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Book Excerpt – Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government

Delivering On Digital bookWhen HealthCare.gov went live in October 2013, many called the website a catastrophe. For the U.S. Federal government, however, the launch ultimately proved pivotal: it underscored the necessity of digital excellence in public institutions and inspired hundreds of the tech industry’s best and brightest to come to Washington with the singular mission to modernize government. But how can a government transform itself into a fully digital state when most are built on analog, industrial-era frameworks? It starts with imagination.

In DELIVERING ON DIGITAL: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government (Rosetta Books, June 7, 2016) William D. Eggers, one of the country’s best-known authorities on government reform, explores how a new generation of digital innovators is re-imagining virtually every facet of what government does and reducing their costs with the power of digital transformation. William D. Eggers is the Research Director for the Public Sector industry at Deloitte. This excerpt is adapted from the book and is provided with permission from RosettaBooks.

Using analytics and feedback loops to improve government service

Agencies that deliver digital services need to talk to their customers—and more importantly, they need to listen. Whether through customer feedback or analytics, digital services must be attuned to changing customer needs, responding with minor tweaks or entirely new versions depending on demand. And building a functional digital service is only part of the puzzle; to scale, operate, monitor, and optimize it is just as critical.

In Finland, for example, city planners visit local parks just after snowfall. Looking at the footprints in the snow, they identify the paths people naturally take in the absence of a pre-existing one. These “desire paths” are mapped and can be paved in the summer. [1] For digital services, this is a powerful metaphor. With analytics and feedback loops, organizations can uncover desire paths and use the data to improve their services.

Consider Gov.uk. After a mammoth redesign, the site now successfully hosts the services and information for more than 300 organizations. “Gov.uk is the total of thousands of little observations,” says Matthew Hancock, cabinet minister and paymaster general and successor to Francis Maude. Highlighting iteration as one of the guiding principles for digital transformation, he says, “Iteration means basing decisions as much as possible on observation, not prediction.” [2] In the eyes of its creators, Gov.uk isn’t finished yet—and may never be. According to the GDS, “it’s a continual work in progress which will adapt and improve all the time to better serve the needs of all its users.”

In the US, all federal websites now use Google Analytics for Government. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) launched its Acquisition 360 program with a rating system fed by feedback from contractors and vendors. This Yelp-like system consists of three surveys for different audiences that operate on a “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied” scale. “In addition to getting feedback on how well the acquisition team worked, we are also interested in better understanding why contracting officers choose certain interagency solutions over others, or why they choose certain contract vehicles,” said OFPP Administrator Anne Rung in a memo on the subject. [3]

Public bodies then need to act upon what they’ve learned. They must sift the evidence of user feedback, complaints, system logs, and web analytics, evaluating what they see and prioritizing their responses, sometimes trading improvements policymakers want for those users demand.

This is the model adopted by VicRoads, the road and traffic authority for the state of Victoria, Australia. Residents visit its site for a laundry list of activities, from registering their vehicles to learning about road safety rules. With a million visits each month, it’s the second-busiest government website in Victoria. With those kinds of numbers, a website that isn’t user-friendly could translate into millions of unhappy voters.

Despite its visibility, however, as of 2014 the VicRoads’ website hadn’t been overhauled in five years. It had become overwhelmingly complex and delivered a fatally disjointed user experience. Information on the site was difficult to find and understand; transactions would often redirect users through a tangle of separate sites. Furthermore, the antiquated website wasn’t mobile-friendly, even though more than 40 percent of its customers used mobile devices to access it. The VicRoads team realized they needed to completely redesign the digital experience.

With a timeline of just 14 months, they began with the heart of their mission: the customer. Employing a host of user research techniques including workshops, journey mapping, and interviews, the team developed a deep understanding of user needs and preferences and also conducted a survey to find out which channels users preferred for different tasks—online (mobile or desktop), phone, e-mail, or service center.

The results were telling: Most citizens preferred the online channel but expected to be able to complete transactions on any device. Users also became more task-focused on mobile devices, meaning they didn’t want to be hindered by peripheral information; they just wanted to get the job done. They were visiting the VicRoads website not for a relationship but to do something, as quickly as possible. [4]

To make the site’s dense content more digestible for mobile users, rewrites were critical, even though they hadn’t been a part of the original plan. “We had not initially planned or budgeted for rewriting content,” explains Jolanda Zerbst, web services manager at VicRoads. “There was initially some resistance from content owners to condense information due to concerns about legal consequences of not having all that information there.” [5]

But when senior stakeholders were shown an example of a page rewritten as “mobile first,” with 66 percent less content, they expressed support and provided the go-ahead and resources for a redesign. [6] The site redesign optimized web pages irrespective of the device used, delivering a consistent experience across platforms.

Also instrumental to a seamless digital experience was the practice of phased releases. Instead of releasing a new app as soon as it was finished and crossing their collective fingers hoping it would work, administrators would release content to beta groups and internal VicRoads staff to gather feedback on bugs and issues and suggest additional features.

Once that phase was finished, new features were subjected to rigorous A/B testing before general release. For example, 95 percent of site visitors might see the old change-of-address form, with only 5 percent able to use the new version. Only after addressing any remaining issues would the application be opened up to all users. “These are critical services, so potentially the consequences could be fairly nasty if we get this wrong,” says Jason Hutchinson, a project consultant. “A/B testing was a great way to ensure that whatever we release worked before we released it to everyone.” [7]

The website’s redesign transformed the user experience. “I changed my address on my license using the VicRoads website and it took 30 seconds,” one customer said. Adaptive tests that never ask the same question twice help learners study for their driver’s tests. With performance analytics, VicRoads can understand how its services are being used and areas needing improvement.

The customer focus was a game-changing component of VicRoads’ redesign. “We’re caring for our customers and users, and it’s really about thinking, ‘If they’re trying to do something, how can we make it as easy for them as possible, and if it’s not going to be a nice experience, how do we help them through that experience?’” Zerbst says. [8] The goal is to focus on improving the experience for customers, whether it’s a single transaction or long-term interaction.

This need to understand user needs and create workable feedback loops will continue to grow. The rise of the Internet of Things will have a significant impact: As governments aggregate the outputs of sensors, beacons, and other devices, employees won’t have to go out and count footprints in the snow—their systems will do that for them, freeing them to create value from the data. In this sense, we’re just beginning to scrape the surface of the possible.

[1] Ripon Civic Society, “The Right Direction for Desire Lines,” Ripon Gazette, October 10, 2013.

[2] Matthew Hancock, “National Digital Conference 2015: Keynote Speech,” Gov.uk, June 25, 2015.

[3] Jonathan Messinger, “Government Procurement Gets Its ‘Yelp,’” Public Spend Forum, April 14, 2015.

[4] Deloitte Digital Experience, “VicRoads,” November 25, 2015.

[5] Richard Perdriau and Jolanda Zerbst, “VicRoads Case Study: Bigger, Better and Responsive,” UX Australia 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Telephone interview with Jason Hutchinson, December 9, 2015.

[8] Deloitte Digital Experience, “VicRoads.”

 

William EggersWilliam D. Eggers, a leading authority on government reform, is the executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Innovation and has advised governments around the world. He is the author of eight previous books including “The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises are Teaming up to Solve Society’s Biggest Problems” and the Washington Post bestseller “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon.” He coined the term “Government 2.0” in a book of the same name. His commentary has appeared in dozens of major media outlets including theNew York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

 

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