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Labor CIO Prioritizes CX as Center of Digital Transformation

Gundeep Ahluwalia said CX should be “baked into the cake,” not the “icing on top.”

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image of close-up of person on sofa with laptop showing survey form representing how the U.S.Department of Labor is centralizing its digital transformation strategy around its' customers
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The Department of Labor is centralizing its digital transformation strategy around its customers to improve service value and inform the agency’s IT modernization.

“We must start talking about and thinking about digital transformation in what is the difference between a classic modernization and digital transformation that actually has an impact on the end users and then outcomes not outputs,” DOL’s CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said during FCW’s IT Modernization Summit Wednesday. “At the end of the day—if you’re designing solutions from that end user perspective—it is the key ingredient that makes a pure modernization play into a digital transformation play.”

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred new challenges, like the quick pivot to virtual services and an increase in fraud. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), DOL received $2 billion for unemployment insurance modernization, focusing on three key areas: detect and prevent fraud, ensure timely payment of benefits and promote equitable access.

The agency invested in several new initiatives to improve customer experience, such as using plain language for unemployment applications, making services mobile friendly and leveraging automation to improve service delivery.

“You should be able to get your benefits when you need them the most,” Ahluwalia said. “In the long term, if you are able to build resilience in the ecosystem, the timeliness and equity investments also impact the fraud. Because if it is equitable, if you’re able to get the claim to the right person every time, the fraudsters have a lower chance of getting it.”

DOL has issued millions of dollars in competitive grants to hundreds of partner organizations and participating entities to improve equity, combat fraud and more. DOL partnered with states to improve ID proofing infrastructure to drive faster business outcomes and will soon launch a pilot with the U.S. Postal Service to utilize the organization’s retail locations to provide ID proofing.

“The tiger teams are going to be a linchpin to define what the work in all these three areas will be,” Ahluwalia added. “We will be starting to collect a lot more data that allows us to quantify or benchmark where we are on all of these three things over time. That allows us to inform policy and how to deploy our resources.”

Ahluwalia is taking a user-centric approach to digital transformation to institutionalize collecting customer information before designing a solution.

DOL recently introduced digital signatures to reduce delays and improve customer experience. The agency also received an award from the Technology Modernization Fund to green card processing site, moving away from paper-based processes. Ahluwalia said that digital operations will be “the way [the agency] does business” moving forward.

“We had to do a lot of research as to, how do you design an ecosystem so that people can get the kind of information on the first time and every time?” Ahluwalia said. “Stop treating customer experience and that skillset as you bake the cake and then you do the icing if you get the time. It has to be baked inside the cake.”

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