In 2020, Employees Are the New Constituent 

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In order to deliver on their missions, government agencies must start prioritizing their employees’ experiences – and that starts with right technology.

I came across a surprising finding recently: According to a report on software’s impact on employee happiness and retention, more than half of employees surveyed are unhappy at work because of the software they’re using, and nearly a quarter said that the software they use has made them consider leaving their jobs. Here’s the kicker: More than one in eight employees had left a previous job over mismatched software.

The more I think about this, I’m surprised this number isn’t higher. We live in a digital world, and when our tools don’t work right, it’s maddening. I know how frustrated I get when my streaming device mysteriously logs me out and I have to sign back into Netflix; when my phone won’t pair with my Bluetooth in my car; or how my patience for an app to load expires after about a second. We expect the technology we use to make our lives easier, so why wouldn’t we hold those same expectations at work?

I’ve been working in federal IT for a long time, and I’ve seen many software trends take hold, including—over the past decade—the swift adoption of mobile, an understanding of the power of data, and an overhaul of legacy systems in favor of lighter-weight cloud architectures. This has transformed many citizen services for the better. (When was the last time you went into the DMV to renew your license?) But what I haven’t seen is the same pace of transformation for internal systems.

Many government employees face a messy mix of paper-based and siloed processes to do their jobs. Over the years, layers of new technology that simplified select tasks have created a pile-on of manufactured complexity. Here’s the reality. Meeting citizen expectations is a major driver of digital transformation in government agencies, but consumer experience is only one side of the coin. In order to deliver the frictionless, tech-based experience constituents are demanding, public sector organizations will have to prioritize the way these transformations impact their employees’ experience, particularly when it comes to the technology and tools they use to do their jobs. 

There’s an unspoken urgency to this issue, given the crisis facing federal hiring right now—particularly amongst skilled IT workers. With an aging workforce rapidly approaching retirement and difficulties recruiting young talent, agencies that continue to use inefficient or paper-based systems internally will further exacerbate this problem. This year must be the year that the federal employees’ experience with their agency is brought up to par with that of their constituents’. 

What does that look like? It means digitizing and consolidating internal data and processes so that tasks are integrated and simplified. It means considering adopting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation to take over some of the repetitive and tedious tasks, reducing the risk for human error while also allowing employees to focus on more strategic work. And it means asking your employees about their experience—and listening to understand what they need to do their jobs. These efforts are underway externally at many organizations, as part of the digital transformation aimed at improving citizen experience—it’s a function of turning the lens internally.  

There are a few reasons to believe 2020 may be the year when employees become the new constituent:

  • Agencies recognize the problem: 72% of agencies have taken steps to monitor and improve the employee experience, recognizing the key role that employees play in the experience of all other customers. This is according to a recent poll of federal employees indicating that these improvements are being noticed.
  • They’re prioritizing change: 36% of organizations are prioritizing business process optimization as their top priority, according to a survey of government employees. This was the top response, recognizing that agencies can only optimize their citizen services if their internal business processes are as effective and cost-efficient as possible. Business process innovation can refer to any number of initiatives, such as adding spend visibility to strategic procurement or implementing predictive maintenance tools to anticipate asset service and unplanned asset downtime.

2020 is the beginning of a critical decade for federal employees, as it will see the aging out of baby boomers and the introduction of Generation Z into the workforce—a group of employees who bring an entirely new perspective and set of expectations into the office with them. According to research from Monster.com, Gen Z differs from the millennials before them by valuing benefits and security that have traditionally been associated with boomers and members of Gen X. This could make the stability of government positions particularly attractive. But to cater to these digital natives, these organizations will have to first contend with the broken technology and manufactured complexity that many of its employees currently face.  The first step to creating a world for this generation to work in is in investing in the software and systems needed for government IT workers to do their jobs right.

Brian Roach is managing director for regulated industries at SAP.

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