The United States CIO launched a Digital Government Strategy in May to ensure the effective use of emerging technologies to enhance services provided to citizens. The Digital Services Innovation Center was created under this strategy to support this modernisation. Gwynne Kostin, Director of the Innovation Center, shares the objectives and accomplishments of the Center.
Governments all over the world are building a strong digital presence and using the internet to fulfil some of their duties. However, the emergence of new technologies and changing expectations from an increasingly technology-savvy public is pushing governments to provide even more services digitally and improve their quality, convenience and affordability.
To take full advantage of the rapid development and spread of new technologies available today to enhance convenience and service quality for citizens, US President Barack Obama announced the release of a
“comprehensive, government-wide digital strategy to build a 21st century digital government.” This Strategy, called the ‘Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People’ was launched in May this year.
To modernise public services, the Strategy focuses on three main goals: to enable mobile access to digital government; to ensure efficient and secure procurement and management of devices and applications by the government; and to open up federal data to the public to enhance innovation.
One of the steps recommended to achieve these objectives is the creation of a ‘Digital Services Innovation Center’ to solve common challenges that all agencies face in delivering better digital services.
“Build Once, Use Many Times”
This Digital Innovation Center, formed within the US General Services Administration (GSA), will identify and develop opportunities to share solutions for tasks such as web hosting, usability and accessibility testing and source code development among agencies. This programme consolidates the principle of “build once, use many times”. The Center will also build new government-wide solutions as needed.
“Although agencies all have specific missions, there are some things we have in common,” explains Gwynne Kostin, Director of the Center. “Agencies know that they need to do more with less, so there is great incentive for leveraging the work of other agencies in support of their own missions.”
“The Center works as a virtual organisation, bringing in talent and experience from across government,” she continues. “We have a bird’s eye view of digital innovation. We surface the good work and abstract or amplify it to be used by other agencies.”
Initially, the Center will focus on three actions to support the achievement of the Strategy’s main objectives. The first is to identify shared and open content management system (CMS) solutions and provide training and best practices to avoid agencies building their own platforms in isolation.
The second action is to help agencies develop web Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to fulfil the Strategy’s objective of making government data freely available to the public. Web APIs will give developers, entrepreneurs and other users access to government data and content to use freely.
The third task is to launch a shared mobile application development programme to give agencies the help they need to develop secure mobile applications in a ‘development test environment’, which will foster code-sharing, streamline app delivery, and validate official government applications.
One of the crucial parts of the Digital Government Strategy is the setup of required milestones that provide specific progress markers and timelines for agencies. All agencies are required to create a web page to report their progress in achieving their milestones publicly.
The Digital Innovation Center is helping agencies meet their prescribed milestones. “Great examples abound in each of the milestones we are working on,” declares Kostin. “We did a co-location project with the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Veterans Affairs and the General Services Administration to develop digital services’ governance guidance for their agencies.”
This project is a step towards achieving the milestone of establishing “an agency-wide governance structure for developing and delivering digital services”. The project has helped agencies brainstorm for effective governance models and influenced recommendations about governance structures made by the Digital Services Advisory Group — a multi-agency council set up with the objective of identifying and sharing best practices in digital services.
The Digital Innovation Center is also putting other initiatives in place to ensure that the milestones set by the Strategy are reached. For example, to fulfil its goals of helping agencies develop web APIs, the Center set up an API webinar series to help agencies understand APIs and their importance, how they relate to the future of government digital services, and how agencies can develop them.
“We are tapping into agency open source development expertise to create guides and models for open content management systems,” explains Kostin. “Every milestone and every project is a product of some of the best efforts of many agencies and at many levels – from IT to policy, to web management and social media, and to legal and programme management.”
Currently, the Center is working with agencies to meet the milestone of implementing performance and customer satisfaction measuring tools on all government websites. The Center has developed a ‘Metrics toolkit’ to standardise and streamline measurement, analysis, and reporting of the effectiveness of agencies’ digital channels, and use the data to make improvements in service.
The toolkit provides best practices, guidance and rationale for common metrics, tools and requirements for reporting. It comes equipped with case studies and training resources to help agencies get started on measuring and improving the success of their services among customers.
“Ultimately, the measure of our success is how are we doing in meeting the expectations of the public and making digital information and services available anytime, anywhere and on any device — securely and efficiently,” says Kostin. “The milestones define our success, at least for the first year.”
Milestones that the Center is currently working on are expected to be met by 23 November 2012, according to timeline set by the Strategy. Most of the remaining milestones are targeted for May 2013.
The Center will provide support on many of the efforts of different agencies to achieve their milestones. These include ensuring that all new IT systems follow the open data, content, and web API policy. Agencies also need to ensure that all new digital services follow the digital services and customer experience improvement guidelines, and optimise at least two existing priority customer-facing services for mobile use.
“Everything is focused on the remaining six and 12 month deliverables,” adds Kostin. “Over the coming year, the public will be able to access and use more government information than ever before.”