Mar 02 2020

What Can States Get Out of Digital Services Teams?

Digital services teams within state and local agencies improve service delivery and enhance residents’ satisfaction with government.

How can state and local governments become more like Amazon and Google and less like a 1980s DMV office lacking modern computers? The answer may lie in a relatively new phenomenon in which governments set up digital services units to more quickly develop software and solutions that are easy to use for residents and help deliver services in a more streamlined fashion.

As Amanda Clarke, an assistant professor in the school of public policy and administration at Carleton University, writes in a 2019 journal article, digital government units “have quickly emerged as a preferred solution for tackling the over-cost and under-performing digital services and lagging digital transformation agendas plaguing today’s government.”

Governments from Colorado to Georgia are adopting this model to deliver services that are easy for users (i.e., residents) to consume and look and feel modern, like the mobile applications they use every day. 

Some of these digital servcies teams rely on dedicated IT staff members, software developers, engineers, designers and project managers. Others take on people who have those roles in the private sector for “tours of service,” following the model of the U.S. Digital Service

Ultimately, they all aim to make government services easier for residents to access and interact with. Nikhil Deshpande, Georgia’s chief digital officer and the director of Digital Services Georgia, tells StateScoop that users “don’t really care or want to spend time understanding the complexity of the different departments, divisions or organizational structures.”

Digital Services Make Government More User-Friendly and Efficient

Digital services teams are mainly focused on making government technology projects more user-centric and designing modern web and mobile applications that connect residents to government services.

Digital Services Georgia says that it aims to “serve state agencies in Georgia with the latest, industry-standard best practices” as it handles “the design, development and training for web content and mobile apps.”

StateScoop reports DSG recently consolidated 90 agency websites “onto a common platform as the state pilots a new, streamlined, peach-accented website that puts the user front and center.”

Across the country, the Colorado Digital Service is following the USDS model and is focused on attracting private sector talent into government, including engineers, product managers and designers.

Kelly Taylor, head of CDS, tells StateScoop the agency, which was formed in November, is taking an agile development approach with a lot of two- to three-week “discovery sprints” and a strong emphasis on project management and user experience design. CDS is working on the state’s enterprise resource planning system, known as HRWorks

“There’s a couple different ways Digital Service can help. The discovery sprint is one. Embedding as a team is another,” Taylor says. “We’ll be serving as product managers in different roles to move things forward.”

This kind of work is not glamorous, but it helps make government function better and in a more modern way. Other digital services teams focused on more citizen-facing solutions. 

San Francisco Digital Services created “websites that make it easier for people to find housing, small business owners to find information and immigrants to find legal aid,” StateScoop reports. The team is also reconstructing the city’s overall website. 

Whether digital services teams bring in private sector talent for tours of duty or are staffed by civil servants, they have the ability to transform government services. If your agency has not thought about how to be more agile and user-centric, it should. This is where government is headed and what residents expect. The time is ripe to make changes to meet those expectations.

This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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