Kiss the Documents! How the City of Ghent Digitizes Its Service Processes
Situation faced: The case focuses on the digitization of service processes in the City of Ghent. Front-office e-services are integrated into the corporate website and into the back office thanks to digitization of the internal way of working in value chains. Before 2014, the City’s digital services were limited primarily to web forms offered by three departments for taxes, mobility and parking affairs, and citizens’ affairs in a non-integrated way, as the departments used different applications and a considerable amount of manual work in the back office. Other departments focused primarily on downloadable forms that were available on the corporate website. Customers could also create profiles for some services, resulting in multiple user names and passwords to be managed for the same customer. Because of this silo mentality, the digital investments did not pay off, and a more integrated approach was needed to make the digital service processes more efficient in terms of return on investment (ROI) and customer-oriented.
Action taken: The City of Ghent formulated a digitization vision based on fifteen reusable building blocks, including that facilitate the use of an authentication platform, a single customer profile, a digital signature platform, and a service-oriented architecture. These building blocks guide projects that digitize the total value chains or business processes. To stimulate reuse, the building blocks were built as generic components or process activities that e-services typically contain (e.g., “create profile,” “pay electronically”). The generic components were first translated to the digitization of three pilot chains regarding taxes, environment-related subsidies, and citizens’ affairs. The pilots were chosen based on their having volunteered to participate and their opportunities to take advantage of digitization.
Results achieved: Although the pilot for citizens’ affairs is still running, the results of the pilots for digital tax submissions and environment-related subsidies are already positively perceived. All environment-related subsidy requests are now digitally processed in the back office, with a digital alternative in place for the process steps of receiving and responding to the subsidy requests in the front office since 2015. The number of digital tax submissions increased to a third of all submissions in 2016, compared to only five percentage in 2014, while the number of input forms was cut in half in favor of prefilled tax proposals. Besides being generalized to apply to all services in the City of Ghent, the digitization approach with building blocks and building projects will also be applied in other business processes and future projects such as a participation platform or intranet, so it is not exclusive to e-services. The main idea is to develop once and then to reuse it maximally.
Lessons learned: The case concludes with five lessons learned, from which other public and private organizations may benefit. First, from the perspective of reuse and inter-organizational collaboration, data about products or services should align semantically with external partners. The City of Ghent used linked open data for this purpose. Two lessons learned promote a pragmatic approach to achieving success by concretizing initial principles and temporary workarounds to achieve quick wins. The fourth lesson was the need for assistance by an internal support office or competence center. Finally, the demonstrated advantages arise from working with a single profile per customer, rather than working in silos.
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