Smart investment decisions to improve citizen services beyond the pandemic

Federal and state agency leaders at Google Cloud’s Public Sector Summit discuss practical IT decisions that led to their greatest successes over the past year.
citizen services
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The comments featured in this article were given by executives at Google’s Public Sector Summit, a virtual event held Dec. 8-9, 2020.

Over the last year, government agencies delivered important citizen services during the global pandemic. During this unprecedented crisis, IT leaders continue to be powerful agents for change to mobilize remote workforces and change the way agencies interact with citizens.

Experienced government IT leaders, speaking at the Google Cloud Public Sector Summit, discussed how they leaned on collaborative relationships with program owners to make smart technology investments that would drive better outcomes for mission services. The virtual event — hosted by Google Cloud on Dec. 8-9, 2020 — brought together thousands across the government community worldwide to share customer successes, industry best practices and explore the future of digital service.

A strategy for smart tech investments

When agencies let program-owners drive the conversation around their IT needs, they can achieve a stronger return on their investment, according to Suzette Kent, former U.S. CIO who spoke in a panel discussion on prioritizing technology investments.

She said that during her time in her role as U.S. CIO, she was struck by how leaders struggle with the idea of continuous learning and improvement in government. In many ways, agencies view a technology project and business process with a finite start and stop date.

However, because the needs of citizens continuously change, Kent said investments in technology need to take agility into account so that agencies can pivot to meet citizen expectations.

“It’s really important that we invest in those things that are primarily focused on the mission, and then we make sure they’re designed in a way that takes into account [the end user],” added Dominic Sale, assistant commissioner for Technology Transformation Services at General Services Administration, during the panel.

He explained that there are many people trying to sell to agencies all the time, and it is important to separate the promises from what is real and practicable. That is why it is important to build government services, and the technology that supports it, around constituent needs.

“The best way to rebuild trust in government is to make [citizens] feel listened to, feel served, make it feel like what we are creating was done with them primarily in mind,” he said. Establishing benchmarks and metrics that measure the original objectives of the investment is a key to seeing that ROI.

Improving social services outcomes in Utah

From a state, regional and local perspective, the need to improve service delivery and constituent experiences has underpinned transformation initiatives in 2020 and was a recurring theme at the two-day summit. One panel highlighted a success story from the state of Utah, which for several years had been working to improve outcomes in its social services agencies. Programs like Child and Family Services, Juvenile Justice and the Department of Corrections serve thousands of citizens concurrently in two or more programs, explained Rachel Stone, chief data officer for the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

“Concurrent enrollment means multiple siloed caseworkers, case plans, expectations consequences. So even though each group is trying really hard and individually improving to help clients, their clients can still easily get bogged down in such a way where too much help actually backfires,” she explained.

In a panel discussion, Transforming Benefits Delivery with a Unified, Cross-Program View, Stone said they were able to design and build a solution in less than a year using Google Cloud Platform. The key, she explained, was focusing on the answer to one question: How can we help case managers better serve and produce outcomes for their clients?

“It can be difficult for a case manager to know, ‘of all the people on my hefty caseload, who do I need to help today?’” Stone said. Presenting a unified vision of clients’ progress, their milestones and any plans from across programs improves service delivery and made their work process more efficient.

More of Utah’s story was covered in a Google Cloud blog post.

Tackling claims fraud, waste and abuse

The massive influx of claims to social service organizations was one of the most talked about adverse effects of the pandemic response. Claims processing delays were exacerbated by both the number of claims to state agencies and their move to remote work.

Paul Robles, field sales representative for Google Cloud described the crisis as “a perfect storm for state agencies” which traditionally relied on a paper-based, in-person process, and initially struggled with challenges across multiple departments.

In the panel, Limit Fraud, Maximize Benefits: Identify, Manage, and Thwart Improper Payments, Robles discussed why inherent weaknesses in the systems to properly identify an instance of fraud versus an honest mistakes caused leaders to quickly look to modernize their claims processing system.

“They turned to companies like Google to help them build artificial intelligence and machine learning models that could help them prioritize the payment, and score fraud, and assess the real risk in real time and in batch,” he said.

Prabhu Palanisamy, president and chief strategy officer for SpringML described a solution they developed for some of their state partners that focused on two areas of claims fraud mitigation: prevention and detection.

“When we look at the claim, we look at the information that can be used to verify the accuracy of the data. For example, Social Security Administration provides an interface where we can verify the name and the SSN, whether the person is deceased or not,” he explained.

Additionally, the AI tool can connect to other data points to verify the claim details and detect any patterns or variations that point to a greater fraud risk — “for example, what’s the incoming IP that the claimant is using? How many times the claimant change the bank account after the claim was created?” he said.

Fraudsters continue to use this crisis to create a lot of noise in the system, but with AI and ML tools, agencies have a greater ability to mitigate risks and ensure funds are going to the citizens with the greatest need.

Helping citizens get back to work

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a deep and lasting impact on employment vulnerability, which is why states like Rhode Island are re-imagining how to help its citizens find jobs and prepare to re-enter the workforce.

Scott Jensen, director of the state’s Department of Labor and Training described the virtual career center (VCC) in the panel, COVID-19 Recovery: Getting Rhode Islanders Back to Work. The modern VCC uses a combination of cloud-based collaboration tools and chatbot technology to give citizens remote access to a variety of resources that will help them connect with and prepare for new jobs.

“Entering the VCC, [the citizen] will be greeted by our virtual career counselor bot named Skipper, and Skipper will be there 24-seven to help them throughout their employment lifecycle,” explained Jensen. “Our job seekers will now have the ability to schedule face-to-face video meetings with career coaches, job recruiters and potential employers. We will even use this powerful platform to deliver virtual career fairs.”

And within the VCC, Jensen explained how the chatbot will be able to direct job applicants to other support services once they prepare to enter the workforce, like social services agencies.

“We think that the VCC will really help folks make this transition and make Rhode Island’s economy even stronger than it is. Our goal is to come out of this horrible time with struggling with the COVID-19 virus to make Rhode Island more resilient and bounce back stronger,” he said.

Taking the conversation into 2021

Thomas Kurian, chief executive officer for Google Cloud highlighted several modernization projects in government during 2020, including work with the Defense Innovation Unit, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy, the Veneto Region in Italy and the states of West Virginia, New York, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Kurian reiterated Google Cloud’s commitment to deliver solutions that provide “interoperability, security and openness for organizations to achieve their goals,” said Kurian, “Specifically, we understand your unique security and compliance requirements. Our cloud is certified FedRAMP-high for the most sensitive workloads and our solutions support rigorous privacy and data sovereignty requirements.”

Daniels added that these partnerships are helping agencies leverage artificial intelligence and smart analytics to improve research, national security briefings, equipment repair and stronger cybersecurity.

“We know that our customers achieve their goals and the needs of their mission best when they learn from each other,” said Daniels. “With that in mind, I’m thrilled to announce the launch of Google Cloud’s Public Sector Connect, our new community for government and higher education customers and prospects. This community is intended for anyone in the public sector interested in optimizing ways in which Google Cloud can help them, their colleagues and their constituents.”

Learn more about how Google Cloud is helping agencies make smart technology investments to improve mission outcomes at the Google Cloud Public Sector Summit.

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