3 Ways to Wow Governments (And Everyone) With Your Tech

In 2010, the framework for massive technology updates in healthcare was set in motion. It started with the introduction of the health insurance marketplace for the public sector. This resulted in hospitals, medical facilities, insurance companies, claims processors and third-party agencies racing to upgrade systems and technology for patient-account management, privacy and data security, compatibility, and simply to keep up with the changing trends. For the agencies servicing healthcare accounts, technology updates and upgrades were necessary to stand out and to survive as a provider of receivables management services.

Now, in 2017 and stepping out of the healthcare vertical, are we about to see another massive technology update impacting third-party agencies? For those in the government space, the answer is probably yes. Without launching a political debate, there is uncertainty surrounding what is taking place and will take place with the federal government as well as with state and local governments. Nonetheless, technology advancement and increasing IT budgets appear to be a priority. A report from Forrester Research published on govtech.com forecasts that IT spending at the state and local levels will overtake IT spending at the federal level as soon as this year and then continuing into 2018.1 More specifically, the report details that the largest investment will be in cloud-based software and solutions.

Technological advances are nothing new but there does appear to be an evolving understanding that a fundamental change is underway. Innovation is essential. Younger generations rely heavily on mobile devices and therefore are always “connected.” The device market is growing and changing rapidly. There is an expectation that technology in other markets is keeping up. Increased IT spending at the state and local levels could help to close this gap.

We can tie this all together by looking back at the question raised – Will any of this impact third-party agencies? Sooner or later it will so the new question is how can agencies prepare? In my opinion, agencies should upgrade their technology so it stands out as if they were attempting to sell their services to government entities. Essentially, make your operation appear cutting edge. “Appear” is the most important word in that statement because nothing needs to change with your collection process. Instead, pretend you are working a state government contract and are in a position to give them the data they need, the reports they are looking for and the analytics they want. Here are three things your agency can do to stand out:

1) Data Centralization

Use a data warehouse, data lake, master data management (MDM) system or whatever you want to name it to gather all the data from all your systems. Most agencies have many database systems in place to run the business. Common cases include collection software, client or debtor access portals, accounting software, outside vendor services and a CRM. These are all standalone systems with their own data sets. By getting as much of the overall data as you can into a central location, you are in a position to report on the entire enterprise and to use the data to really understand how the business is performing. To stand out even further, put your data centralization solution in the cloud.

2) Performance Reporting Package

Develop a package of canned reports about your agency’s performance at the portfolio level that rolls all the way up to the entire organization. There is a good chance you already have a pile of client reports to start with. Having a performance reporting package available shows you are ready to take on more business and you have an understanding of what creditors and first parties want to see from their agencies. If your client does not have hard report layout and formatting requirements, use your package to eliminate a large chunk of the new client onboarding work. You will onboard quicker and will not miss reporting deadlines with your new client.

3) Business Intelligence

An element of this includes report development but with business intelligence (BI), you are adding the bells and whistles. A BI solution can be tough to implement because similar to developing a reporting package, you must know the information that is critical and the data points that are key performance indicators. Only when those elements are understood, a slick set of dashboards and analytictype reports can be developed. To really achieve a noticeable BI solution, an outside provider is almost always necessary. BI is a popular topic these days and there are many good providers in the industry but Tableau offers the best product I have seen. I highly recommend their product and at the very least, it is worth a demo.

An initial push to upgrade your technology and keep up with trends does not have to break the budget or involve a massive overall in how your business operates. It is forecast that government IT spending will be increasing in the coming years and a few updates now could reduce the amount of work that may be required later this year or next. Additionally, the element of change is naturally a challenge and most are comfortable with the way things are but a little change now could ease the pain from a big change coming soon.

1 http://www.govtech.com/civic/Stateand- Local-IT-Spending-to-Outpace-Federal- in-2017-and-2018.html

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

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Collecting for the IRS

Last December, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) was made law by the federal government. Unlike the previous ruling which only allowed the IRS the authority to place collections with private debt collection companies, this new law went a step further by requiring the IRS to use private debt collection companies. The law also states that the IRS must begin entering into contracts within three months after the date of enactment. That time frame is rapidly closing but there is no language detailing when the IRS will actually start placing inactive tax receivables.

Last year, I wrote about agencies investing their time and dollars in preparing for a government contract, primarily for the Department of Education contract. Collecting for the IRS is a new opportunity for established agencies to get into the government space and for agencies already in the space to service another line of government receivables. There is plenty of work that can be done in advance to prepare for this opportunity.

Data security should be a primary concern. If your collection software is preventing your agency from achieving compliance and hitting security benchmarks you may want to evaluate other software options or work with your current software provider to implement additional security features. Make sure the backend database is fully encrypted and that data in transit is as well. If encryption is available, you may want to verify it is turned on because in some collection products the encryption feature is optional and turned off by default in an effort to save space. Aside from the actual software, you should review and enhance your information security policies. If you do not already have these policies documented, you should address that immediately. Policies detailing available user accounts, access privileges, password policies, and how to work with sensitive data need to be covered. If you find yourself overwhelmed with implementing or updating data security policies, a great resource to start is the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It will not answer all the questions but FISMA will provide great direction and help to set things in motion.

