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Tennessee's New Digital Services App Will Evolve over Time

The MyTN phone app represents Tennessee's effort to put all of its government services on one platform. Development for the app will be continuous as IT reaches out to more and more state agencies for buy-in.

The Tennessee Capitol
The Tennessee Capitol
(David Kidd)
MyTN, a phone app that provides multiple government services to Tennesseans, was released last week, but officials say work on the ambitious platform is far from over.

Currently, the free app, which is available for Apple and Android phones, breaks its offerings down into four categories: children and families, lifestyles, driver services and public safety. Users can, among other actions, report child abuse, obtain a handgun permit, access a list of farmer’s markets across the state or search a database of state felony offenders.

Over the next several months, MyTN will add numerous more services from different state agencies as well as new functions, such as push notifications that can inform a user when they should use the app to, for example, renew their driver’s license.

Strategic Technology Solutions (STS), which is housed under the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration and led by state CIO Stephanie Dedmon, created the app in coordination with different state agencies. The vision behind this “app of apps” is to give citizens one place where they can efficiently and regularly do business with state government.

“It makes it citizen-centric so that they just look for services,” said Jerry Jones, executive director of Enterprise Shared Solutions. “They don’t have to have intimate knowledge of which departments or program areas provide the services.”

Since its Feb. 18 launch, MyTN has about 3,000 unique users. The state wants that number to continue growing.

“That’s why we want to grow the number of services as quickly as we can in these multiple phases,” Dedmon said. “Because if a citizen can go to MyTN and obtain multiple services or complete two to three transactions at one time, they’re more likely to use it than just every once in a while when they need to do one thing.”

Jones said the goal is to add several services every three months. In terms of upcoming additions, the state has identified 11 and 15 services that can be included on April 30 and July 31, respectively, but every additional service will need to be approved by its department. Services for veterans, personalized license plates and health data are among the potential additions in the near term.

Many of the services, including those currently featured on the app, are existing government applications that require integration into the MyTN platform. Jones said MyTN will also feature brand-new services down the road.

The app will also gain functions over time. One of the most significant improvements will be single sign-on, meaning that citizens will only have to use one set of credentials to log in for various services. Another function will give citizens the ability to communicate their concerns to agencies.

“We are working with departments to have agents set up in the different departments so that if a citizen has a question about a certain service … they’ll be able to submit inquiries or possibly chat with an agent from that department right through MyTN,” Jones said.

For an app to cut across agency lines, buy-in is key. Dedmon said departments showed some skepticism initially. Jones described their sentiment as “I don’t want to be first.” But financial support from the state, in the form of $3.6 million, has been critical to making the case to the agencies.

“‘The only cost to you will be some staff time to help us test it’ is much more of an attractive model than ‘You’re going to need to fund a $200,000 development effort to have your vendor work with us on this,’” Dedmon said.

Dedmon added that STS has had to use some of its own resources to help pay for the project. Most of the money thus far has gone toward tools and technologies, though that will change when more non-existing applications are developed and added to MyTN.

For security, MyTN employs anonymous guest access, multifactor authentication and LexisNexis identity proofing.

Jones said the experience of creating MyTN has been a learning process. For instance, at first the plan was to redevelop existing government applications through an Adobe platform. But the team eventually realized this was the wrong direction to take.

“We were going to recreate those applications inside of the (Adobe Experience Manager) platform, and we went down that path, and we talked to departments, and they honestly helped us wake up on it,” Jones explained. “They basically said, ‘That’s not a good idea, the applications are already developed, and they work.’”

One challenge and opportunity is coming up with a way to teach the individual agencies how to use the templates for creating MyTN applications, which could accelerate the addition of services to the phone app, Jones said.

Another hope is that MyTN will be used by enough citizens so that the state can rely less on its current real estate and buildings for service delivery. But such cost savings would be years in the making, Dedmon said.

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.