Monday, October 5, 2015

Delivering More Efficient, Mission-Critical Digital Services

By Victor Janey
Director, Operations
General Dynamics Information Technology

General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) has been partnering with federal agencies continuously since 1983 to deliver mission-critical customer-facing support services. We have partnered with clients to transform the citizen experience to a web-first, mobile-enabled experience that has transformed services from largely paper-based and labor-intensive systems to more efficient, cost-effective electronic and Web-based systems.

GDIT implemented and operates large-scale, multi-channel contact centers that respond to traditional channels but also mobile interactions via Web Chat, SMS, and social engagement from more than 20 million customers annually who have questions about how to apply for, receive, and change Federal assistance and statutory benefits. For one Federal agency, GDIT innovation has built a service environment where more than 99 percent of 25 million federal benefit applications annually are submitted via the Web with built-in skip logic for faster, more accurate results.

Throughout our 30 plus years of partnership with Federal clients, we have consistently delivered contract services within budget while identifying and applying processing efficiencies and enhancements to reduce the government’s operational costs.   And throughout our performance of contract services, we have consistently met all critical annual and interim start-up deadlines for various projects. Each year, all changes driven by legislation and regulation must be fully developed, tested, accepted by clients with full Federal security  requirements in place, and implemented in time for benefits to be available citizens who rely on critical government program. 

An important aspect of service improvement is to keep pace with evolving citizen preferences and their need to communicate across new devices, platforms, and operating systems, in the channel of their choice, when and where they choose to interact.  The overarching mission is to simplify the customer experience to the highest degree possible, breaking down barriers and thereby reducing burden and time for citizen interactions.  A recent example of how GDIT delivered on this commitment for a key client and its customers comes from our delivery for a U.S. government civilian client, where we provide the application that unlocks access to federal funds for defraying the high costs of post-secondary education.   

This application has had a reputation for being complex and is even by some to be a barrier to higher education pursuit.  GDIT ingenuity has helped to take the application from one that took upwards of 45 minutes to complete to one that can be completed and submitted in less than 20 minutes, with results provided to the applicant nearly instantaneously.  The simplified and streamlined online application has enabled more citizens to apply for aid.  There has been a 27 percent increase since the simplification effort began in 2010.  The improved form represents a major change from previous versions.

Highlights of the improved form include:

  • Fewer questions. "Enhanced skip logic" lets students skip questions that don't apply
  • Friendlier navigation. The different sections of the form are marked and color-coded, and screens include an easy-to-find "help and hints" section
  • More information for planning. Citizens who express interest in particular kinds of available benefits now get an instant estimate of aid eligibility
  • Less duplication. The form and application process now links to another federal agency whose data are required, vastly simplifying the process and creating a true “one-stop” experience for citizens relying on this essential federal service
  • This inter-agency collaboration has been called a prime example of different government agencies working together in the interest of citizens.  It has resulted in more applications filed accurately, on time, and with higher levels of customer satisfaction.
There is also increased transparency for citizens as to where they are in the application process, essential for fostering trust in the government and ensuring that citizens follow through and get the aid that they are entitled to receive.  The online, mobile-enabled application is designed to allow customers anytime access to their data, to make necessary changes and edits to their online applications, with clear visibility to their status / point-in-process.  They can also receive electronic rather than paper correspondence, greatly increasing processing turnaround times and reducing costs.  In fact, GDIT worked with the federal agency we serve to build a system whereby citizens who interact electronically are thereafter offered online self-help, tutorials and virtual assistance that follows them through the application as they complete it, escorting their journey to ensure accurate completion.

 "Skip logic," which presents only those sections of the application that are determined applicable based on answers to previous questions, speeds completion of the form. Verification of data and security of private information are also built into the design.  The website that features the application for federal aid also serves as a central online reference site for citizens engaged in the process, including one of the largest deployments of electronic signature functionality in the federal government.

The innovations of this web-first, mobile-enabled design has:

  • Increased on-line versus paper applications from zero to more than 99% since 1997
  • Increased application submission success
  • Reduced printing costs by 90% since 2008
In addition, simplification initiatives mean that applicant data are matched against other, multiple agency databases necessary for the eligibility determination and to ensure accuracy of identifier data for the disbursement of federal funds to qualified applicants.  Citizens also can begin the process with a prior year’s submission to reduce errors and the time to complete the application.

Through the simplification initiative, GDIT reduced the number of web screens on the application from 46 down to 10, cut by 50 percent the number of questions the average applicant must answer, and significantly reduced the overall application completion time. The application streamlining and improvements also enabled a streamlined and more efficient web application technology stack, delivering development cost efficiencies and more flexible feature delivery.

Additional, demonstrable, benefits to citizens and clients brought about by this overall improvement initiative include, at the end of the first year of the deployed simplified online application:

The Elimination of Unnecessary Paper Artifacts
These changes eliminated unnecessary paper notifications in the shift to bolster online help and the use of email communication.  Customers who interact electronically are thereafter presented on-line and mobile help experiences and outputs.

Password / ID Enhancements
Password Challenge Question Lockouts decreased 39%

Increased Electronic Application Signatures / Less Paper Processing

  • Application Signature rejects decreased 69%
  • Electronic Signatures increased by 2.4%
  • Blank Signatures decreased by 55%
  • Total Paper signatures decreased by 27%
  • Encouraging Online Help
  • Calls Offered decreased 45%
  • Chats Offered decreased 68%
  • Emails decreased 31%
Eliminate Unnecessary Paper Artifacts
  • Since the changes were implemented, roughly 4.9 million fewer paper notifications were sent, compared to prior year
  • 4.9 million * 40 cents for postage = $1,960,000 in savings
In the words of just one of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who have already completed the new online and simplified application process, Janice from Oklahoma said “The process is so easy! It took my daughter and me only a few minutes to complete and it was much easier than before. With so much to worry about it’s good to know that you are all making sure this part of the process isn’t one of them. This was really great!”

Victor Janey is an Operations Director with more than 20 years of experience managing large-scale, high-volume, multi-channel contact center operations in virtual delivery environments. He is an evangelist for best-in-business customer service delivery models, and a key contributor in developing and communicating best service principles and guidelines.

Before becoming Director of Operations at General Dynamic Information Technology, he was an Operations Director at Vangent, Inc., a Program Manager at Pearson Government Solutions and Deputy Program Manager at NCS.

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