Using Digital Innovation to Improve Licensing Services and Ensure Business Continuity
While the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office may be best known for administering elections, the heart of its work is registering and licensing small businesses, corporations, charities, notaries public, private investigators and other entities. As part of its ongoing commitment to implement state-of-the-art technology for the public’s benefit, the office recently rolled out an online enterprise licensing system. Little did executive and IT leaders know how essential these services would become to continue serving constituents and ensure business continuity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
MOVING AT THE SPEED OF BUSINESS
In the hands of Dave Tackett, who has been with the office since 2005 and is now its CIO, the IT department had already delivered a one-stop online business registration portal as well as Alexa voice assistance technology that allows constituents to ask questions like “How do I register to vote?” Licensing was one of the last customer service functions that still relied on mainly manual processes, requiring constituents to mail applications and documentation, email them or visit in person.
The office wanted to provide a modern user experience where customers could apply as conveniently as possible and in a way that would allow workers to quickly process their applications.
“Business is moving faster than ever, and the timing of receipt matters, especially in cases such as Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) or trademark filings, or when a business can’t move forward until it receives approval from us,” says Chuck Flannery, deputy secretary and chief of staff.
Continuity of operations was another important driver and became even more relevant as the project got underway.
“Even though we didn’t see the pandemic coming, we try to develop services and infrastructure that allow us to recover from disasters or shift if something goes really, really wrong,” says Tackett.
ENTERPRISE SERVICE AT SCALE
To achieve its goals, the project team chose a pre-built, cloud-based enterprise licensing service from Civix. Cloud-based online services increase scalability and resilience by enabling the office to flexibly pivot to accommodate remote workforces and services. In addition, they reduce the burden on IT staff.
“When you have a limited number of developers and network engineers, a solution like this shifts the ‘break-fix’ burden and reduces the number of surfaces that our IT team has to be responsible for. It allows them to be more creative and more innovative on the things they do control or maintain,” says Tackett.
The enterprise service addresses a variety of use cases, enabling charitable organizations, notaries public, scrap metal dealers, private investigators, security guards, sports agents, trademark registrants and marriage celebrants to complete the entire licensing process online.
“In just a few months of being online, we’ve found that people are accessing the service and using it very comfortably,” says Flannery.
Paper-laden application processes that required downloading forms, scanning photographs and submitting other documentation via mail, email or in person can now be completed online.
“As an example, we have about 3,300 notary applications that come through annually, and this gives a huge lift-off in terms of speed, accuracy and workloads both for the customer and our staff,” says Flannery.
MAKING LIFE EASIER FOR CUSTOMERS AND STAFF
The office is still in the process of transitioning all its licensing programs online, and it is collecting data to track service efficiencies and other advantages. The project team anticipates that once everything is fully rolled out, the office will almost eliminate paper-based processes and reduce staff workflows by five to 10 percent.
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office: Using Digital Innovation to Improve Licensing Services and Ensure Business Continuity “Given how many filings we do per year, if we took them all online, we would eliminate nearly 164,000 sheets of paper that would either have to be handed in or scanned and posted online,” says Flannery.
That makes a tremendous impact in terms of speed, efficiency and flexibility — not just for customers but also for office staff.
“Now, the employee who spent all day just scanning documents or interacting with customers can be redirected to accomplish something else for the office. They can become a subject matter expert; they can cross train to enable a more complete, agile workforce,” says Flannery.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID
Besides streamlining processes, online capabilities have been essential in enabling individuals and communities to safely conduct business and move forward with as much normalcy as possible during the pandemic. For one couple, digital licensing meant the difference between having their wedding ceremony on the scheduled date or postponing it. When the couple’s original marriage celebrant was unable to officiate at the last minute, they asked a friend to fill in. Using the online licensing system, the friend was able to obtain a marriage celebrant license quickly enough to marry the couple as planned.
We were very fortunate. We were able to get a vendor with the experience we were looking for. If we hadn’t been clear in our scope we would have been subject to a low bid and potentially an inferior product.
– Dave Tackett
CIO, West Virginia Secretary of State
PATHWAY TO SUCCESS
While implementation of the right technology is fundamental to the online licensing program’s success, the path to success started with scoping the project thoroughly and choosing the right vendor.
Both Tackett and Flannery emphasize the importance of clarifying in detail the scope of the project so there are no surprises in the purchasing or implementation process. That includes building in cybersecurity provisions related to protecting data and mitigating risks.
“We were very fortunate. We were able to get a vendor with the experience we were looking for. If we hadn’t been clear in our scope, we would have been subject to a low bid and potentially an inferior product,” says Tackett.
Besides demonstrating financial stability and having deployment success in other states, it was important the chosen vendor had experience in licensing.
“We didn’t want to teach them the licensing services business. It gave us a lot of comfort that Civix had that expertise. We weren’t redesigning or creating a new product but working with somebody that really understood these products and how they worked,” says Flannery.
By using a commercial-off-the-shelf product with built-in best practices, the Secretary of State’s Office also avoided the high costs and delays associated with developing licensing services from the ground up.
Given the solution still needed to be tailored to meet West Virginia’s unique requirements, the speed of implementation was especially impressive. The Civix team used an agile, iterative methodology to deliver customer-facing, backend and financial transaction processing functionality for multiple licensing programs within nine months. Alongside implementation, the Civix team also pivoted to rapidly develop and deliver an online training program to replace training that would normally have taken place in person.
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT
As online registration gains greater traction among users, the Secretary of State’s Office will continue to expand and innovate with online services. The project team will still allow paper-based processes (to accommodate those without internet connections or other digital capabilities) but plans to minimize their use as much as possible.
“The sky is the limit the more we move away from paper and get data in a digital format,” says Tackett. “With an enterprise solution, we now have a scalable foundation for anything we want to do moving forward — whether it’s adding new types of licensing or adding new capabilities such as proactive, automated notifications.”
This piece was developed and written by the Government Technology Content Studio, with information and input from Civix.
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