Investments in digital services have become a staple for governments of all sizes seeking to make antiquated operations more user-friendly and efficient. For the Defense Department’s (DoD) internal digital SWAT team, this was especially true as it overhauled the outdated system that hundreds of thousands of service members rely on to manage permanent and temporary relocations.
Challenge: Managing Complex Military Moves With an Antiquated System
Each year, nearly 425,000 service members and their families undergo the permanent change of station process or longer-term assignments that require them to move to a different part of the country or world. The bulk of those moves — roughly 180,000 — occurs in a three-month period between June 1 and Sept. 1.
The Defense Personal Property System (DPS), which DoD uses to manage these moves, was technically challenged, said Jeff Clark, Digital Service Expert at Defense Digital Service (DDS). “It was meant to manage the process, not to help the service member,” Clark said, and uptime was unreliable.
Exacerbating the issue was the fact that spouses of service members couldn’t log in to the system and coordinate moving plans. Only service members were authorized to log in, and they had to use their government credential, or Common Access Card (CAC).
Solution: Overhaul the System and User Experience
U.S. Transportation Command, which facilitates DoD’s relationship with moving companies and storage providers for household goods, reached out to DDS for help.
DDS partnered with the command to replace the old system with a new solution that eases the burden and stress for military personnel who are reassigned to new duty locations.
A big component of the discovery sprint, or the process for understanding stakeholders’ pain paints, involved gathering service members and their spouses in a room to walk the DDS team through their experiences and share what capabilities they wish they had at their disposal, said Katie Olson, DDS Chief of Staff.
Using that feedback, DDS rebuilt Move.mil, the informational website for service members’ moves. The DDS team also initiated the system’s replacement with a mobile-friendly web application called MilMove, which allows military personnel and their families to log their orders and plan for their upcoming moves.
As part of the transformational process, DDS led an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contract. DoD sometimes uses OTAs, which are generally exempt from federal procurement laws and regulations, to develop prototypes and contract for follow-on production of a successful prototype project. In this case, an OTA enabled the team to continue working with the software firm Truss to expand the prototype, said Clark, who served as Product Manager for MilMove.
The team also brought in an all-women user experience (UX) design shop called Sliced Bread out of Silicon Valley to help them take a user-centered approach to transformation. That meant engaging with and documenting how users responded to system improvements.
Roughly five months after DDS kicked off the project, it delivered a minimum viable product. As is the case with DDS projects, the team transitioned MilMove back to the command in September 2019 for continued development and expansion.
Military branches rolling out MilMove include the Air Force first, followed by the Marine Corps and the Army.
Outcome: Seamless, Secure and Faster Online Process
Among the benefits that the new system and capabilities provide are ease of use and speed, Clark said. Using DPS, it took over an hour just for users to log in. The first service members to test MilMove did it in less than 30 minutes. Using an iterative process to tweak user experience, the team then offered a mobile version that allowed service members to upload their permanent change of station orders to the system using their phone cameras. The overall process decreased to about five minutes for simple moves.
The DDS team used login.gov, the government’s authentication and identity proofing platform, to make online interactions with MilMove simpler and more intuitive. Instead of using a CAC to confirm who they were before logging in, service members received a login.gov account that they could use across multiple government systems to prove their identity.
“One of the other pieces of it, which I think is important… [is] sometimes our projects do lead to policy changes,” Olson said. For instance, now spouses can log in to book movers, coordinate insurance and complete other tasks.
For DDS, the ultimate goal is not just creating prototypes or new products, but also changing policies that permeate the department and improve lives, Olson said.
This blog is an excerpt from our recent guide, “Technology Transformation Strategies: From Idea to Implementation.” Download the full guide here for best practices.