From Too Much Mail to Data Modernization

It may not be a surprise anymore that modernizing tools and processes is imperative to serving citizens — and noncitizens, for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — with faster, more intuitive and more responsive services.

“People’s expectations are not going down,” said Jeffrey Levy, Deputy Chief of Digital Services at USCIS during GovLoop’s virtual summit session “Data Modernization’s Impact on Citizen Experience.”

At USCIS, digital modernization is key to better data management and, ultimately, better experiences for applicants who apply for visas, permanent residency, citizenship and asylum.

For example, the use of online forms can cut down time and error from mailing applications back and forth that require fields such as signatures to be filled out, Levy noted. Without a signature, the agency must reject an application and mail it back to the applicant. Digitally, however, the form requires that the applicant sign the form to submit it in the first place.

“Right off the bat, we saved you trouble and we saved us the trouble of having to send it back to you,” Levy said.

This example of digital transformation reduces errors, jettisons multiple mailing trips and gives confidence to the applicant by confirming the agency received their forms.

Internally, the same digital and automatic enhancement optimizes the interaction between systems. As different parts of the USCIS organization handle different focus areas, multiple case management systems have been in place over the years. This led to inconsistent data standards throughout the agency — one system might have a 32-character limit for names, another 40 and another 18.

Crafting an online front-end form, the agency was forced to create consistent data standards. In addition, a solution involved using a messaging system that enabled the different case management systems to interact with, or ‘talk’ to, each other. The agency uses Kafka, a message queuing system, that sends out notifications across the different systems and enables them to see and input relevant data digitally.

But what is at the heart of all these technical enhancements?

For Levy and the digital services team, data modernization efforts go back to why they are trying to optimize anything at the organization in the first place.

“When you think about what immigrants are doing — and non-immigrants, who are applying for temporary benefits — they’re trying to change their lives for the better,” Levy said. “This is critically important. It’s a high-stress situation for them, so by giving them an immediate response, that at least lets them know that off the bat.”

Fast, intuitive and responsive customer experience is the norm, Levy added.

“My argument as a public servant is that we owe them. It’s as simple as that,” Levy said.

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