Day two of the NASCIO annual conference on Tuesday, Oct. 3, offered a number of sessions spanning many pressing concerns on the minds of CIOs. Participants heard about Georgia's new strategy for digital government, Austin's program to foster young talent and the potential for geospatial data to shape approaches to the opioid epidemic.
In the Digital Government session, Georgia Chief Digital Officer Nikhil Deshpande added a new “as-a-service” to the IT lexicon. Touting an emphasis on citizen-centric thinking, Deshpande’s session introduced the concept of experience-as-a-service. Consideration of the customer experience, regardless of the way they’re interacting with government, should be institutionalized, he said.
Aligning well with that thinking, the state recently announced its Digital Services Georgia (DSGa) initiative, which aims to help agencies meet customers' digital expectations, which are increasingly shaped by their online interactions with the private sector. At its core, it’s user-driven thinking extended to all interactions involving government. “We will focus on helping agencies provide a frictionless citizen experience through all their digital touchpoints,” the announcement reads.
Deshpande explained how the state maps the way in which people access services in order to help ensure they design with all user groups in mind. “Every touch point is an opportunity to collect data,” he said, whether it be survey data or website analytics, identifying where citizens drop out of the interaction. And it’s not always the shiniest new tools that best meet citizen needs, he added. In one case he described, many users were accessing a state service via older mobile devices. Burdening the mobile app with slick graphics would only slow the interaction, leading to frustration.
It’s helpful to have realistic expectations of a satisfied customer when it comes to government interactions. Not many people will come away delighted, he noted. On a rating scale of happy face to sad face, government should aim to be somewhere in the middle.
This week at NASCIO we’ve asked CIOs from across the country about the impact the “silver tsunami” retirement wave may have on their agency. While its implications may not be as dire as originally feared, the fact is that there are gaps in the coming IT workforce.
In a session that stepped away from a state focus and instead turned more local, Austin, Texas, CIO Stephen Elkins presented one strategy he’s using to get younger talent interested in public-sector work and stay interested throughout their careers: high school internships.
Now in its fourth year, the intern program selects 20 high school students from Austin to work with the city and develop solutions to government problems for a six-week rapid development project. They work in groups to build apps, chatbots and other tools that become working prototypes designed to help solve real municipal problems.
Elkins gave the example of a team of students who heard a plea from a citizen who was concerned about reducing gentrification in Austin. In response, the group created a mobile app that used an algorithm to process city data and assess the degree of gentrification in various areas. The idea was good enough that Austin’s housing authority considered adopting it.
For Elkins, the internship program solves two problems: The city is both developing the supply side of government IT talent, while also bringing in fresh eyes with innovative ideas at low cost.
As all levels of government make more data available for public use, the question arises again and again: What to do with all that information?
Delaware CIO James Collins says CIOs should be “conveners of that conversation, and we should always be asking: What is the data telling us?”
For one angle on the issue, Collins led a discussion with GIS software developer Esri, who used the nation’s growing opioid epidemic as an example of how geospatial mapping of health trends and demographics can help public leaders make the most impact.
As an example, the state of Massachusetts was mapped by county, and each was identified by color based on the number of opioid deaths that had occurred there. Data scientists could further break that down by other demographics like gender to help “visualize hotspots,” which could help government leaders point to at-risk communities and take appropriate action.
Of course, potential use cases for these detailed, layered maps extend far beyond opioids. Transit and population, real-time law enforcement locations, hurricane modeling — all are ways government could be visualizing the vast quantities of data it holds.
Or, as Collins put it, such tech can help “take the limited resources government has and target them for the most impact.”
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.
Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 10 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.