Increased focus on constituent experience is pushing agencies to expand and redesign their digital services. Government services have lagged behind retail, but constituent expectations haven’t. People take for granted easy online access to the information they need and expect quick and straightforward transactions that can be completed in one trip to a website. When an agency doesn’t provide that, users are left frustrated.
But agencies, under pressure from constituents, can stumble when trying to increase digital services. At a GovLoop event on Wednesday, experts shared some common pitfalls, and ways to avoid them.
Avoid These Mistakes
- Build for long-term needs. For Suresh Soundararajan, Chief Information Officer at the Virginia Department of Health, it’s essential to plan for future needs, while addressing current ones. “If your air conditioner goes down, you want to fix that, right? But you need to understand how [that fix] will impact the future,” he said. “You have to think three or four years ahead of the potential change. Because by the time you identify it, conceptualize it, and implement it, it’s already outdated.”
- Don’t assume you know the answer. “There are lots of drivers and pressures on agencies to respond to [new] requirements as they come in,” said Barbara Morton, Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer at the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Experience Office. “But if we don’t take the time to slow down and check our assumptions, that feeds right into technical debt. So, yes, we have a solution, but is it the right solution?”
- Don’t settle for a quick fix. The first answer is rarely the best answer. “One [city] had developed a very specific IT application as a homegrown solution to an issue,” explained Lata Grover, who, as Senior Advisory Strategist at ServiceNow, works with state and local governments. That solution worked initially, but over time developed issues. “A team that had many different responsibilities ended up solely focused on this small-scope IT application,” she said. “In the long term it resulted in time inefficiencies and resource inefficiencies.”
Overcome These Obstacles
- Address budgeting silos. “We’re typically budgeted by business line, so that provides incentives for focusing on your own organization and line item, rather than thinking horizontally across the department from the [constituents’] perspective,” observed Morton. “There has to an integrated way to make sure you can fund different solutions, while keeping the veteran at center.”
- Refer to the constituent perspective from the outset. “Incorporate [constituent experience] into your idea/demand management process,” said Grover. Include it in your strategic priorities and in your evaluation criteria. And remember that solutions that make processes easier for employees will also improve their response to customers. “If your priority is serving customers more quickly, the solution may not be directly customer-facing. Supporting your agents is supporting your constituents,” she said.
- Remain flexible. Priorities shift with every administration, and inevitably situations occur that require an immediate response. But agencies also need to stick to their mission. “Have a strategic plan,” said Soundararajan, “but [keep] a little bit of room and flexibility to accommodate the government and legislative mandates that come.”
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