The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) achieved its goal set out by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to reduce the total amount of time the public spends accessing DHS services by 20 million hours as part of its Burden Reduction Initiative (BRI), according to a news release.
Additionally, DHS announced that it will establish a customer experience (CX) directorate aimed at improving the public’s interactions with DHS across the agency’s many departments.
These efforts were in response to the White House’s Executive Order (EO) on “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.” It marks a significant step toward creating a more equitable experience for U.S. citizens while keeping their security and well-being top of mind.
In spite of these and other agency successes, some national security agencies still face challenges adhering to the White House EO. These challenges can include but are not limited to legacy IT systems, talent shortages and limited budgets. As a result, many agencies are turning to emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and intelligent automation, to bridge the gaps between their current state and the future.
Why overcoming CX challenges matters for national security
Considering DHS’ mission, which is to secure the U.S. from threats at home and abroad, improving CX is not just a matter of fostering convenience for customers. In many ways, it is a matter of national security. The collection of operational and support components that comprise DHS safeguard the American people with integrity, vigilance and respect through programs that maintain the safety and reliability of our nation’s economic and physical infrastructure, maintain the safety and security of our borders, and respond to citizens in need. Streamlining the interactions with DHS for all customers is crucial to ensuring that the services that matter for U.S. citizens’ safety, security and well-being are properly maintained and operational.
Additionally, it’s critical to involve DHS employees in the CX conversation. To protect the homeland from foreign, domestic and cyber threats, DHS and other agency employees need to be freed from repetitive administrative burdens in order to focus on tasks that require more direct attention. Intelligent automation, data sharing, AI and ML are invaluable tools that help relieve employees of these work tasks so they can focus on complex tasks that protect national security.
How DHS overcame CX challenges using emerging technologies
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees were faced with time-consuming paperwork processes when reapplying for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Program. By automating part of the process and enabling online renewal forms, DHS eliminated the need for TSA employees to make in-person visits to a department office and reduced their overall renewal fees. To that end, intelligent automation played a key role in ensuring that TSA workers could prioritize aviation safety.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is a reporting tool that fire departments across the country use to report on their activities, such as wildfire response, emergency medical services and natural disaster recovery. The database is crucial to strengthening the U.S. fire safety system. However, prior to the BRI, fire department employees were tasked with manually creating reports. Since then, FEMA saved NFIRS users 2.81 million hours by replacing legacy software with online submission forms. It has also used ML-based type-ahead features, more commonly known as autocomplete, to help users fill out certain areas of its reports more quickly.
For U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP), the information submission process trade customers needed to comply with to legally transport cargo into the U.S. by ocean vessel required three hours or more to complete. By transitioning to emerging technology software that pre-populates data into online forms and reusing existing data where applicable, USCBP streamlined the process, cutting submission time down to five minutes and improving U.S. supply chain security.
Where agencies can deploy emerging technologies to enhance CX and improve national security
Agency leaders can use emerging technologies to solve common CX challenges, including:
1. Enabling online forms where appropriate: Reducing the number of in-person visits customers need to make to agency offices makes vital services much more accessible to more citizens.
2. Leveraging AI and ML to pre-populate forms and recycle data: Reducing the amount of redundant data collection customers must engage in when accessing services and benefits is an effective burden reduction strategy to save time and effort for national security.
3. Expanding accessibility with interactive voice response telephone systems: AI is breaking down language barriers. Deploying voice response telephone systems in English, Spanish and other commonly spoken languages is a simple way to improve accessibility for more customers.
4. Using intelligent automation for manual document checks: New technologies, such as biometric and facial recognition software, are useful in automating manual document checks, especially to improve security when traveling and to deliver a more streamlined customer experience.
What’s next in CX for national security
The future of building enhanced customer service and national security is likely to be shaped by several trends and developments, including:
1. Digital transformation: As more interactions move online, customer service and national security agencies will need to adapt to new technologies and channels for communication. This may include using chatbots, virtual assistants and other forms of AI to improve efficiency and responsiveness.
2. Personalization: Customers increasingly expect personalized service experiences tailored to their needs and preferences. Similarly, national security agencies must understand better and respond to different communities’ and stakeholders’ specific concerns and priorities.
3. Collaboration: Customer service and national security agencies must collaborate more closely to share information, coordinate responses and address emerging threats. This may involve new partnerships between government agencies, private-sector organizations and civil society groups.
4. Data analytics: Customer service interactions and other data sources can provide valuable insights for improving service delivery and identifying potential security risks. Data analytics tools and techniques will be increasingly crucial for extracting actionable insights from these large and complex datasets.
5. Cybersecurity: As cyber threats continue to evolve, customer service and national security agencies must stay ahead of the curve in developing new strategies and technologies for protecting against attacks and mitigating their impact.
By staying ahead of these developments and investing in new technologies and approaches, DHS agencies will build more effective and responsive systems that enhance customer satisfaction and strengthen national security.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email editor @ hstoday.us.