In the endeavor to create a digital government, agencies and organizations should not let new technologies supersede the wants and needs of their users, according to experts.

“It has to start with understanding the customer, not with the legacy technology. That’s at the end,” said Mark Forman, the global head, vice president, and manager of public sector at Unisys. “Citizens want to talk to somebody. They don’t want to talk to a website; they don’t want to talk to a mobile app.”

Forman said that it was telling that the Office of Citizen Services had turned into the Office of Electronic Government, adding that the Federal government needs to reinstate a service that’s citizen-centered.

A recent survey sponsored by Unisys found that 69 percent of Federal, state, and local respondents have or are interested in adopting digital government programs, but that only 45 percent ranked citizen participation as “very important.”

“Technology seems to be the easy part sometimes,” said Rusty Pickens, senior adviser for digital platforms at the Department of State.

“You become digital by how you’re using your data and how you’re using technology to improve the customer experience,” said Forman. “Our research is showing that it’s more of an evolution. Governments can’t do rip and replace, they can’t do major transformation, it has to be an evolution.”

The customer experience can refer to both citizens looking to get easy access to their government, as well as government employees, whose interactions with programs and applications can determine future efficiency.

“The field generally has had a really difficult time taking advantage of the systems we’ve deployed over the last few years,” said Forman. “There are probably many reasons: a lot of the systems over the last 10 years have been enhanced by government audit reports that said ‘let’s put controls on the workforce in the field.’ Well, all those controls have made it harder to serve the citizens.”

The survey results, as well as the personal experiences of industry members working with government, indicate that government is aware of the need to digitize and is moving in the right direction.

“It’s not just the technology we’re trying to change, it’s the government’s processes, it’s the measurement processes, it’s the testing processes,” said Margaret Graves, acting deputy Federal CIO at OMB.

“I think we do see this a lot more in the government: people now just accepting that we’re going to do user-centered design and focus groups. A year ago or so when I would go around politicians used to say to me ‘why can’t your applications be as easy to use as my mobile phone app?’ I don’t hear that anymore,” said Forman. “I think people have accepted that they’ve got to reach out to the users, whether they’re government employees or citizens.”

Casey Coleman, group vice president for civilian agencies at Unisys Federal, also said that digital government initiatives can have a positive, widespread impact on the overall outlook of an agency.

“Beyond the direct benefits offered by digital government, there are multiple indirect benefits to government agencies in terms of more mature capabilities and forward-looking workplace cultures,” said Coleman. “For these reasons, we believe more agencies will take the appropriate security measures and embrace digital government in the future.”

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Jessie Bur
Jessie Bur
Jessie Bur is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Cybersecurity, FedRAMP, GSA, Congress, Treasury, DOJ, NIST and Cloud Computing.