Five years into a comprehensive Digital Government Strategy, the US Department of State has transformed the way they deliver digital services to the American people.
Fore-fronting the movement as the Director of the Office of Digital, Bureau of International Information Programs, is Sheila Rose Campbell. Her team is responsible for managing the digital platform for the 200+ U.S. embassy websites and providing industry-leading digital tools to support the Department’s public affairs staff worldwide.
Conference Producer Claire Dowler chatted with Sheila ahead of Akolade's Australian Digital Government Summit to discuss the Bureau’s progress in digitising their services as well as future initiatives.
Claire: Your department has been undertaking the digital transition for several years now- what are some of the biggest achievements to date?
Sheila: Our bureau with the Department of State -- the Bureau of International Information Programs, which serves as our Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy shop -- has adopted a "digital first" vision for transforming the way we work and how we support our colleagues at our 200+ embassies worldwide.
Our biggest achievements have been to modernise our digital platforms for both our employees and our external customers. Internally, we've created a holistic, modern workplace and provided secure cloud-based tools so everyone on our team can work anywhere, anytime, on any device.
Externally, we've modernised and consolidated our embassy websites under a unified, secure, scalable platform, reducing the number of sites from over 450 to less than 200. We moved off an old, obsolete platform, reduced our footprint by over half, improved the mobile experience for our users, and reduced the amount of time to publish content by nearly two-thirds.
Claire: What has been your greatest challenge as you move to digital platforms? How did you overcome it?
Sheila: Our biggest challenge hasn't been moving to digital platforms per se, since we've been using digital technology extensively for years. Internally, the hard part has been educating people about the benefits of cloud and commercial technology, especially when there is so much misinformation about the cloud not being secure.
Because senior leadership often feels intimidated by technology, it is too easy for people to say that some of this new technology is not "secure," which typically shuts down thoughtful decision-making. And leaders don't always know how to ask the right questions.
So change management has been a challenge and is often overlooked.
We've overcome some of this by piloting emerging technology at a very small scale, where we can create a proof-of-concept and show some quick wins and the "art of the possible" to key stakeholders.
Claire: What are some of the future goals for the Department of State? What sort of services do you hope to be able to deliver digitally?
Sheila: One of our biggest priorities is to roll-out a Contact Relationship Management tool (CRM) to our overseas colleagues and domestic offices. Contacts are the currency of everything we do in public diplomacy, so it's critical for us to have a unified platform that can track all our relationships, the history of those interactions, and deliver better, targeted services based on people's individual interests.
Right now, we have too many people trying to manage contacts via business cards, rolodexes, Excel spreadsheets, and clunky legacy systems that are extremely inefficient.
With a modern, unified CRM, we have the potential to deliver better services to help people from other countries work, visit, and study in the U.S., and share targeted information about policy issues that are important to them such as women's entrepreneurship and civil society.
Claire: What have been the benefits of adopting cloud technology?
Sheila: The biggest benefits have been a significant increase in mobility, collaboration, and productivity. People are no longer chained to their desks to get their jobs done. We've been able to move away from the dependence on email and move to a greater diversity of tools that are more open and collaborative, which is the same experience that people have in their personal lives.
It's also increased staff morale, recruitment, and retention, because people know that the organisation is investing in modern, familiar tools that will make their jobs easier. The next generation of foreign service officers expect this kind of workplace environment, and if we don't provide it, we'll lose the best and brightest talent to other more forward-leaning organisations.
Claire: What advice would you offer Government departments embarking on their digital journey?
Sheila: I would recommend starting small by piloting new digital tools within a program office/business unit that has a clear use case, rather than try to move to an enterprise solution right away.
Get some traction and quick wins first on a small scale where the risk is low and you can clearly show the value of the new technology in meeting a critical need. And above all, invest in change management since that's more important than the actual technology.
Within the pilot, choose commercial technology that people are already familiar with to reduce the burden on staff and training. Make sure you have strong leadership who will model use of the digital tools themselves, as well as grassroots support.
Regardless of whether your digital transformation is internal or external, be sure to adopt a user-centred design approach where you constantly focus on the customer experience and you regularly use data to make continuous improvements.
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Article by Claire Dowler, Conference Producer, Akolade Australian Digital Government Summit