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How to Design for Customers in the Open

Improving constituents’ everyday experiences is just as much an inside job as it is an outward-facing one. Organizational culture, how failure is defined and employees’ ability to collaborate in the open are factors of success.

“It’s also important to recognize that customer experience isn’t just an IT problem,” said Sebastian Dunne, Principal Solution Architect at enterprise software company Red Hat. “It has to be much more than dumping it on the IT team to ‘fix the website.’ There have to be more creative approaches, and you have to involve the right people.”

Dunne knows the power of collaboration and openness because it’s in Red Hat’s DNA. This mindset shapes how his colleagues interact with government partners such as North Carolina. The state needed an agile system with strong security capabilities to help facilitate its return-to-work strategy.

Within four weeks, the state had an operational system. It provides 60,000-plus employees with a self-service approach for sharing vaccination status or a negative COVID-19 test before returning to work. Human resources (HR) teams can regularly track the data, send reminder emails and generate reports, among other tasks. The solution included the Red Hat OpenShift container and Kubernetes platform, which allowed business owners and developers to work swiftly to develop the new application without worrying about the underlying infrastructure.

Dunne shared how agencies can foster richer experiences internally and for the public.

Design with others and in the open

“The basis of everything we do is that the more people involved in an open source project, the better the results are going to be,” Dunne said of Red Hat’s open source development model. “The more eyeballs on it, the more ideas you’re generating.”

Don’t punish failure

“Fail fast doesn’t mean fail catastrophically,” Dunne said. “Think of it as a license to experiment.”

Agencies can progress further and faster when they accept that they can’t and won’t know all the requirements or have all the answers as they’re building applications, he said. But they need a license to test, iterate and adjust based on usage data, customer feedback and other metrics. The bottom line: Learn from the customers.

Require security by design

One of the painful lessons from the pandemic is that there is an unacceptable cost to failure, Dunne said. Providing access to secure and reliable systems that the public depends on is among the areas where government can’t fail.

Although agencies can and should glean from the best that commercial software companies have to offer, security must be a central driver of great CX, not an afterthought. Red Hat OpenShift allows agencies to create software development pipelines “out of the box” and include automated security testing as part of every build of the application.

“There needs to be ways of measuring success and understanding what customers expect and what a successful service looks like,” Dunne said.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “Customer Experience Beyond Memos: A How-To Guide.” Download the full guide here.

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