What government training should emphasize in digital services procurement
If it’s one thing the public learned from Facebook’s congressional hearing, it’s that technology is developing faster than the average person can understand it. And while that’s a big issue in consumer welfare, it’s equally as big on the government level.
The timing couldn’t be more important to understand and embrace new methods, with federal mandates and looming deadlines to modernize IT and digitize platforms–and much attention has been paid to user-centered design and agile software development. Procurement officers and program managers are the gatekeepers to these projects, and need to know how to plan and buy digital service capabilities. In our recent work with organizations like the Department of Defense and California Health and Human Services, we identified three focus areas for training that will help government decision makers choose well.
To get the best results from technology requires very different approaches from the industry defaults of 30 years ago. Today there are efficient ways to build services that are safe and respond to constantly changing security, policy and user needs. These new techniques require software vendors to fully select, own and manage their infrastructure; isolating the infrastructure in a separate silo gets you delays, not stability.
- Procurement officers: How can contracts encourage modern software vendors to use best practices tools and methods in their work?
- Program managers: Learn about cloud based and continuous delivery software methods and how they can enhance your compliance and security goals. Who else in your organization can you work with to ensure IT policy allows you to use the best solutions out there?
Building digital services to replace outdated technical systems or business processes is an iterative process: start small, keep your users needs forefront and learn from each stage of development and design. This can clash with the enormity of what needs to be improved, given the size and complexity of older systems. One effective strategy starting small is to solve the simplest, most “critical path”–sometimes called Minimal Viable Product (MVP). From this you uncover problems early and have the flexibility to respond to them before risking time and money committing to building everything upfront.
- Procurement officers: work to fund a small prototype of “discovery” project first that involves user research
- Program managers: what is the most painful part of your outdated system? What is the highest need your users or constituents have?
Business & Policy
Policy and business processes accumulate over time so when you are improving or replacing an older technical system, many features and processes might not be as effective as they could be. Be ready to revisit and, if necessary, change policy, regulations and standards to allow easier workflows for your employees and users.
Procurement officers: Who can be your policy advocate to help you have simpler proposals and contracting practices that allow for more modern vendors to work with your town, city, state, etc.
Program managers: What policies are outdated that hinder good business processes? Who can start to work to change those so you can build more streamlined digital services that users are delighted to use?
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Jesse Taggert is director of research and design at Truss, a digital services and engineering firm committed to helping government organizations best serve their constituents.