Simply having a strong data security policy is not good enough. Awareness of the policy and to the ever-changing landscape of compliance and data security is key as well. Awareness begins with a strong training program. Create an electronic training program that focuses on working with government data and the sensitivity of that data. In a test environment, stage examples for users to encounter and work with sensitive data in your collection software. Wherever possible, implement automated IT processes that promote awareness.

So far, I have touched on policy and procedure ideas with a focus on the operation and environment. There are many items you can fine-tune directly in your collection software as well. First and foremost, make every effort to eliminate manual processes by replacing them with automation. Every time a user manually kicks off a process, renames or moves a file, or manually retrieves/sends data with an external vendor, the likelihood for user error increases. You may be surprised to find out that most manual processes like those mentioned can be automated within your software or with custom applications that work with your collection software. Take a step back to really understand and document all your processes. Then, review the list with your team or consultant(s), pick out areas where automation is an option, and prioritize the list before beginning any design or development. Second, take the time to evaluate and enhance your workflow. Agencies should implement this practice at least twice per year. The addition of new clients, the performance of your consumer representatives, and the strengths/weaknesses of your skip tracing efforts may introduce new trends or change trends that were evaluated when your existing workflow was designed. Find something that works best for your agency. Third, develop your own performance reports. Do not rely solely on canned reports that were delivered with your collection software. Like enhancing the workflow, there are metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) meaningful for your agency. Many of the collection products have some sort of built-in mechanism for developing custom reports. If custom reporting within your software is not available, there are plenty of reporting tools with many connectors that may work with your product. Take a look at Business Objects (Crystal Reports), Cognos BI, Microsoft SSRS, or Tableau.

By refining a few of your operational policies and procedures and implementing some strategic changes in your collection software, your agency can be set up nicely for that new government contract. As with the Department of Education contract, you can bet the IRS will be gathering performance data on the agencies receiving placements and that the data will be made public via several published reports. Wouldn’t it be nice to see your agency at the top of that list?

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

Investing in Government Collections

The idea of securing a government contract should stimulate your entrepreneurial wits. Succeeding in the endeavor can be very lucrative and can help to grow your agency tremendously. As with most great rewards, there are great risks along the way so the road in between requires careful evaluation and meticulous planning. This is not something to take lightly.

Whether your agency is already working a government contract or is simply considering the opportunity, there are many areas to assess in order to avoid pitfalls along the way. The primary areas of concern are infrastructure and security. Yes, the two are related – you will see this below – and there is certainly some overlap but several subcategories within each require some real attention. In fact, it is a good idea to revisit both infrastructure and security regardless of how and what your agency is working.

When evaluating infrastructure related to government collections, I am asking you to consider hardware, physical networks and collection software.

Hardware

Is your current configuration scalable? If you are new to government collections, you are likely facing a significant increase in account and raw data volume. Ensuring there is proper disk space and processing power can eliminate delays in the most inopportune circumstance. You do not want to be ready to work your brand new accounts and have to upgrade hardware.

Physical Networks

Re-read the hardware subcategory. Everything mentioned applies for physical networks as well. In addition, what is your solution for failover? Do you have one? In the event your primary Internet service provider is down or even interrupted, make sure there is a secondary protocol for continued service. Now is the time to evaluate bandwidth as well. Check your upload and download speeds and consult your provider for upgrade opportunities. A government contract may require your agency to interface using web service technology, unique file sending and retrieving systems, or some other real-time exchange methods. Any of these could impact your network performance, especially as data volumes increase.

Collection Software

Most collection software is customizable to enable adding new tables, fields, windows, views and reports. In most cases when onboarding a new client or line of business some custom work in your software is required. Before taking on the burden exclusively, check with your collection software provider for government modules or add-ons. There may be something available that will get you 90% of what you need.

Without a doubt the most scrutinized category regarding government collections is security. Most of the subcategories mentioned in the infrastructure section are valid areas of security concern as well. Let’s evaluate a few considerations related to government collections and security.

Data

Most are aware of the recent Home Depot and Target data breach events making national news. There have been smaller instances of data security concern in the collection space as well. The point is data security is a primary concern when working a government contract. If you find yourself overwhelmed with implementing or updating data security policies and procedures, a great resource to start with is the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It will not answer all the questions or undeniably solidify your agency as foolproof for government collections but FISMA will provide great direction and help you set things in motion.

Training

Finding top-tier talent is tough. Finding and training a team to service government accounts is an even greater challenge. Before the team has been identified, create an electronic training program focused on working with government data and its sensitivity. To take it a step further, stage examples using your collection software running a test or training database. Understanding FISMA should provide plenty of detail towards constructing a training program both electronic and tangible in your collection software.

Awareness

Separate from training yet somewhat related is security awareness. It is important for everyone in your organization with access to government data to be aware of any questionable security situations. It is equally important to implement automated IT related processes to promote awareness. Single sign-on, scheduled change password policies, mass internal email reminders concerning security and awareness, eliminating wireless networks, and prohibiting the use of mobile devices are just a few examples.

There is huge opportunity and huge risk in government collections. Securing and keeping a government contract means you must be a top performer. The concept of “open data” exists in government collections. Use the significance of the Department of Education contract as an example. It is not only public knowledge of which agencies have the contract but also of how each agency is performing and ranks among the competition. My hope is the aforementioned data and technology items for consideration will help guide you in the right direction and ideally position your agency for your first or for your next government contract.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor