"If you had called our call centers immediately after Hurricane Harvey, you could have waited 45 minutes or longer," Sullivan said. "In some cases, people were waiting an hour."
About a year ago, TDI centers were able to answer a call in 95 seconds, on average. In March of this year, the average wait was about 30 seconds.
Since the days of dealing with the aftermath of Harvey, TDI has seen a similar boost of efficiency with license processing. In 2019, the average time for processing a license was 5.6 days. Today, TDI can process a license in a little more than 24 hours.
How did TDI get to this point? Sullivan believes any government organization that wants to modernize must draw from best practices as it evaluates its technology backbone.
"We would hold whatever it was we were doing up and compare it to the relevant agencies, including the private sector," Sullivan said. "You had to take a hard look at what the cutting edge looked like and at what the very best players are doing. When you can, you need to benefit from their experience and, very candidly, copy them."
TDI Chief of Staff
When it comes to modernizing infrastructure and practices, Sullivan and Clark both acknowledged that government often finds itself in a tough spot because of budgets. When money is tight, Clark said technology is an "easy budget line item to cut." And traditional state procurement isn't fast. Given this reality, Clark recommended maximizing existing vendors and contracts, as well as keeping an open mind.
Sullivan added that he's been surprised by what TDI has been able to do by being willing to deploy resources and aggressively take action.
"Just because we're government doesn't mean we can't be best in class," Clark said.
Such a mindset led to TDI's successful adaptation to the COVID-19 crisis. By the time COVID-19 disrupted society, TDI had already moved most of its staff to laptops. Sullivan said TDI had also prioritized telecommuting in general, mainly to give the organization a recruiting edge.
"It was with a motive in mind," Sullivan said. "We work with issues of government compensation. We often are not able to go toe to toe with the private sector, while at the same time we need many of the same people who have the same technical skills. We need to hire actuaries. We need to hire lawyers. We need to hire a lot of folks that are highly compensated, and in certain circumstances, they can be in high demand."
The emphasis on telecommuting could be more attractive to recruits for multiple reasons. Real estate in
The silver lining of any crisis is that it reinforces the need for an organization to continue modernizing, Clark said. TDI is still in the process of moving to the cloud, and Clark hopes to see that completed before the end of the calendar year. The agency is also moving forward with an artificial intelligence program that will significantly cut down on the time it takes to review policy forms. Clark estimated that AI and machine learning could review about 80 percent of such forms, which would allow staff to concentrate on more complicated policy-related language.
Challenges remain, of course. Sullivan pointed out that provisions, rules, statutes and so forth can hamstring an agency's ability to modernize. "You would be shocked to find that there is a statute out there that might say that the company needs to fax the application to XYZ," he said.
As such, Sullivan said it's important to avoid mandates that can later become "self-inflicted wounds" when an organization wishes to change for the better.
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