Why Government Should Reimagine Its Digital Services

The steady seeping of increasingly advanced technology into every aspect of our lives is having significant impacts. Many citizens now rely on incredibly powerful technology every day to find the best travel routes, track their health or even decide which new restaurant to try. For example, the modern iPhone is 120,000,000 times faster than the Apollo Guidance Computer that helped astronauts land safely on the moon.

Governments, in response to the new digital age, have increased their reliance and use of technology. It is now standard practice for an agency to conduct much of its business online and to cultivate an active and enthusiastic presence on social media. But these changes require governments to change some of the ways they function.

Citizens expect that digital government will function with greater ease than in the past, Greg Reeder, Director for Department of Defense Innovation at Adobe explained during GovLoop’s online training, Rethink Your Agency’s Digital Experiences. To satisfy this desire, agencies must focus on the user experience as they develop and improve their digital services.

Ensuring each user has a positive experience is critical, Reeder said, because they are one of the only ways to break through the noise of normal life and have an impact. Since citizens are using websites and technology all the time, it is easy to get lost in the crowd unless your website or application stands out.

According to Reeder, to ensure a positive experience, agencies should focus on four aspects of digital services:

  1. Compelling- The only thing better than a website that is easy to use is one that is both easy and fun to use. Agencies should be careful not to lose focus on creating an attractive and engaging website as a result of the emphasis on function.
  2. Personal- Obviously, government agencies cannot be expected to create a personalized website targeted at every individual citizen they serve. But agencies can simulate this personalization by including access to all agency services and a means for users to contact the agency itself.
  3. Useful- An agency website is only a smart investment if users can navigate it easily, find the information they need and complete agency tasks without trouble. This may mean that agencies need to rethink procedures such as customer service and appointment scheduling.
  4. Everywhere- Consumers want to have constant access to digital services. This means that governments should ensure that their websites are easily accessible via all kinds of devices.

Bringing your agency’s digital services up to this standard requires a lot of investment, both in terms of money, time and people. Unfortunately, not everyone understands or appreciates why this investment in accessible technology makes sense. In this situation, it can be challenging to motivate your agency to make the necessary changes.

Bernetta Reese, Digital Manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is an expert at leading agencies to embrace digital services. As a central manager for all things digital for more than 30 agencies within USDA, she has a lot of experience giving support at the department level to coordinate shared efforts that benefit each agency, their stakeholders and consumers.

Reese explained that it may not be easy to convince your agency to make the switch to user-centric digital services, but the best way to initiate momentum is to start small. Your first priority should be getting people informed and excited about the possibilities offered by effective digital government. Importantly, you should encourage support from your coworkers at all levels of the decision-making chain. When a lot of your agency is on board, it is easy to create a healthy culture that embraces digital service development and reform.

If you’re having a hard time convincing your coworkers, Reese recommends reaching out to other agencies for help. Ask another division that has implemented an effective program that improved the user experience on its website to share its experience and successes with your team. This is an excellent way to make the benefits more real.

Once your agency is on board, Reese said it is important not only to focus on improving your websites and applications, but also to make sure your agency has the right things to promote. “It’s important to have tools in place to get your message out, but it’s also important to have the content to share,” Reese explained.

Becoming more reliant on digital services offers numerous benefits. It can be easy to reduce costs, especially when expensive and cumbersome processes, such as filling out applications, can be completed virtually. Given these positives, and many others, digital government makes sense. “It’s time to switch gears and start reimagining technology,” Reeder said.

For more details on how to improve your agency’s digital services, check out the full online training here.

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