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States cut costs with high-tech payment systems

The North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

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State, county, and local governments are realizing huge financial benefits of incorporating streamlined payment systems while improving its citizens’ impressions of agencies ranging from the Department of Motor Vehicles to departments responsible for health and human services.

In a symposium held Wednesday by PayIt, a contractor that offers local governments a digital platform to accept online payments, presenters emphasized the importance of modernizing government service delivery, without the need for immediate backend upgrades, in less than 90 days.

“Having a separate back-end from a front-end really allows use of flexibility to remove friction for your residents to interact with you,” said Katie Beth DeSchepper, Vice President of Client Solutions of PayIt.

The company, she said, was designed with simplicity in mind.

“Software as a Service allows agencies to take best practices and implement them with your business processes in mind in an easy way,” DeSchepper said. “That’s why we are able to have a fast implementation.”

Implementation averages just 90 days because the front end technologies operate separately from back-end systems, allowing governments to use the same system across departments.

North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles replaced a 45-year old mainframe system with PayIt technologies, DeSchepper said.

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“The result makes it easy and simple for residents, allowing the experience to look like a swan on water.” 

To date, myNCDMV has collected $2.8 billion in revenue online, and two-thirds of North Carolina drivers using the platform. Tar Heel residents have created six million GovWallet accounts, and three million people have used online systems to renew their license plates.

Using the same system across agencies, residents can use one login to pay other bills, like a water bill or a property tax bill.

In fact, it’s already happening in city, county, and state platforms simultaneously. DeSchepper described how myWyco allows residents of Kansas City, Kan., part of Wyandotte County, to pay taxes and services across all three jurisdictions with just one profile, one wallet, and one platform.

DeSchepper said the cross-jurisdiction application can help governments lower costs by modernizing digital operations.

“High-frequency transactions first make complete sense. The quick renewal, the property tax payment, get those things done first,” she said. “It’s 20% work for 80% of the audience.”

Governments that are tempted to build their own systems in-house would run into financial squeezes, the company said.

“Building software in house requires a certain level of expertise, the right mix of people to support this effort,” said Michael Gutierrez, PayIt’s senior director of technical operations.“Time is a big factor. We want to go as fast as possible. Agencies tend to take a lot of time. Quality is another example.”

Support and maintenance such as bug fixes, security enhancements, and software updates all require time — and employees.

Adopting new payment systems and new technologies can generate resistance, both from internal government workers who operate the systems and residents who are used to interacting with government in a particular way.

“With the bureaucratic process, a lot of groups want to participate, for well-intentioned reasons, but sometimes this can slow down or impede progress,” said Jason Powell, PayIt’s director of implementation.

Powell said agencies considering implementing new systems should build internal coalitions, similar to the way legislators build support for a bill.

“It begins with building a stakeholder group for buy-in, champions who can interact with and build a coalition of support,” said Powell. “Highlight the benefits of moving forward,” he said, by providing case studies of successes as a playbook to reiterate and grow momentum.

Even state governments are surging forward in implementing modernization, DeSchepper said.

“States are starting to lean into one citizen portal,” she said, “to deliver a consumer-driven model approach, like e-commerce, from the government.”

PayIt advises governments to keep consumer-facing front-end systems distinct and separate from the back-end system that faces the government workers.

“You get greater flexibility and modularity with separate solutions,” Powell said. “Every city or state has reasons to modernize with keeping residents at the center. The big benefit is making sure the resident has a great experience.”

— Laura Plaia is a freelance editor and writer based in Alexandria, Va.