Nov 01 2021

Washington, D.C., Launches New Digital Services Team

The unit is focused on streamlining government service delivery.

Getting a business license in Washington, D.C., usually involves filling out a series of forms for various departments that ask for a lot of the same information.

Now, under a new initiative to make government resources easier for people to access, the process could soon be streamlined. Implementing standard identity management across agencies would save applicants from having to create multiple accounts for repetitive procedures.

That’s just one practical example of process improvements on the way for residents of the nation’s capital after Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration recently put $4 million behind a new digital services team, led by Deputy CTO Stephen Miller.

“The goal is empowering the people that use our services to actually get the services that they need in order to meet their day-to-day needs, whether it be getting a business license or just operating in any way with the government,” Miller says. “Our goal is to make sure that their lives are getting easier, that we are creating solutions based on engagement with those parties — the residents, the businesses and the visitors that use our services.”

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Embracing the Power of Digital Government Services

The digital services team officially launched Oct. 1 and comprises a series of teams within the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) focused on everything from data analytics to application development and software quality assurance. Some team members have decades of experience with identifying and implementing solutions, Miller says.

Currently, the group is working to understand problems and engage with industry partners and stakeholders to create a roadmap for moving forward. Its yearlong pilot program is a business center that identifies and addresses pain points in the current business licensing process.

“Once we get through this pilot phase, we’re going to start scaling this up and extending this model out towards all District government solutions,” Miller says.

In a June budget meeting, Lindsey Parker, the city’s CTO and assistant city administratorsaid the mayor’s investment in a digital services team comes at a time when people have “Amazonization expectations” of government technology.

“Recognizing constituents expect the Amazonization of online government services overnight, despite the security, reliability and accessibility hurdles involved in government tech, is a challenge,” she said in her testimony.

RELATED: See how government agencies have embraced digital services amid the pandemic.

Speeding Up Government Service Innovation

Previously, there was a period of five to 10 years between when consumer technology solutions — which are often not accessible, secure or reliable — were expected to be used by the government. This lag was “sometimes due to resource challenges, outdated regulations and audit practices, and staff training needs — but also because of the additional cycles, including testing, needed to make sure a tool is accessible, secure and reliable so as not to derail trust in government,” Parker said.

“The mayor’s $4 million investment in our new digital services team will help shorten these cycles and build user-focused solutions,” she added.

Miller says his new team is less focused on technology and more on being human-centered and improving processes.

“It’s not necessarily throwing technology at a solution until we actually understand what the problem is,” he says. “My goal isn’t to say the District operates a shop that does Java or .NET. That’s not necessarily going to give us the right solutions. We need to first look at and identify the problems and identify the processes that can be improved and then work toward what the technology is that needs to be in place.”

The District looked at similar programs in MassachusettsCalifornia and the United Kingdom to get ideas for the digital services team. For other state and local governments looking to implement a similar approach, Miller says the first step is admitting problems and listening to residents and businesses.

“They’re our customers, and we really need to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make them happy and make sure that they’re getting the outcomes that they want out of those services,” he says. “That’s probably the most important piece of advice.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Transitioning to digital services starts with identifying citizens’ needs.

Amy Sparwasser/Getty Images

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