Georgia’s digital platform: Building with the people to serve where they are

Illustration of building blocks.
Illustration of building blocks.

Last fall I shared our roadmap and strategy for digital services. It is an ambitious list of initiatives to make sure we serve the people where they are rather than believing the proverbial “if you build it, they will come.”

As our Digital Services Georgia (DSGa) team grows and matures, my intent is to cultivate the growth and make sure new members and outside vendors align with our digital tenets (Problem first, People first, Context first, and Content first) and development principles (Accessible, Responsive, Performant, and Secure).

When we were a web team, our primary goals were around how best to serve people with web as the core platform. Moving to all things digital dramatically expands our view of the technology landscape. People access state digital properties through channels that didn't exist a couple years ago. To be able to serve this need, we need a digital platform. A platform that enables an omni-channel approach to leverage relevant channels but keeps content consistent and centralized.

Announcing Plans for a Digital Platform

I am happy to announce that DSGa is getting ready to take on one of the first major digital services projects, a digital platform, built in light of:

  • Compliance: Adhering to best practices and standards
    Unlike federal digital properties, state and local governments are not mandated to meet set standards unless they are federally funded. We plan to build a digital platform that complies to industry best practices for accessibility, security, development, and hosting. Unless states have established digital standards, this leaves a huge loophole for individual state agencies to de-prioritize compliance for their digital properties.
  • Consistency and trust: Single source of truth for content and design
    People access state information via several channels and devices. If the information in one channel varies from that in another, organizations lose public trust. A single source of truth for content and design enforcing a consistent experience helps to establish that trust and control your organization's message.
  • Collaboration: Built with the people
    Successful digital initiatives hinge upon understanding of the people we design and develop for. We need to base our development on more than just empirical research, data, and a few assumptions. How about building with the people we are building this for? Agency content managers who use the system back end daily and our end-users, Georgians who interact with digital properties. We plan to collaborate not only to understand their characteristics, needs, and challenges but also to bring them in the conversation. Before we finalize decisions, let the people weigh in. An open collaboration project from the get-go!

To make this platform and the future vision of Digital Services Georgia a reality, we have to build capacity. We need vendor partners who can help us get there. We followed the trail blazed by 18F for a modular procurement approach.

Modular Procurement: A new way of collaborating

Traditional procurements have been the culture of government for a long, long time. In many cases, government organizations reuse age-old documents by updating dates and names while retaining risks, flaws, and gaps. Traditional procurements do not make sense for digital projects, especially when focusing on agile design and development sprints. A modular procurement model offers an alternate approach.

For those who are not acquainted with modular procurements, they are an agile contracting vehicle that breaks large, high-dollar projects into smaller short-term contracts. The benefits of this approach are that it segments risk and offers transparency! Any short term failure can be addressed in isolation without affecting the entire project. This approach also lends us the opportunity to work with various industry leaders across several disciplines. We looked at the digital roadmap and future projects and created 5 procurement lanes:

  • Development (Check out the winners)
  • Branding and Design
  • Content
  • Hosting
  • Audits and Testing (Accessibility, User Experience, Code Audits)

Just like 18F, DSGa likes to build things in the open! We want to collaborate with vendors who align with our tenets and principles. Who have an open source development mindset. Vendor selection, just like an individual candidate selection, is a process of rigorous vetting. Peter Drucker famously quoted “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So it is critical that we collaborate with vendors who have these values as part of their culture and not just presented in select projects. After going through a very thorough vetting process, we selected the vendors with a proven track record of demonstrating our own values.

We have setup a framework for our agency stakeholders to provide feedback, share lessons learned, and collaborate towards a governance framework for all of Georgia’s digital properties. If your agency is interested in getting your voice heard and influence the future digital platform, join the Digital Center of Excellence.

I am excited to be part of this next chapter for DSGa and build a solid design and development community for the State of Georgia. This is a people's project. Funded by the people and driven by them as well. Through the project, we need to remind ourselves at every step who the real stakeholders are and include them in the needed planning, testing, and decision-making process. Georgia is one of the first states to move to a digital platform and build it for the people, by the people, and with the people.

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Related post: Putting our money where our mouth is: Procuring government digital services

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