Every Government Agency Has Become an Entrepreneur
5 min read
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I think for the last few years, there’s been a perception of government that it fails to accomplish anything. “Drain the swamp” was the rallying cry (for some) not that long ago. Yet when faced with a crisis, we see what government agencies are really made of. And as the CEO and co-founder of a platform that automates the creation of online government forms, we’ve seen firsthand what kind of leaders are at the local government level during the coronavirus pandemic.
Case in point: One of SeamlessDocs’ partners (we call our customers partners), Andrea Terkelsen of Dedham, MA, was set to leave her role as town CFO/CIO at the end of March 2020. But since the pandemic has swept the country, she has requested to be kept past her end date so she can ensure a smooth handoff and continuity of processes.
From towns like Dedham to cities as large as New York, and every size municipality in between, it’s been incredibly inspiring to see local government leaders stepping up. In many ways now, local government is being forced to think and act like an entrepreneur.
Build completely new systems
We’ve worked with partners in the past who still relied on walking from building to building to hand-deliver paperwork. Suddenly these agencies were given an order to close their offices and find a way to work remotely. Many have adopted quickly. We’ve seen our partners bring hundreds of essential forms online incredibly quickly and demonstrate willingness to move rapidly to fully embrace digital systems.
Find what works and scale quickly
Just because government agencies have to move quickly doesn’t mean they can skirt protocol. Many still have to follow tedious protocol — but now they must follow it at scale.
In Lynchburg, Virginia, we saw one partner create a remote work application for employees and in minutes clone that process across 25 different departments so that everyone in the agency could follow procedure for working from home.
As Luan Hunt, Coordinator of Communications and Marketing for Lynchburg explains, “We started our remote work process with this application because our Strategic Management Team for COVID-19 needed to see the big picture. Over 400 employees responded to this form we sent out through SeamlessDocs, and about 80 percent of them were eligible to work from home if the need arose.”
This was also the case in Mesquite, NV, where the city’s IT Director, Dirk Marshall, reached out to us for help converting a FEMA emergency funds request form that requires more than a hundred form fields. Knowing their resources and capabilities, they leaned on us to templatize that form for them, which we were able to do in minutes. Now the Mesquite team — and a lot of our other partners — can duplicate that FEMA form for every employee and ensure accurate time tracking throughout this crisis.
Nearly every local government website we encounter now has a dedicated coronavirus response page that they’re using to communicate with citizens on a daily or even hourly basis. The situation for many of these local governments remains fluid, and citizens need to know they can rely on their local government for accurate information and clear direction. Princeton, NJ, has even gone so far as to create a dedicated Twitter handle (@PrincetonCovid) to communicate updates.
In certain areas, governments are asking businesses to close unless they are essential. But because the term “essential” can be construed in so many different ways, it’s causing a lot of friction between businesses and government. Alachua County, FL, in which you can find Gainesville and the University of Florida, created an application for local businesses who aren’t sure if they’re essential or not.
And in many areas across the country now, governments have set up volunteer forms to make it easier for citizens to apply to help without having to leave their homes first.
Stepping up to meet the challenge
Maybe another time I can talk more about the challenges of selling B2B software to government agencies. The sales cycles are definitely longer than a typical B2B SaaS product, and the fact that we very often lose our champion and have to resell the product to an existing customer every four years has made life interesting.
What I can tell you right now is that “normal” has gone out the window. Sales cycles have gone from six months to 24 hours. Adoption of new technology and onboarding processes have been fast-tracked. Suddenly, agencies that were apt to move carefully have mobilized an all-hands effort to effect change for citizens and staff ASAP. Their determination to move quickly to ensure the safety of everyone is inspiring.
At this point, everyone is flying by the seat of their pants, and I’d argue that government agencies in particular are being yanked from their comfort zone the fastest. I’m happy and encouraged to report that, by and large, they’re stepping up to meet this challenge.