Federal, state and local government technology workers give government digital strategy middling grades, according to two recent surveys sponsored by Acquia together with the Center for Digital Government. Acquia is a provider of Drupal based open source and cloud platform services, and asked technology workers about their existing digital plans and how they could improve.
Not surprisingly, state and local respondents cited budget constraints, legacy systems, and an overall uncertainty about enterprise vision as the core inhibitors to moving digital strategy forward. Data security also ranked near the top of the list in terms of priorities for any digital effort.
35% of state and local respondents cited “becoming more information centric” as the main area of improvement for digital, with security, becoming customer centric, and building shared platforms following closely behind. The overall grade from state and local respondents for digital was a “B-” with “becoming customer centric” cited as the area most in need of improvement.
On the federal side, less progress has been made despite the Obama Administration’s directive – the Digital Government Strategy. On average, federal respondents give their agencies a ‘C+’ grade in digital strategy efforts. Only 11 percent of respondents rate their agency’s efforts as excellent, whereas 35 percent describe efforts as either unsatisfactory or poor, according to the report. Federal technology workers overwhelmingly say that compliance with federal mandates is the reason for any progress at all, with cost efficiency coming in at a close second and innovation coming in dead last.
Barriers to improvement on the federal level are somewhat similar to those cited by state and local respondents – limited budget (63 percent), skills gaps (52 percent), and legacy systems (50 percent). Federal survey data shows that despite the Shared Platforms directive, few agencies are engaged in cross-collaboration or resource sharing.
When it comes to making upgrades or implementing new technologies, the task can often be daunting. Both federal, state and local workers in both surveys say that maintaining that type of commitment over time is a tall order in government, both from a resources and budget perspective.
Acquia most recently updated government websites for both New York state and Los Angeles. The New York project required more than 100 workers and 10 months to complete. The website remained more or less the same for 15 years, and basically required a full rebuild. Acquia was tasked with not only updating the site but making it responsive for both handicapped users and a variety of devices.
“What you had with the New York site was something that worked, but didn’t provide information in the easiest or best possible way,” explained Todd Akers, VP of Public Sector at Acquia in an interview with CivSource. “This is common to a lot of government websites, and it requires a culture shift in how information is presented, with the tools that are available today government can do much more than it could in the past.”
The changes in the New York site are readily apparent – graphics and navigation are more modern, and information is more digestible. So far the state has seen a bump in site visits as well, suggesting users are better able to navigate to the information they need.
For the Los Angeles project, Akers explains that officials want to migrate more than 20 sites to Drupal and overhaul the total customer experience with government online. The Los Angeles Information Technology Agency (ITA) is working with Acquia to start a phased in migration with three of the city’s most visited sites: lacity.org, lacityview.org and ladot.lacity.org.
“Almost 4 million people depend on our web presence to access important city services and information,” said Ted Ross, Assistant General Manager for Technology Solutions for the City of LA.
Services included in the migration will be tax and property data, motor vehicle services, transportation, and GIS applications. Prior to selecting Drupal, Los Angeles managed its sites with a legacy Oracle Stellent CMS. The city sought greater resiliency to support its sites and increasing the number of online services they offer.
Going forward, Akers expects that projects like this will become more common among government agencies at all levels as they realize the cost efficiency that comes from providing more services online, and come to terms with the end of life cycle for legacy systems. As CivSource has speculated, platforms are likely to become a bigger part of the picture for governments as they find the most comprehensive means of reaching citizens. Watch this space.