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Plugging in the User Needs For Improved Experiences

Agencies are working with their users to determine which technologies will improve the digital experience.

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As federal IT officials look to design the digital experience with and for their end users, they’re looking to human-centered design, cybersecurity, data accessibility, automation, application programming interfaces and other solutions to help them create an optimal customer experience.

While the technologies being important for helping digital services teams meet various customer needs, federal leaders emphasized during GovernmentCIO Media’s Customer Experience event last week that they first need to work with their end-users and stakeholders to navigate which technologies they should apply.

Along those lines, General Services Administration Technology Transformation Services and Federal Acquisition Service Deputy Commissioner Dave Zvenyach said that when keeping end-user needs in mind and designing services with them, digital services teams can always find room to improve and leverage the proper technologies to do so.

“It’s not simply a matter of how do we ensure that we’re building systems that are meeting the needs of the public,” Zvenyach said. “We’re making sure that even if one individual is not able to access the services that they need — that’s an opportunity for improvement. That’s an opportunity for us to make sure that we need to improve our tools. We need to improve our service as a way to include that individual as part of that government service.”

For, for instance, GSA has been trying to make accessibility and equity improvements, such as introducing an omni-channel experience to increase accessibility for individuals who have vision impairments and may not be able to access digital services online easily. Meanwhile, the system’s Security Experience Lead Julia Elman said that is testing for various other underserved groups for an improved future.

“We’re testing and vetting different vendors and the ways that we think about these things in … things like presentation tech defense, what does lightness mean and how do we make that equitable and accessibility for all of the public,” Elman said. “We’re thinking about low-income underbanked people, people who are not homeowners. These are people that we’re testing with and thinking about as we’re going through and thinking about as we’re going through and thinking about how to iterate on the product for the entire public.”

With end-user needs in mind, officials like IRS Enterprise Digitalization Senior Advisor Mitch Winans are honing in on capabilities to increase speed, simplicity and reliability in their products. Winans is trying to reduce the IRS’s paper-based processes, so automation and digital data are key.

“How do we get more of our data available for digital intake, machine readability and digital storage, so we can use tools like AI, machine learning, automation, also some of those analytics tools and put it into that bucket, so we can better analyze, categorize and make use of our data, to protect it and make better data-driven decisions?” Winans said.

The IRS is eyeing optical character-recognition technology to improve converting low-quality images of paper forms to higher-quality machine-readable data. The IRS is also looking to augmented reality for taxpayers to take pictures or scan in their IRS documents to immediately get help or recommendations on how to complete their documents.

A key component to improving the experience in arrays of mobile applications are APIs. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Lighthouse API Program enables secure access to VA data for developers to build apps and tools for veterans.

“Data is core to everything that we do, whether just for the data itself or to enable the services that we deliver,” said Lighthouse API Program Director Dave Mazik. “[We’re] building data products such that every data product has an API.”

When it comes to data security, all stakeholders have a part to play in the process.

“First, … security is everyone’s job,” Elman said. “The second one is that the public really controls their data, not us. … Then the third one is really creating a very simple secure service. One thing we pride ourselves on is that our authentication service is simple and easy to use, so we really focus on making that experience the best experience possible for the public.”

It’s also critical for agencies to be responsible stewards of data when providing access to developers and end users. The VA released a set of ethics principles in February to convey how VA and veteran data is used.

“We really do a lot of research with veterans in making sure that they understand what those privacy policies in terms of services mean and what their concerns are and what they want to see,” Mazik said.

With all of these technologies, processes and policies in place, federal digital services officials emphasized that everything begins with understanding and building toward user needs.

“If you actually take a step back and really think about what it means to put the user at the center of your work, it does have a lot of pretty profound consequences,” Zvenyach said. “You have to think about what are the structural changes that you need to make, what are the prioritization changes you have to make, and I think that sort of work is essential to ensure that you really do deliver excellent technology.”

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