One of the great challenges every municipality faces is how to deliver higher quality services to its citizens and businesses while budgets consistently seem to shrink.
Several of Canada’s leading communities are taking a proactive role and experimenting with shared services (an outsourcing or regional consolidation model); and almost all of them look at the Internet as a low-cost channel for the delivery of these services. Both the move to shared services and consideration of the Internet to deliver these services, along with other strategies, are the right steps towards a smarter and connected reality. Municipal leaders, however, recognized that one can’t eliminate the much needed face-to-face interactions with constituents while delivering high-touch services – both from a quality and a security perspective.
Surely the transformation of governmental services can’t be a burden that should solely rest on the shoulders of the municipality. Although it is understood that municipalities are most in tune to the real needs and concerns of citizens and businesses in Canada, what about the Federal services for which I have to go to Service Canada? I sat in their waiting room this week for 90 minutes so I could submit paperwork for a passport renewal. Or Provincial services for which I need to go to Service Ontario? Passports, driver licenses, health cards, and marriage certificates…does anyone know where to go for each? Add to this Canada Post with its 6,500 services outlet, or the municipal library systems (where there are more than books) and community centers all around the country for outreach and engagement.
Now, consider that video is the foundational driver for the next wave of the Internet’s evolution. Imagine that by 2014, all consumer Internet traffic is comprised mainly of video. Businesses follow suit and increasingly embrace HD video conferencing to mimic high quality person-to-person interaction at a fraction of the cost for traveling, and with the benefit of heightened safety and security. For instance, there are governments that already Cisco TelePresence to process prisoners without the need to transport them from prison cell to courthouse, and back again.
If the justice system is comfortable using video to optimize its processes and significantly reduce operating and safety cost, and we as consumers are downloading, streaming, and uploading 100’s of hours of video by the minute (YouTube, Netflix, Cisco Jabber, uStream, etc); then why wouldn’t all levels of government look to video to allow them to deliver virtual “in-person” services in a distributed manner (reaching remote and rural areas of Canada), with the highest security and safety standards (physical and cyber), at the lowest possible cost?
At the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Annual Conference and Tradeshow this weekend we demonstrated our Remote Expert for Government Services (REGS) solution. This solution combines Cisco TelePresence high quality video with document scanners, printers and tablets in a safe and personal kiosk environment, allowing all levels of government to deliver distributed services to citizens. Rather than operating dedicated buildings and outdated waiting rooms, governments can now deliver quality interaction to citizens via centralized and hosted video call-centers. The solution replicates a live and in-person experience, but allows the government to go where the citizens are and be in many more places at the same time.
In addition to the demonstration of our REGS solution, we also hosted a panel discussion with Mayor Tony van Bynen of Newmarket, Ontario, and his CIO Susan Chase over TelePresence. Together, we discussed the journey of services transformation and the application of technology to reach more citizens in an economic and sustainable manner.
The capabilities and benefits of our Remote Expert for Government Services kiosk are obvious and the underlying technology is readily available. There is nothing bleeding edge about this transformational services solution but we need the government to rethink how it best interacts with its constituents. Behind the scenes, plenty of processes will need to be changed in order for Canada to be ready for leading-edge citizen engagement and next generation services delivery in a smart and connected world.
Spencer Johnson said that “change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go,” and the pain of outdated services models is becoming unbearable. Billy Crystal and Mahatma Ghandi, respectively, have said that “change is hard work” and “the future depends on what you do today.”
It’s time for Canada to spring into action and lead the world of technology, productivity, and innovation (spearheaded by information technology) in government services.