The White House is in the midst of digital transformation and everything is up for grabs in terms of what’s being worked on to make processes more efficient both for the government and those needing to interact with it.
Every agency in the United States government is looking for ways to deliver services more effectively. In today’s world, that means developing a responsive, cutting-edge digital strategy. Cloud computing, collaboration tools and mobile access are essential in the private marketplace, and people bring the same expectations when they interact with the federal government online.
Sensitive information is often transmitted when you communicate with government agencies, and these agencies must protect your personal information. You may have noticed a new level of interactivity on the IRS website, for example, but have you given any thought to the layers of innovation happening behind the scene? Here’s an overview of how the government is working to transform the way it interacts with the public.
The Response Team
The U.S. Digital Service, a government team formed in 2014, works with public agencies to streamline their service delivery and improve citizens’ experiences with the government. This team identifies and removes roadblocks to the efficient flow of information between citizens and agencies. Its mode of operation is based on best practices gleaned from public and private sources, scaling them as needed to meet individual agency demands.
More Than IT
The Digital Service team is made up of experts in a range of fields besides technology. The transformation that is underway springs from human changes as well as technical ones. For this reason, the team includes change-agents in human resources, finance, procurement and a range of other disciplines.
The Digital Service team works together with the GSA’s 18F program. This program builds the actual platforms deployed by the Digital Service to meet agency needs. It has created a cloud operations platform for all kinds of government applications so that each agency doesn’t have to develop its own cloud storage structure. The 18F program also provides support in a variety of other areas, including guidance on purchasing outside technology. A wise digital strategy involves recognizing when it’s more efficient to purchase needed software. The 18F program assists inexperienced agency staff with requesting quotes for IT services.
The Architecture of a Digital Strategy
The government’s digital strategy is built on objectives, a layered conceptual model and strategic principles. The three main objectives for this digital transformation are:
- Increase Mobile Access: Government information and services should be readily available in any location via mobile device. The mobility of today’s workforce makes this essential.
- Do It Right From the Beginning: Cautionary tales abound regarding attempts at incremental digital change. The website problems experienced during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act are only one example. The objective for the Digital Service program is to start with the right architecture from day one for an agile, up-to-date system.
- Use Data to Improve Services: The government possesses ever-increasing troves of information, and with the right software, this data can be leveraged to improve applications.
Three Layers of Digital Services
The vision for digital government is based on a conceptual model that identifies three layers of service:
- Information: This layer contains all the raw and processed information the government holds. It includes census data as well as a wide range of content such as press releases and fact sheets.
- Platform: This layer refers to systems, software and hardware, everything required to manage the information in the first layer.
- Presentation: This is the organization and delivery of information to the customer/citizen, including the entire user experience for applications and websites.
Principles to Drive the Transformation
Underlying principles must be articulated when developing the strategies to enact a digital transformation. The Digital Service Team has identified four key principles to construct a new information architecture. This approach must be information-centric, it must involve shared platforms, and it must be customer-centric. Finally, it must offer security and privacy. Here’s a brief unpacking of each of these core principles:
- An information-centric approach makes information — its structuring and organization — the highest value. Rather than beginning by asking what the consumer should experience, it’s essential to begin with organizing the information that needs to be transmitted and received. Open standards for information architecture allow for interconnections between agencies so that data assets are equally available to all.
- The shared platform principle encourages the most extensive use of systems and applications, cutting into costly redundancy and making information available through the range of devices. This principle encourages the use of open source code, crowdsourcing and common standards for information architecture.
- The customer-centric principle aspires to meet user needs through multiple channels, whether that user is in a laboratory, an office or a battlefield. It’s necessary to research and seek feedback from users to make sure they can access the information they need and can conduct their transactions as efficiently as possible.
- The principles of security and privacy must naturally balance the openness and transparency that underlie the streamlining of information movement. Vulnerable data must be protected from accidental and malicious breaches, and users must be apprised of the way in which their data will be protected throughout its life cycle.
The global project of transforming government into the digital medium is unprecedented in history. Executing this imperative change is a complex and fascinating endeavor that will utterly change your view of (and interactions with) the federal government.