Leaders from GSA, IRS, and VA discuss new digital services that help customers navigate government services.
Human-Centered Design plays a key role in various digital services, including an upcoming new app from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to digital services as many paper-based processes had to be made accessible online. Federal leaders of GovernmentCIO Media & Research’s Digital Services Series: Virtual Customer Experience Event last week noted how their agencies have harnessed the power of technology to make improvements to the overall customer experience.
Karen Howard, director of the IRS’s online services office, said her team needed to pivot quickly to provide more services and applications online.
“The pandemic has dramatically accelerated our plans, and like all organizations, the IRS has had to pivot and prioritize strategies and resources,” Howard said. “We launched new online services to help taxpayers make their Economic Impact Payments and Child Tax Credit Advance Payments.”
Amid this shift, technology leaders have leveraged human-centered design to develop best practices, design standards, and ensure ease of use. Barbara Morton, deputy director of veteran experience at VA, said the approach stems from the agency’s relaunch of va.gov in 2018.
“We wanted to continue to apply the human-centered design methodology and mindset as part of the website redesign strategy,” Morton said. “When you see it today, you’ll see a much more user-friendly website… and you design and iterate to the users. ”
The IRS takes a similar approach with its platform, irs.gov. As part of the Taxpayer First Act, the agency accelerated its efforts to create a seamless experience for taxpayers, by strengthening digital services and improving accessibility.
“We’re looking for navigation, we’re looking for ‘king content’ and ‘queen engagement’,” Howard said. “There are a lot of other things that really help the taxpayer engage with us in a way they want, when and how they want, without having to visit field offices or even call. is a very unique bespoke situation. ”
The General Service Administration is in a unique position to work across government and create shared digital services, said the agency’s Nico Papafil, director of 10x. His team recently launched a new project called Benefits Eligibility Awareness Resource Service (BEARS) to bring together the services of several federal agencies to help the public navigate government and better understand eligibility for benefits.
“What if a person only needs to go to one place … to see what their options are?” What if we didn’t have to navigate them through government? [BEARS is] a great example of a cross-agency tool, ”said Papafil. “We’re looking at it in a more holistic way. It is like a “federal gateway” for certain components of what the public may need.
As agencies scale up digital services, many leaders are taking a “fail fast, fail forward, fail small” approach to test services on a small scale, learn lessons, and then implement best practices on a larger model. Papafil said this iterative approach allows agencies to be agile and pivot as changes arise, such as new technology, leadership or priorities.
“We say we’re spending $ 20,000 to verify and validate the problem. Let’s really understand this problematic space, ”Papafil said. “Taking this user-centric approach, being agile, lean, allows us to fail on a small scale and really push forward the most promising projects for the right solution. ”
Particularly in the customer experience space, privacy and security are a priority as agencies improve digital platforms. Howard said safety is a fundamental part of human-centered design. To maintain the focus on privacy, the IRS is partnering with security teams to define problem sets and understand the nuances to protect taxpayer data.
“We can provide a fantastic trip for our taxpayers, but along the way, if we compromise their information, it will all be for naught,” Howard said. “When it comes to the Office of Online Services, taxpayer privacy and the protection of their data is essential to the taxpayer experience.”
Going forward, the GSA and the IRS will build equity into the development and delivery of software.
“We have such a diverse American culture… We have huge initiatives around accessibility,” Howard said. “We have resources really dedicated to user stories and community outreach to understand which languages we need to… translate… because there is a difference between interpreting and translating. “
VA is currently working on a new mobile app as part of the agency’s digital strategy and recently had a smooth launch of the app to around 50,000 users. Morton did not share additional details about the app, but said it would help VA increase its reach with veterans and improve accessibility to agency benefits and services.
“As we continue to develop the functionality, there will be more visibility about it, but it’s a really amazing improvement, and we are pushing the technology forward with a human-centered design,” said said Morton.