Significant room for improvement for federal digital customer services

The rapid rise of mobile and other technologies has had a profound impact not only on the way consumers live, but also how they engage with organizations of all kinds. People expect businesses and other firms to accommodate their preference for all things digital, and they will be far less likely to engage with those organizations that fail to do so.

The federal government is well aware of this trend. Increasingly, federal agencies are investing in digital solutions designed to make it easier for constituents to make use of government resources and reach out to public service groups. However, as a recent report from Forrester Research revealed, these efforts have not proven to be completely successful yet, despite the tremendous sums of money the government has invested. This suggests the federal government may need to revise its approach to software development, as well as cybersecurity, for consumer-facing offerings.

"41% of respondents said they would like agencies to offer more digital services."

Room for improvement
The Forrester report featured a survey of American adults who go online on a weekly basis, Fierce Government IT reported. According to this study, 41 percent of respondents said they would like government agencies to offer a greater number of digital services. As one example, 40 percent indicated they would be interested in digital Social Security cards and single sign-on residential that could be used on all federal websites, and 31 percent wanted location-specific safety alerts.

These numbers are significant, but they are far less than might be hoped considering how much money federal agencies have already spent on their digital customer experience projects – a figure in the hundreds of millions, according to Fierce Government IT.  

A big part of the problem is a lack of trust in the government's ability to ensure user privacy. The survey found that more than half of those surveyed who said they weren't interested in location-based services and single sign-on identified privacy concerns as the main factors behind their reluctance. In total, only slightly more than one-third of survey respondents said they trust that their personal data will remain safe in the federal government's hands. 

This does not mean that cybersecurity is the single factor thwarting broader success in the government's digital customer service initiatives. However, it does indicate a need for greater focus and success in the realms of privacy and security.

Steps forward
Fierce Government IT reported that there have been some significant steps forward in the government's digital efforts. Most notably, the White House's U.S. Digital Service team has worked to improve federal interactive websites, as well as develop mobile apps and operate social media accounts.

"Federal agencies must be more strategic in regard to their digital offerings."

Ultimately, though, the Forrester report suggested that federal agencies must be more strategic in regard to their digital offerings across the board. This includes creating more effective new solutions while improving existing ones.

This is obviously a tall order. And the fact that the government has seen mediocre results despite its massive investments suggests that new approaches are necessary.

To this end, it may be valuable, or even necessary, for agencies to turn to third-party mobile platform and software development firms. By doing so, federal agencies can begin to take advantage of better, more reliable strategies for developing and maintaining digital services for constituents. Critically, agencies should look for two key factors. First, agencies need to work with organizations with robust cybersecurity experience. Any breaches will severely erode public trust in digital solutions, undermining their value. 

Second, agencies should seek out firms that offer flexible development capabilities, including Agile. This allows for the development of software solutions that can better meet consumers' specific and evolving desires for public sector digital services. 

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