Moving services online can generate significant convenience benefits for citizens and cost benefits for governments.
Allowing citizens to submit data online can help ensure better data quality, and online payment means governments can access funds more quickly and more efficiently. Citizens get the convenience of 24/7 availability and the ability to pay with a credit card. Even for citizens that face challenges accessing the internet there can be benefits to allowing online or app-based options for services – this can give governments the ability to allocate more expensive resources (typically people) to better serve citizens that may need more intensive assistance.
But providing the option to submit a form or make a payment online doesn’t always guarantee that citizens will exercise the option. Poorly designed websites and clunky online forms can discourage citizens from using these options. Looking critically at online service options and using data to enhance them can be the key to getting more people to use them – allowing governments to realize the benefits of these more efficient online options.
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One of the most common types of payments a citizen will make to a local government is for a parking citation. In fact, citizens may opt to pay a parking citation they might otherwise contest if the cost of the citation is not onerous and the process for paying is relatively easier than adjudicating it.
Yet, there are many examples where online payment of parking citations could be made simpler and more convenient for citizens if governments improved them with data that they already maintain.
Consider the example of the City of Albany’s online parking citation payment solution. This is a convenient option for anyone that gets a parking citation in the City of Albany, but in order to use it a citizen must have a citation number – something not everyone might have ready access to. In addition, what if someone wanted to search for any outstanding parking violations by searching on their license plate number (parents with teenaged drivers might fall into this category)? This is a situation where a citizen is ready to make a payment, yet the existing service does not allow them the option – a missed opportunity for the city.
The option to pay using a citation number, or to search for outstanding citations using a license plate or tag number is common in larger cities.
Ironically, Albany already makes parking citation data available as open data, including the license plate number of vehicles that have been issued citations. The city already has this data available in a ready to use format that would make it easy for a citizen to look up all citations by their vehicle license plate number and then make a payment on any outstanding citations. In fact, this is so easy to do that a simple open source solution can be built quickly and easily at virtually no cost.
By simply using data it already makes available as open data to everyone else – or encouraging others to do it – the City of Albany could enhance an existing online payment option and make it easier for citizens to pay more outstanding citations.
Cross Selling Services
When citizens visit a government website to make a payment or submit an application, governments have an opportunity to serve them more effectively by identifying other payment or service options that are available to them. This idea is fairly common in the world of online retail – consider the recommendations presented to a user when they purchase something on Amazon.com – but it is still relatively rare in the world of online government services.
Typically, when a user visits a government website to make a payment they leave once the payment is complete. But what if users were prompted to engage in another transaction, particularly one that was relevant to their interests, or their location. Some work done by the Government Digital Service in the United Kingdom suggests that prompting users to engage in another transaction after they have completed their first transaction can have an impact.
When a citizen visits a government website to make a payment for their water bill, they will need to provide the address for their account – governments can use this information to custom tailor additional payment or service opportunities. For example, if a jurisdiction has standardized address data across departments they could easily determine if the property was due for a real estate tax payment, had outstanding code violations, or even remind the citizen when refuse collection was occurring in their location.
Each transaction that occurs between a citizen and government can potentially be used as a way to provide better services by “cross selling” additional relevant information and transactions to citizens.
Moving services online can benefit both citizens and governments. By using data – much of which they already have – governments can squeeze every ounce of benefit from these online transactions, and provide higher quality services to those they serve.
 The term “cross selling” as it relates to online government services has been used extensively by Tom Steinberg, the founder and former director of mySociety.