Reimagining IT Teams to Support Government Service Delivery

When you have to apply for services like health care, unemployment insurance or SNAP benefits, you need that critical interaction with the government to go smoothly. As more of these services move away from in-person or over-the-phone interactions to remote and online connections, there’s greater dependency on technology to reach end users. Because of this, IT teams should be seen as instrumental in supporting government service delivery.

While innovation teams like USDS, 18F and various state and local digital service teams are assisting on these initiatives, this type of thinking shouldn’t just be reserved for new technologists coming into government. The mission of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (or OCIO) has always been to find ways technology can support departments and agencies. These offices and IT teams need to augment their traditional responsibilities like asset management, systems administration and technology procurement with product development and digital service delivery capabilities.

To move towards a digital service delivery model, IT teams should embrace a product mindset where they focus on creating technology that addresses the needs of end users, such as patients, residents looking for housing and families that need food assistance. This requires bringing in new skills and competencies around things like human-centered thinking and product management. Currently, teams hire for traditional roles like help desk support representatives, network administrators, system administrators, IT project managers, QA testers, systems engineers, and security analysts. Additionally, CIOs should also hire common product development and tech roles such as product managers, user researchers, user experience designers, data scientists, software engineers, site reliability engineers and DevOps engineers.

The shift to include product development and digital service delivery capabilities is a huge transformation that’s not going to happen overnight. Teams can start by hiring a handful of these roles or shifting qualified staff into them. Instead of rolling something out all at once, begin by having in-house product team members help craft the vision for software projects that get outsourced to vendors and contractors to build. These technical experts can start by working with one program office on a project and adapt and scale up from the lessons learned from that engagement.

Continue to make delivering digital tools to support service delivery a part of the CIO strategy. IT teams can take advantage of their knowledge working within government, relationships they’ve built with leadership, and existing technical expertise to create a collaborative culture that breaks down silos between IT and program offices and directorates. These teams should be seen as a partner to programs to help achieve the agency and department’s goals.

With the spend for federal government IT projects at about $90 billion annually, there is more than enough work to go around to improve the public’s experience of interacting with government and its many systems. In order to better serve the needs of the people engaging with these services, CIOs and IT teams across all levels of government need to place a stronger emphasis on product development by hiring tech talent, leading IT projects and fostering a partnership with programs. These steps should help government IT teams shift from a traditional IT culture to one where innovative digital service delivery happens.

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Jenn Noinaj is a social impact strategist, researcher, and designer passionate about using design to solve society’s most pressing challenges. She’s currently leading the Public Interest Technology Field Building portfolio at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation where she works on creating solutions to make the public interest technology field more inclusive. Prior to this role, she worked in the federal government at the US Digital Service where she partnered with various agencies to transform digital services across government, building capacity in technology and design and championing a user-centric culture. You can find more about her on her website and can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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