Citizen-Centric Technology Means Rethinking Development

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Connecting state and local government leaders

NIC’s VP of technology looks ahead to 2018 and explains why state and local CIOs need to move to a "product and platform mentality.”

“Citizen-centric” will continue as a theme for digital government in 2018. Constituents have come to expect that any information they want or transaction they need to complete will be available to them online—and that they will be able to access those services on demand, at any time of day on whatever devices they choose.

Taking government to the people in these ways means government must think differently than in the past. No longer can agencies develop services without feedback from citizens. And, government CIOs must operate as high-level strategists who initiate, frame, guide and deliver solutions that streamline government and provide high value to users.

To achieve that goal, CIOs must help their teams realize the necessity of a digital transformation that pivots from project delivery to a product and platform mentality.

The Citizen-Centric Approach to Development

In conventional waterfall development, an agency’s IT team works toward launching a “complete” service by a set deadline. This process produces expensive, monolithic projects that potentially are high risk: Once they are in use, they are difficult to change. If citizens find them cumbersome or incomplete, they won’t be used, and the effort and cost to create them will be wasted.

With a product and platform mentality, on the other hand, government IT teams think beyond traditional, agency-specific “one-solution-to-one-problem” development methodologies. Instead, the focus is on shared solutions. Agencies work together or work with a third-party expert to create a platform that draws on plug-and-play microservices to supply broad, flexible functionality.

This development approach makes services faster and less expensive to design, allows multiple agencies to use the same interconnected processes and technologies and reduces risk, because development never stops. Initial services on the platform are deployed quickly. Citizen input then drives continuous development, with the team modifying capabilities and adding new functionality on an ongoing basis as technologies and citizen and government needs evolve. This rolling development process minimizes technical debt, because products constantly are updated with new technologies and have a long lifespan before they become obsolete.

For citizens, a key benefit is being able to simply interact with government as a whole, rather than having to complete required responsibilities agency by agency. A recent example is Gov2Go. The platform brings together all of a user’s interactions with all levels of government, eliminating the need for citizens to navigate multiple sites, mobile apps and platforms for federal, state, county and city government. As part of the initial set of national services, citizens can receive state-based Amber Alerts and election information, and can purchase digital passes to select National Parks and U.S. Forest Service sites. States across the United States are adding unique services based on their constituents’ needs.

CIOs as Product and Platform Leaders

Within the government structure, CIOs are best positioned to direct their teams toward a product and platform mentality. To drive that change, CIOs should help their teams:

  • Establish a business vision for new services. Initiating this transition often represents a fundamental change in how technology connects to the business of government.
  • Organize personnel and financial resources based on product strategy. Doing so breaks down silos and brings the business staff, including marketing, sales and operations, into the development process. To achieve speed and agility, however, teams must be of a manageable size—usually around eight to 12 people.
  • Develop interoperable, customer-centric capabilities and services from an end-to-end perspective that includes development, hosting, operations and maintenance.
  • Deploy application programming interfaces that can be applied to multiple services without creating each component from scratch.
  • Make sure the technical work achieves the government’s mission objectives by rapidly assessing new features and functions based on a dynamic feedback loop that considers citizen input and market changes. By continually judging a product’s effectiveness, the team can determine what is or is not working and iterate quickly in response.

In the year ahead, citizen needs will transform the development of government services in ways they never have before. A product and platform approach is a foundational element in that transformation. Change will not happen overnight, but as CIOs initiate and support the product and platform methodology as a best practice, government increasingly will build and sustain constituent satisfaction and trust.

Marty Williams is vice president of technology at Olathe, Kansas-based NIC Inc.

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