What agencies can learn from the USDS report [Commentary]

In its annual report to Congress, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) outlined steps seven federal agencies are taking to digitize government services. These efforts should be commended as they seek to make government more efficient and more responsive.

Yet, if government is going to undergo digital transformation, it must develop a more complete strategy, rather than just one-off projects, to keep pace with the increasing digitalization of our society.

There are four key strategic imperatives that every agency should prioritize in order to accelerate their digital transformation:

1. Focus on Citizen Experiences: Today, people expect government to deliver consistent and personalized experiences. Digital platforms enable more efficient and effective interactions with government, saving both citizens and government time and money, including the time spent on follow-up calls and emails to government agencies as well as the money spent on supporting these services. Even state and local governments are facing heightened expectations. To keep up, Chicago’s Metra, the fourth busiest commuter rail system in the country, launched a new website, taking content and information directly to the people. The service boosted online ticket sales by 200 percent and improved commuter interactions with personalized advisories and warnings about service interruptions. Imagine the potential scale of efficiencies and progress that federal agencies can unleash by providing efficient digital experiences for users.

2. Make Your Experiences Mobile: We live in a mobile world. Smartphone usage doubled in the last five years and more than half of U.S. adults now own tablets. However, the majority of government experiences were designed for desktop usage. The public sector must bridge this emerging divide. There is a real risk that Americans won’t be able to access these online sites from their smartphones/tablets and will be forced to use even more costly ways of interaction, like call centers and in-person office visits. The USDS report singled out the steps Vet.gov is already taking to reorient services to mobile. This is a strategy each agency should adopt. Additionally, the U.S. Army adapted a mobile-first strategy to great success by ensuring that Army.mil is mobile optimized – the new platform even goes a step further in meeting the needs of its audience by allowing content to be shared on social feeds with only one touch. Federal agencies should build on these efforts to transform how citizens interact with government.

3. Secure the Content: New technology platforms also mandate up-to-date content-centric security protocols. With increasing collaboration between public and private sectors, sensitive information, including personally identifiable information (PII) like a Social Security number or protected health information (PHI) like medical records, often travels through multiple channels. Content-level security ensures that even accidentally or intentionally forwarded documents stay secure, with only authorized recipients able to view the files. That’s where digital rights management (DRM) tools come in, providing control features to selectively restrict access and usage of content once the document has been shared. DRM encryption provides persistent protection and monitors for unauthorized access as information is shared outside of the organization, adding another layer of security increasingly paramount in today’s connected society.

4. Improve Workflows: The final strategic imperative is to rethink and modernize antiquated processes. Simple procedures like filling out forms and applications can take multiple steps– physically mailing in forms, resubmitting paperwork or printing and re-scanning files to sign documents. Government can both cut costs and save time by converting these older processes into a more streamlined system. In many cases, this means moving to cloud services, using eSignatures, and digitizing forms and documents. A study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics about digitizing transactions in Australia revealed that an average in-person transaction costs the government $16.90, while an average online transaction costs merely $0.40. By streamlining workflows, government can more efficiently allocate limited resources, translating these cost savings into new innovative initiatives. Again, the USDS report featured some key examples, including the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to digitize the immigrant application process. The government is clearly making inroads, but should now redouble efforts to create efficiencies and cut costs and improve user experience.

The USDS report should be a call to action for the government to update outdated systems and transform the way citizens interact with federal agencies. The government should learn from the changes highlighted in the USDS report and embrace technological modernization.

John Landwehr is the Vice President and Public Sector CTO of Adobe.

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