building its new Operation Center, Macomb County in Michigan partners to Uber to provide transportation to court for those serving jury duty.

And here in North Carolina, the Department of Transportation's Division of Motor Vehicles worked with PayIt in designing a new MyNCDMV, featuring mobile-friendly applications for making payments to the DMV.

“What you’re doing as a state is incredible,” Haisler said. “Keep up the good work, because you’re a national example of innovation in the public sector.”

Haisler’s presentation and a presentation on the new MyNCDMV are available here.