Twin Strategies to Improve the Customer Experience for Government Services

By Chrystal Taylor, Head Geek at SolarWinds
Friday, 01 April, 2022

Government agencies today face ever-increasing pressure to deliver positive customer experiences to the public, more so than their corporate counterparts. Unplanned service outages don’t just lead to frustrated users — they also invite elevated public scrutiny and inquiries over the use of taxpayer funds. This is not to mention the damage to agency reputation, erosion of public trust, and doubts about the agency’s ability to serve the general public.

These table stakes will only grow as federal, state and local agencies continue to digitise and bring public services, databases and information online. Can government agencies deliver an exceptional customer experience without breaking the bank?

Below are two key strategies they can employ to achieve this outcome.

Expect Things to Go South — And Plan for It

As the popular adage goes, “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Expect an outage to happen at some point, and establish a Crisis Management and Disaster Recovery plan to ensure digital infrastructure can be rapidly restored and services can be brought back online. Informing agency employees about this recovery plan also minimizes panic, reduces the risk of misinformation, and allows customer support to confidently assure users things will return to normal within a short period of time.

Instead of troubleshooting and discovering the root cause of outages, such a recovery plan is meant to reinstate agency infrastructure, digital services, or IT assets back to an acceptable level of operation, allowing the agency to continue delivering quality service to the public. To achieve this, the plan should include the following:

  • Regular backups of mission-critical systems and assets. Schedule regular tests for backup restoration and assign agency stakeholders to understand and execute the various steps needed to restore these systems and assets.
  • A response plan for different scenarios or threats. Responses to outages caused by human error will differ from responses to cyberattacks. Train agency stakeholders to identify and differentiate these scenarios and have detailed response plans for each.
  • Infrastructure and data monitoring solutions. Monitoring should form the bulk of preventative measures. Studying correlations in monitoring data shows patterns and reveals the reason for outages, which informs troubleshooting and future prevention measures.
  • Service redirects and messaging to users. Ensure redirection of affected public-facing sites to a temporary webpage with messaging, customer support, and updates on the outage. User communication is key — keep users in the loop and be transparent to avoid excessive complaints.
  • Procedures for third-party service outages. What happens when outsourced cloud or software as a service (SaaS) solutions go down? In addition to enforcing third-party service-level agreements (SLAs), keep an alternative list of providers or vendors the agency can rapidly switch to as a backup.

Build Security Into Everything

It goes without saying cybersecurity is non-negotiable for government agencies, especially for those with databases of sensitive citizen or federal data. Without strong cyber defences, agencies are vulnerable to bad actors and cyber criminals who will attempt to bring public services offline to access data or disrupt national stability. The fallout is obvious: public outcry over the ability of government agencies to safeguard sensitive data and protect vital services against external threats.

Fortunately, government agencies have a multitude of digital solutions at their disposal to defend against today’s most sophisticated cyber threats. Some of the measures they can implement immediately include the following:

  • Establish an internal cybersecurity team. The remit of this team includes reviewing and implementing cybersecurity practices and solutions, threat monitoring, and ensuring compliance with data or cybersecurity laws.
  • Employ a zero-trust mentality. Educate and train government employees to never click links, download files, or provide access to anyone until verification and authorisation have been given by internal cybersecurity teams. Ensure access to resources is granted on an as-needed basis, regularly reviewed, and revoked when no longer needed. Grant only the minimum required permissions to reduce risk.
  • Monitor, monitor, and monitor. Employ a security monitoring solution designed to log user behaviour and automatically analyse data to identify suspicious activity, notify IT personnel, and record threats and bad actors in an internal database for future reference or audits.
  • Consider new measures like application containerization. Placing critical services and applications within containers allows cybersecurity teams to treat them as “endpoints,” which can be monitored and secured with greater intensity than if they were in a virtual machine with a hypervisor.

Implementing the above strategies in tandem will better equip government agencies to meet public expectations for more accessible and stable online services — expectations that have only increased over the pandemic. Agencies capable of meeting these expectations with stability, security, and speed will obtain the favour of the general public, better secure their funding, and become a shining example for others to emulate.

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