Obtaining government services in a timely and efficient manner has long presented an aggravating challenge for citizens across the United States. In order to complete a simple errand, residents often must plan a trip to a specific government office, interrupting their daily schedule and creating an unnecessary hassle. A task as straightforward as renewing a driver's license can easily turn into an all-day affair. Most government services are only available during typical working hours, from 7am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Furthermore, many government offices are inconveniently located a significant distance from the customer's home or work. The offices themselves are often characterized by a dingy atmosphere, long lines, and less than helpful customer service. Too frequently, residents discover that they did not bring the appropriate documents or have spent an hour standing in the wrong line. The State of California realized that they needed to find a way to provide improved services but with limited funds.
In 1991, California's Health and Welfare Agency Data Center (HWDC), in partnership with IBM, set out to make government services easily accessible by establishing Info/California in the Sacramento and San Diego counties. Based on the "Hawaii Access" model, Info/California enables the public to receive a wealth of information about dozens of local, state, and federal government programs at computer kiosks conveniently located in shopping malls, libraries, grocery stores, and other public places. Because each kiosk is networked to central computers at a wide range of government agencies, residents are able to conduct entire government transactions at the Info/California kiosks without ever having to actually visit the government office.
Using computer technology, the system provides a single point of contact for information about government services ranging from employment and welfare to transportation, health care, and education. By simply touching a computer screen, users can find out how to recycle old batteries, report child abuse, re-register cars, or order a copy of a birth certificate. Tasks that can be completed directly at the kiosks can be paid for by credit card. If a visit to a government office is necessary, Info/California informs the user where to go and what documentation will be necessary. Through Info/California, the public can reach government services outside normal business hours, at convenient locations, and in English or Spanish.
Between October 1991 and February 1993, Info/California logged 184,729 user sessions, more than half of which occurred outside typical government business hours. Three-quarters of surveyed clients reported finding the system easy to use, and over half said Info/California saved them a telephone call, letter, or trip to a government office. The most common requests were for help in finding employment and obtaining information about schools, colleges, and student aid. As of 1993, 15 kiosks offered information on 90 programs operated by 30 different agencies, and the State was actively working on expansion efforts, including the incorporation of several additional languages. To make Info/California as comprehensive as possible, city and county governments throughout California work with the State to enhance the system via the addition of information and transactions specific only to their jurisdiction. In addition, numerous states across the country have expressed interest in replicating Info/California-type services in their jurisdictions.