California’s Digital Opportunity in Public Services | Rectangle

When the pandemic hit, governments around the world rose to the challenge by accelerating the rollout of digital services, but many are losing momentum on this front and users are increasingly frustrated by the level of service compared with the private sphere. Today, satisfaction with digital government services in the US is 64%, meaning the US ranks 17 out of the 41 countries included in BCG’s 6th biannual survey on digital government services across the globe. And California finds itself below the US national average for satisfaction at 62%, behind states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

By taking additional steps to enhance digital services, California could greatly improve the experience and engagement of those who use its digital services and lower the costs to serve them. Our global survey uncovered some best practices for digital transformation in other countries and state governments that California can look to for inspiration. It’s well worth the effort given that 40% of surveyed Californians aged 18 or older access digital government services at least once a week.

Rising Expectations

To be clear, California officials know they need to improve the state’s digital government services and have taken steps to do so. In 2021, the California Department of Technology (CDT) launched Vision 2023, and since then California has made significant investments in improving digital services. By January 2023, 142 digital services were available on (an 11% increase from 2020). Additionally, California started a Technology Modernization Fund and a Data & Innovation Fund to modernize digital services and spur their deployment and use.

So why, given this focus and investment, is the state below the national average for satisfaction? A big reason is that people’s needs and expectations have risen: 77% of Californians we surveyed now demand the same level of service they find in the private sphere, including from companies that are digital natives. (See Exhibit 1.) People increasingly compare their online experience renewing a license at the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with completing a search on Google or making a purchase on Amazon, so it’s hardly surprising that some are disappointed. And with the increasing integration of AI and other innovations into digital services, expectations will only continue to rise.

Improving Digital Services

Recent BCG and Salesforce global research shows a strong relationship between improving service quality and improving trust. And as people’s trust grows, they are more likely to share data, which in turn allows governments to offer more personalized services. Our survey identified six ways that the public wants California to improve its digital services. All six offer a variety of other benefits, including improved productivity (resident and employee), service innovation, speed to value and responsiveness, employee engagement, and cost to serve:

  • Proactively offer services and information. Of Californians surveyed, 82% believe the government should proactively provide digital services and information about those services. The potential benefits of a more proactive approach include reaching the millions of Californians who qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program but have not signed up, which would help expand broadband access to ensure that digital services bridge social gaps and do not widen them.
  • Move the full scope of services online. Only 58% of survey participants indicated they could complete their entire transaction online. Here there was a generational split. While 64% of respondents aged 35 or older said they could accomplish their full transaction online, only 42% of those under 35 reported the same (perhaps because they are more likely to give up out of frustration). Given that this younger cohort will be the largest group of users by 2030, improvements are needed to expand the breadth and depth of transactions that the public can perform online. Governments such as Estonia and New South Wales in Australia have shown what’s possible, with 99% of Estonian services now available fully online and 85% of New South Wales public services fully available online. (Currently, California does not publish this figure.)
  • Create a seamless, omnichannel experience. About 60% of survey participants expect to continue using at least four devices to access the internet, and 84% plan to keep using a laptop and mobile device. So it’s critical that over time the public can access digital services anytime, anywhere, from any device—and be able to switch devices or move to physical locations if they choose. Beyond making agency websites and digital services mobile friendly and omnichannel, digital leaders such as New South Wales and Victoria are building on the popularity of mobile apps in the private sector by launching mobile apps to serve as a single, mobile access point for their government services.
  • Personalize interactions. About two-thirds (68%) of Californians surveyed believe governments should personalize services. By launching offerings that enable people to tailor their profiles, governments can help users perform a variety of cross-agency transactions according to their specific needs. For example, New Zealand’s SmartStart, a collaboration of four government agencies, allows parents and caregivers to create profiles to navigate government agencies after the birth of a child and lets users customize these profiles to their specific circumstances.
  • Provide (virtual) real-time support. Among survey participants, 63% reported problems with digital government services. (See Exhibit 2.) The most frequently cited reason for frustration was a lack of real-time support while online. It’s an issue that many governments are trying to solve with online assistants and live chats. For example, the California DMV has deployed Miles, a virtual online assistant, to help navigate its digital offerings anytime day or night, with live agent support available during regular working hours. A similar solution could be deployed across other digital offerings to provide real-time support when navigating frequently asked questions.
  • Simplify digital identities. Most Californians (86%) are willing to use a digital identity service to access government services, and 83% would prefer to have three or fewer digital identities. Today, however, someone in California could have more than ten digital identities tied to different agency offerings (such as the DMV, California State Lottery, Employment Development Department). For ease of access, one digital government identity is probably the ideal. In Estonia, this is already the case for most services. Other governments, such as New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, are investing heavily to reach a similar place.

Varying Approaches

But identifying what needs to change is almost always easier than actually making the changes—especially in an enormous state such as California with a sprawling bureaucracy of more than 230 agencies that have a significant say in the development and deployment of digital services within their domains. Success depends not only on delivering digital services in a cost-effective manner but also on getting buy-in and collaboration from leaders across agencies (and accommodating a varied set of user preferences).

Identifying what needs to change is almost always easier than actually making the changes—especially in an enormous state such as California.

Today, there are two prevailing approaches to delivering digital services in the public sector. One is to create a digital front door that serves as an online portal for users to access aggregated services developed and provided by different agencies. California has taken this approach with, its front door for digital services. The key benefit of this approach is the ability to add new services relatively quickly. But this speed comes at a cost. Without one owner of digital service offerings and delivery, it’s difficult to direct the pace and scope of digitization efforts, provide integrated offerings across agencies, or leverage resources across agencies.

The other approach to delivering digital services is to task one government agency with service delivery across channels. This new organization doesn’t replace the home agencies but is responsible for designing, managing, and supporting their digital services (or at least a subset of them) across channels. This approach—recently adopted by Oklahoma—facilitates coordination and integration across agencies, maximizing domain control. The downside to this approach is that it takes longer to launch and scale, requiring a greater degree of coordination and sustained stakeholder buy-in.

What’s Next for California After Vision 2023?

By deploying the front-door approach for digital service delivery, California rapidly expanded access to digital offerings during the pandemic. To maintain momentum in service improvement, the state might consider these four steps to capture near-term gains and support long-term enablement:

  • Pursue a holistic approach. Within the confines of a federated model, establish the conditions that foster agency moves that holistically build toward a future state vision. Build a target state architecture with shared platforms and assets across agencies, coordinate technology investment decisions, and integrate hiring and training plans.
  • Lay the foundation for more service integration. Standardize data capture and sharing by implementing a comprehensive data exchange framework and continue prioritizing investments to modernize tech systems for better interoperability and efficiency. Adopt common standards and technologies for digital identities that can accelerate the adoption of harmonized solutions across agencies.
  • Start by focusing on often used and scalable services. Services related to driving, automobiles, births, and deaths are rich in data, require overlapping government services, and can be scaled rapidly. Because these services are visible to the public, improving them helps build trust quickly. This, in turn, allows the government to expand digital to other services and offerings, further increasing public satisfaction and engagement.
  • Treat government employees as customers. Gathering and responding to employee feedback is a powerful way to improve service levels, accelerate speed to market, and increase recruitment and retention. Employee needs generally span four technology categories: basic, off-the shelf digital tools; digitized paperwork and processes; automated service provisioning; and modernized back-end systems.

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By providing more proactive, integrated, and personalized digital services in an easier to navigate, seamless, and omnichannel way, the government of California could improve the public’s engagement and satisfaction, drive down costs, and reduce errors. The state knows this and is moving in the right direction to elevate its digital services. But more needs to be done in a more systematic way across agencies so that California can move quickly to capture the benefits.