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Agencies Embark on New IT Approaches as User Experiences

Federal technology leaders outline the connection between workforce and CX to improve mission outcomes.
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Agencies Embark on New IT Approaches as User Experiences
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Data and technology leaders from the departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs are prioritizing workforce recruitment and training to build in better customer experience in health care services.

COVID-19 posed many challenges, forcing most agencies and organizations to adopt telework and accelerate technologies to support the new work environment. At the Food and Drug Administration, CDO Ram Iyer said the agency honed in on talent and resources to create new opportunities and accelerate innovation.

“There were a few things we realized [from the pandemic]. Our talent and the people were very lasting. We really rose to the occasion, and we put together all the resources and staff we had when it comes to GIS technologies or statistical knowledge. That’s one thing that was really helpful,” Iyer said.

As part of FDA’s March 2021 Data Modernization Action Plan (DMAP), the agency is focusing on recruiting and training talent to drive its data priorities. FDA is using 70-20-10 approach to training — 70% of training will be project-based learning, 20% will be mentoring, and 10% will come from classical learning.

“The talent is going to be the biggest hurdle for all of us to get to do what we need to do,” Iyer said. “We are making that a priority … we want to have here is we want data to be much more fluid across our centers, across our mission and across our priorities.”

VA is taking a similar view on its workforce and emphasizing the importance of talent to better leverage data to improve access and usability of vital health services.

VA’s Office of Connected Care was instrumental in the pandemic response to expand capacity of telehealth and also strength security, said CDO Kshemendra Paul.

“It’s all about the people. We have some of the best data talent at VA across the government. They’re spread out across the country. That’s one of the things that’s delightful about working at the VA is the opportunity to interact with leading data scientists,” Paul said. “Data professionals, leaders and stewards are really trying to unlock the power of data as a strategic asset.”

New management guidance and policies from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the White House have prioritized workforce developments.

OPM and OMB released its Dec. 2021 data scientist parenthetical, which will enable agencies to better identify prospective employees with the appropriate skills and will help build out a federal community of practice around data modernization that gained momentum in recent years with the creation of the Chief Data Officers Council.

From the guidance, VA identified 893 data positions, and Paul estimated that there are approximately 10,000 data professionals. A top priority for VA is engaging the data community and treating them as “an enterprise asset,” drawing from the Data Management Body of Knowledge to better address the agency’s information and data management needs.

In tandem with the Defense Department, VA is also developing a maturity assessment framework focusing on human-centered design. Paul explained that once technology is developed, it must be implemented in a way that drives enterprise-wide transformation.

“That framework gives folks a way to understand where they are in this big, complex space that we’re talking about,” Paul said.

President Biden’s customer experience executive order calls on VA to modernize its veteran-facing digital services to improve access to health information and reduce redundancies. Paul explained that the order will serve as a cornerstone to VA’s data strategy and workforce training programs to ensure that systems and solutions are able to effectively deliver on the agency’s mission and veteran needs.

With DOD, VA is developing a joint strategy on data and analytics to support the continuous flow of data from service member to veteran. This initiative’s end goal is to maximize lifetime impact for veterans and improve service experiences.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is targeting skills that need to be developed for specific roles. This approach places greater focus on customer experience and contributes to well-rounded products.

“What we focus on is how do we enable our office and centers to be able to deliver on the mission?” said CIO Rajiv Uppal. “There’s a lot of investment going into systems and infrastructure, but the other investment that we’re making is into our workforce — how do we help our workforce reskill and upskill?”

CMS’ Workforce Resilience Program is helping the agency’s staff reskill and upskill talent, Uppal added. Currently, the program has six tracks including customer service, cybersecurity, data science and cloud, among others, to create frameworks that support innovative, continuous solutions.

The program was developed to ensure that its staff understands user experience, human-centered design and product management in addition to technology advancements, like cybersecurity and cloud, to better deliver solutions that meet the agency’s mission and customer needs.

“Ten years ago, I don’t think user experience, human-centered design and product management were top of mind,” Uppal said. “Now when we approach a new service, we don’t want to approach it as an IT system, but rather as the user experience.”

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