I’ll refrain here from my urge to inject cynicism upon hearing the US government wants to take a more user-friendly and efficient approach to serving its citizens online.
Instead, we’ll applaud United States Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, who just appointed the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows. These 18 hand-picked, private-sector leaders will spend the next six months in Washington working on five impactful digital projects. Their mandate: to help better connect US citizens to government information, data, and services, all part of the Digital Government Strategy unveiled in May.
Embracing new ideas and technology to solve real problems and deliver winning customer experience management (CXM) strategies is separating winners from losers in business, so why not government? Thinking holistically from the point of view of your customers is at the center of Forrester’s new book, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, by my colleagues Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine.
Each of the Fellows’ projects is compelling. You can read more about them here. (Follow the Feds’ innovation on Twitter at #digitalgov and #innovategov.)
Two projects in particular caught my eye.
MyGov: A small team of user experience, web design, and engineering pros is trying to consolidate the government’s sprawling web footprint. The goal of this prototyping project is to create sites and digital experiences focused on the wants and needs of real people - not built around the often indecipherable structure of a massive federal bureaucracy. It will consolidate more than 1,200 federal websites (you read that number right) and dozens of web content management tools into a more manageable system. Essentially, the goal is to build an intuitive platform so people like you and me don’t get mired in a tangled mess of web content, information, services, and data. So kudos to them.
Open Data Initiative: This team hopes to foster innovation by accelerating ways for entrepreneurs and other organisations to access and use government data to create practical tools and applications. The intent is to unlock data, allow it to be exposed in new ways, and create job opportunities (application developers) and information deliverables. Examples of this in action, cited by Park: apps and services that help people find the right healthcare provider, identify the college that provides the best value, and promote safety by highlighting product recalls. This team also brings together an amalgam of skills, for example, a web efficiency expert, an open data researcher, a software engineer, and a robotics entrepreneur.
I love the fact that Park isn’t a lifelong bureaucrat. He has silicon in his veins. He has been a tech entrepreneur (he co-founded health IT company Athenahealth) and clearly understands the opportunity to leverage technology, networks, and data and add a dose of innovation to better serve his increasingly digital-minded customer base of 300 million Americans. Talk about massive set of user personas.
Reimagining the federal government online is not just a tech problem, data access problem, or user experience problem. It’s all that and more. It’s a core value that needs to be established and reinforced organizationwide. We’re in a transition period where enterprise leaders should be viewing the shift toward digital and exceptional customer experiences as a massive opportunity. Park’s challenge is to encourage the government - as entrenched as its gets - to rethink old models and reform its outward-facing image to be more citizen-centric.
Breaking the mold can be a great thing. It sounds like Park has permission to use a sledgehammer.