HERSHEY, Pa.—When it comes to technology, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has always been a unicorn.
USCIS has about 95% of all applications in the cloud. It was on the zero trust journey well before there was a bandwagon.
Rob Brown, the chief technology officer at USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency is about to break new technology ground, once again, by hiring a director of user experience.
“We actually started this journey of creating a position description at USCIS for a director of UX and the primary reason and outcome was actually driven by working with some of my colleagues and the U.S. Digital Service team, as well as just the general needs that we had at USCIS. We wanted to have somebody responsible for UX, responsible for actual collateral like generative research, actually being responsible for a design system and holding folks accountable for creating a good center of excellence,” Brown said Oct. 24 at ACT-IAC’s ELC conference. “We would actually have CX and UX across the organization as opposed to in silos and sporadic pockets here and there. It’s actually taken us about a year and a half just to have this position classified.”
The director of UX will come under the USCIS chief information officer’s office, but Brown said he expects the person to work across all mission areas, including with others focused on user and customer experience, including a special advisor currently working in the director’s office.
Within the IT shop, the director of UX will be responsible for research, to drive standards and governance around the application of these capabilities.
“It was the right time, socially, culturally and all those other sort of softer things that actually have a real impact,” Brown said. “But there was also enough wherewithal, there was enough skills, and we started to see these burgeoning groups and pockets of folks doing good UX, creating their own design systems, creating their own artifacts doing their own research. So to me from an enterprise perspective, now is the time. We need to actually make sense. Let’s start driving economies of scale. Let’s reduce the redundancy. Let’s start operating as a team and start to create that CoE.”
Brown added another reason USCIS is hiring a director of UX is President Joe Biden’s executive order around customer experience. In September, DHS announced an initiative to hire hundreds of technologists across the department to focus on customer experience. DHS has over 1 billion interactions with the public every year, according to a DHS website promoting CX openings. DHS said that’s more than any other federal agency.
New data lake house coming
To continue to improve user and customer experience, USCIS recognized data will drive more and more of their decisions.
Brown said this is why USCIS is modernizing its data warehouse with a new data lake house.
“It’s looking at the data as a product ultimately, and then what does that really mean? What are the facets and components of that?” he said. “We started with an antiquated data warehousing technology, and some of the challenges that existed around the creation of all these locally developed apps that were really based upon how do we deal with data? A lot of it was Access databases, which are not very secure and not very user friendly.”
USCIS invested in new technology to build a new repository and toolsets to improve how it aggregated in real time, whether raw, semi-curated and curated data.
“They do their own analytics, business intelligence as opposed to before it was all very disparate, very rogue and data was moving all over the place,” he said. “Now, it’s almost like just offering another cloud service for all of our employees. We are democratizing all the data with the right safety in place and right security in place.”
USCIS will use role-based access controls in the data lake house to make sure the right people are getting access to the right data and systems.
Brown added at the same time, the agency is building data dictionaries, looking at data catalogs and starting to drive lineage back down to the original sources of data.
“Another phase of moving forward is that’s great to work with our own data, but we do have a lot of business partners, other DHS components. So we are moving forward with modern integration to start to build a data mash,” he said. “But ultimately, how do you make that happen? So we’re actually moving forward with doing Delta share [an open protocol for data sharing], essentially, a zero copy vis-a-vis an API to cloud-to-cloud data exchange with [Customs and Border Protection] and others, as well as looking at federated Kafka clusters so we can actually do real-time eventing between organizations as well. If we think about actually that data mash, within just the DHS ecosystem, now, we can actually do a heck of a lot more. And we expand that beyond just DHS with our other business partners.”