Across the Digital Nation: Governments give kiosks a second look

Rishi Sood

Over the past 10 years, state and local governments have tried to reorient the delivery of public sector services around the citizen. Mantras such as "service to the citizen," "customer-centric government" and "government anytime, anywhere" heralded new objectives for important services.

Public sector organizations have started the long process of breaking down agency silos and creating business functions guided by customer requirements rather than organizational boundaries.

In many respects, information technology has been a key factor in the change. Government organizations have used technology to extend services and empower an increasing percentage of personnel. The e-government era ushered in the power of citizens independently completing tasks .

However, public sector organizations soon realized that a multichannel strategy (Internet, voice, e-mail, etc.) was necessary to truly increase the number of citizen-directed transactions. Self-service kiosks are a logical extension of this strategy.

Kiosks can provide tangible functionality for a variety of government transactions without creating new organizational layers to deliver these services. Newer features such as plasma screens, high-speed Internet access and identification technologies improve the user experience and provide authentication measures.

Clearly, several important agency segments, as well as horizontal functions, can benefit from the use of kiosks. Social services agencies could align resources with new department objectives. These systems can offer job searches, appointment scheduling, benefits matching and eligibility processing. Motor vehicle agencies use kiosks to handle standard transactions such as tests, renewals and changes of address.

Local governments may look more to implement self-service kiosks to provide access to an array of services from property tax payments and copies of vital records to permitting and licensing. Similarly, economic development and tourism boards could use kiosks to increase revenue and promote local commerce.

Moreover, these systems can be used to widen venues for government services. Kiosks may be placed at city halls, county libraries, regional attractions and local malls.

In some respects, deploying self-service technology is an important lesson from the private sector. Financial services, retail and transportation firms have seen tremendous gains from using kiosks. In these industries, kiosks offer lower cost of service delivery, speed customer transactions and extend geographic coverage. Moreover, given their familiarity and ease of use, kiosks are becoming the first line of service within these markets.

The deployment of public-sector kiosks has had several false starts, but government officials are re-examining the benefits of the machines. Federal agencies, such as the General Services Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development, states such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, and local governments such as Washington and Okaloosa, Fla., are riding the continuing waves of kiosk deployment.

As these implementations provide tangible evidence of the value of kiosks, more government organizations will pursue this path. Similarly, using kiosks among global public sector organizations has been on the rise, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom and France.

Adopting self-service technologies and kiosks within government organizations depends on creating a proper business case. Kiosk vendors must articulate the benefits of kiosks within the realities of the government marketplace. In the end, state and local government decision-makers must make technology choices that help streamline government operations, improve overall agency efficiency and expand customer interaction.

Rishi Sood is research vice president with Gartner Dataquest in Mountain View, Calif. His e-mail address is rishi.sood@gartner.com.

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