Restructuring the government’s online services

While demand for the federal government to provide more online services is steadily increasing, it’s often extremely difficult to navigate and operate the average federal website and find the things one needs. To understand what businesses in the region are doing to help, and what legislation is coming down the pipeline to speed up the process, we spoke with Zac Trojak, principal of public sector at Medallia.

ABERMAN: Anything called ‘The IDEA Act’ appeals to me. But what is the IDEA Act, and why does it matter?

TROJAK: Yes. So, the IDEA Act is super exciting. So, this was signed into law last December. It’s the Integrated Digital Experience Act. And really, the main idea of this is: how do we take government websites, which are old and outdated and overlapping in many cases, and essentially modernize those? This idea of modernization across government is something that is highly prevalent now across all different spans of federal agencies, so why shouldn’t digital experiences be any different? And the IDEA Act is super exciting.

So, what it’s trying to do is take these government websites and modernize them to act more like private sector websites. Some of that is very technical in nature, so things such as making them 508 compliant, ensuring that they’re over secure connections. And those things are great, and they’re good for stability and the like. But more exciting is the things that are to really ensure that taxpayers and citizens like us are getting more benefit and usability out of these websites. So, things like taking those in-person experiences or lengthy paper forms, and requiring that those those types of examples are brought into the digital world, that we’re able to do more of those things online, ensuring that search functionality is more robust.

So instead of having to call into a more expensive channel for the government, like a contact center, to get answers to common questions, we put those things front and center for folks, who are able to access this right off their devices.

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ABERMAN: So things like maybe using chatbots properly, or things like having a UI that loads into your most recent browser, and actually works properly? Stuff like that?

TROJAK: Yeah. Think about for example, at the Social Security Administration, right? A very common use case here is the idea that you need a new social security card. Most folks are going to go stand in line at your local Social Security office, and go through what is admittedly a pretty painful process to do so. That process for actually getting a new social security card can be done online today, but one, it’s perhaps a bit too hard to discover for folks, and two, perhaps a bit kind of difficult to navigate that process and figure out exactly what the steps that one needs to take to walk through that.

But for both the customer, that’s a great experience if they don’t have to go to that office to actually complete that task, and for social security in this case, that’s a great outcome if I can stop someone from having to come into the center, where it’s much more expensive to serve them, and then perhaps have to call into the contact center for follow up. Digital transactions are far less expensive for the agency to manage. So, in a world where they’re always being asked to kind of do more with less, this really plays well into that.

ABERMAN: So speaking from my own personal experience, investing and starting consumer Internet and enterprise internet businesses, it sounds to me like what you’re really talking about here more than anything else is giving the customer, the taxpayer, the same level of interactions with the feds. I think it’s really terrific. So, how do you think the government should take advantage of these opportunities? I mean, once you start to engage in customer experiences, one of the great things about the private sector is, you gather data, you gather behavior, you can draw inferences. Is that what the government will be doing, or should be doing?

TROJAK: Yeah absolutely. I think another great part of the IDEA Act that they speak to is this idea that, hey, this is not a point in time exercise but rather, these experiences are going to continue to evolve over time, and we want to design these experiences with the user in mind. They shouldn’t be built in a way that is just using taxonomy, or using layouts that are comfortable for a federal agency, kind of behind the glass there, but rather something that makes sense to the customer.

It makes sense to the taxpayer, to the citizen, to the applicant, and the citizen expectations are rising because of what’s happening in the private sector. Everyone who engages with Amazon and Apple and so on and so forth, they come to the IRS or Social Security, or so on and so forth, expecting that same experience. We need to ensure that we’re delivering that for them, otherwise it’s gonna be an incredibly expensive proposition to manage.

ABERMAN: You know, I think about a country like Estonia, and what they’re doing around digital credentials and how they’re really going towards a digital economy, where you don’t have to keep re-entering the same information time and again. Is that the kind of vision you see for where we should be going here?

TROJAK: Yeah, I think in many cases, kind of some foreign governments, and even state and local governments, are a bit ahead of kind of where we’re at from the compared to the U.S. federal point of view. There’s reasons for that. But it’s absolutely kind of direction that we should be heading toward. How can we do more? I think the world is going digital.

How do we make sure that we are keeping pace with that, but in ways that are certainly secure, and understanding that there are certainly going to be interactions and experiences that are never quite going to be able to be digitized, and that’s OK? But let’s take that low hanging fruit, or in many cases that that rotting fruit on the forest floor, as it were, and really pick that up and enable us to be better stewards of that information through digital means.

ABERMAN: Before I let you go, since you’re in the trenches, give me some specific examples of how Medallia and you are actually helping the government do these customer experiences now.

TROJAK: So at Medallia, we really focus on collecting customer feedback, and utilizing that feedback to really enable, in this case, federal agencies to take action based upon what customers are sharing about their experiences. Transforming it past data points, and into action. This shouldn’t simply be scorecards that we’re collecting, or metrics that are simply passed up to Congress, but how do we take that feedback that we collect from customers, and actually enable organizations to do something with it?

So for example, we work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and we’re collecting feedback literally from millions of vets on an annual basis, asking them about the experiences that they’re having. Both with the Department writ large, but also with with very specific interactions, whether that’s going to a pharmacy, an outpatient visit, and asking them, how did that go? And not then just taking that information and putting it in a report somewhere, but rather saying, if someone had a problem with a visit when they had gone through to the pharmacy, what can we learn from that?

How can we get that information back out to that individual frontline, so they can improve that one to one? But also, what can we learn about that from behind the scenes, and in a more aggregate level? Is this something that’s happened once, or something it’s happening time and time again that we can solve, really at that baseline level, to have those types of major improvements across the agency?

ABERMAN: I love that example, and I look forward to hearing more in the future. This is a really important trend, and I’m glad you took the time to share it with us today. Zac Trojak, thanks for joining us.

TROJAK: Thank you so much for having me.

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