Member Insight

March 2021

Greg Gershman
Greg Gershman
Ad Hoc LLC

Recruiting The IT Workforce That Will Transform Government Digital Services

With their transition team and with early political appointees, the Biden administration has already demonstrated that improving the digital experience for people interacting with government is a top priority. Almost every transition team has members with a background in digital services, product management, or software engineering. Early appointees focused on “Delivery” also indicate that there will be a priority not just on policy, but on improving the overall outcomes of the government services.

As the new administration begins to outline its priorities, allow me to share a few likely priorities for this new administration given their intense focus on digital services and improving the digital experience.

Government as a Service Provider

As more of our lives move online, companies are adapting their business to provide services through digital channels. Companies like Marriott, Capital One, and USAA have all made significant investments in creating digital experiences that have become the primary mode customers interact with them. Government is slowly, but surely, embracing the role of a digital service provider as well. Agencies like VA revamped their web presence. They moved from a more traditional government agency/informational website to one focused on the services they provide and designed with the perspective of the Veteran in mind.

To make this transition, agencies need to adapt how they think about, plan, and measure the success of their digital investments. Ensuring that a digital strategy is a part of the policy-making process is of paramount importance. The digital experience can no longer be left as an implementation detail once the policy has been created. This leads to services that are often unrealistic and difficult to use for the people the agency serves. Instead, the digital experience, and the technologists with the expertise in creating those experiences, must be foremost in the process of creating policy and pressure-testing them against the realities of the people it will impact.

Along with this awareness comes the need to establish and measure the outcomes an agency seeks to achieve with their service. Instead of thinking of an IT investment in terms of a list of requirements that must be completed, they should be assessed and measured based on the impact and outcomes they are achieving. The number of people who sign up for a benefit, for example, should be defined in terms of a goal and measured to assess the impact of the services the agency is providing (both digital and non-digital). Fully grounding the success or failure of an IT system in the business outcomes it achieves is the first and most important step to government making this transition to a service provider.

With the Biden administration, expect to see this shift in focus. Agencies will define new roles for technologists at top levels who will be involved in the policy-making process that will define success of a program in terms of what its delivery looks like. This will lead to measuring investments in IT not based on whether or not requirements have been completed, but whether the system actually helps the agency be more effective in delivering on its mission. We will also see a marked increase for federal job openings and procurements looking for experience in service design, product management, user experience research, human-centered design, customer experience, mobile application development, along with a continued increase in agile software development and DevOps.

Leveraging talent from anywhere

With government embracing its role as a service provider will come the need for a new pool of talent with experience designing and building digital products. The technology market in the Washington, DC area is incredibly competitive. As a result, the government ecosystem has trouble attracting at scale the level of talent needed to meet these needs. This will only become more acute as the government moves into disciplines like product management and customer experience, which are sought after in the commercial world.  Moreover, the entrance of Amazon into the DC market makes the local environment even more competitive.

The answer for government is to fully embrace remote work. The pandemic forced us to transition to a remote environment. Yet as the country gets vaccinated and returns to work, it is important for government to leverage their recent investments in telework and remote work to attract experience and talent in the delivery of digital services.

The fact is that talent is everywhere, but government’s opportunity is severely limited in accessing this talent. There is ample experience that would not only be interested but excited to work for government if given the opportunity. In addition, with much of the commercial market discovering that their business can operate just fine with remote team members, markets outside DC will start to attract DC talent. If the government doesn’t embrace remote work it will not have access to the talent required to modernize its digital offerings.

Many agencies work remotely and will for at least the rest of 2021 and beyond. For example, 18F, a group of digital-native consultants working out of the Technology Transformation Services at GSA, is a remote team since before COVID. Many others will continue to accommodate remote team members who have the right experience but are rooted outside DC. Agencies like CMS and VA are already open to working remotely with vendors. Expect more agencies to move away from the in-person or in-DC requirements and embrace teams that are working virtually.

COVID 19 ushered in much change. For government agencies, the desirable technology workforce who can deliver on an experience on par with what citizens are accustomed to in their everyday use of technology demands different expertise, working remotely being only the most prominent. Government agencies must adapt.