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Putting the ‘U’ in User Experiences in Government

Nobody knows about the pains of bureaucracy more than bureaucrats themselves. And when a citizen in a government office wonders why the line they’re waiting in is so long, the worker on the other end of the line likely has a good idea.

It could be they’re dealing with old, slow printers and computers. It could be they’re facing a challenge they weren’t trained for. It could be they’re maneuvering through a process designed for the 1960s.

User experience in government doesn’t just boil down to technology – it refers to how easy or difficult it is for government employees to get their job done. And the processes, practices and systems of government all play a part.

Wednesday afternoon during GovLoop’s virtual summit, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) Ed Toner and Craig Orgeron discussed how they are equipping their workforces with the tools they need to offer better customer experiences to constituents.

“Focusing on internal users really lets them give their customers more of their time [and] a better experience,” Toner, who is the CIO of Nebraska, said during the “Gov Puts the Focus on YOU – Making User Experience a Priority” session.

The word “you” in government works in two senses – describing the overall body of users and each individual user.

Several initiatives out of Toner’s department are working to those lengths.

Firstly, Toner conducts open house sessions for different agencies, where users can come and get a feel for what IT has to offer. More than that, they can ask direct questions of Toner and his staff so that they can work to a solution possible for all parties.

“It’s tough to figure out whether your customer is really happy or your people are really happy unless you ask them,” Toner said, including that they’ve also looked to more surveys.

Toner has also embedded IT representatives into every agency.

When multiple agencies have a chance to be heard, IT can source the best solutions that are workable for all parties, IT and users. A solution for one agency could also work for others.

These open houses have brought IT and users closer together. Too often, Orgeron said, agencies drift apart from one another and intergovernmental services.

“Agencies can drift apart naturally more easily that they come together,” Orgeron, CIO and the Director of the IT Services Department for Mississippi, said.

Agencies also need to individualize the experience for users. Nebraska is focusing on personalization with the use of self-service portals for IT tickets.

These portals track the status of tickets, automatically report updates and even allow users to compare their wait times to those of other projects, improving fairness. Toner said he receives big-picture automated reports too, as does the governor. If times for projects are continually increasing, then he can know there’s a problem and reach out to an IT point of contact placed within each agency or look for more sweeping changes.

User experience is also important when it comes to workforce recruitment and hiring, Orgeron and Toner agreed. A major initiative in Mississippi is to update job descriptions and classifications so that candidates have a better sense of where they’re applying to and ITS has a better sense of who’s applying. The hope is Mississippi will have less vacancies and more highly trained personnel in emerging fields of cybersecurity, cloud and other capabilities because of the more accurate job descriptions.

Meanwhile in Nebraska, Toner has targeted eliminating wait times for new hires to receive their equipment and access to systems. Onboarding is part of the self-service IT portal, and the entire process is scripted – with much of it automated. Within five minutes, Toner said, users can have their ID, credentials and request for a laptop processed.

Orgeron said that to improve the experience of users, ITS is looking beyond technology as well, recognizing that culture is a big component of user experience. That’s why ITS has encouraged employees to get outside more during breaks and embraced a fitness center on its shared campus. And more is on the way.

“We’d really like a win in telework or remote work area,” Orgeron said.

Toner and Orgeron also agreed that as technology evolves and change continues in offices, communication is key. Leaders need to hear out users, whether through self-service portals, collaborative activities, surveys or town halls.

“When you’re trying to communicate new processes or new procedures, you have to communicate why,” Toner said.

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