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Tech Alone Can’t Solve Government’s Customer Experience Clunkers

By Frank Konkel // March 26, 2015

venimo/Shutterstock.com

The federal customer experience generally lags behind that of leading private sector companies, but technology is helping select agencies close the gap.

It’s important to realize, however, that technology is an enabler, not a cure-all.

The biggest challenge to the government improving its customer experience still lies with people, not tech, experts say.

“Having a great team is important, but look at the challenges everyone faces when having different operations in a silo,” said Abraham Marinez, who heads up the Education Department’s student aid customer-experience efforts. He spoke March 24 at a summit on customer experience hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov.

Marinez has championed efforts to make the application process for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, more user friendly. FAFSA officials now help assist prospective students via social media, for example.

He said more agencies should engage with users on social media and abide by open government and open data standards.

But even the best technology means absolutely nothing without a talented, digitally-skilled workforce, Marinez said.

People aren’t only the driving force behind technology implementations designed to improve customer experience. They are also a vital source of feedback, said Phaedra Chrousos, the ...

Does the Customer Know Best When it Comes to Federal Services?

By Frank Konkel // March 24, 2015

Flickr user O'Reilly Conferences

Former Google engineer Mikey Dickerson came to work for the U.S. government last year leading the rapid fix of the Obama administration’s high-profile botched rollout of HealthCare.gov.

The site’s doomed launch -- complete with technology flaws and procurement mishaps -- earned its share of bad press. But lost in the political firestorm was the utter customer-experience fail the site represented.

When the government opened its electronic doors to nearly 20 million Americans in October 2013, it opened its doors to 20 million customers shopping for insurance plans for themselves and family members. That only 500,000 such customers were able to complete applications over a three-week period would surely have earned the government a beyond-terrible Yelp rating -- on par with some of the worst of all-time.  

That the public and media focus remained on the technological aspect of the failure is perhaps indicative of the administration’s attitudes at the time. In the rush to get the website up and running, the administration lost focus of whom the site was being built for.

That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Dickerson, speaking at the Customer Experience Summit in Washington, hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov ...

Here Are the Agencies That Let Their Scientists Speak (and Tweet) Freely

By Frank Konkel // March 20, 2015

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad."
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad." // AMC/AP

Science is awesome.

It’s a fact, and if you don’t believe me, check out NASA’s imagery, the Interior Department’s amazing Instagram account or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s futuristic efforts. Or just binge watch “Breaking Bad” like the rest of us and learn the importance chemistry plays in people’s daily lives: Yeah, science!

And because science is awesome, science practitioners -- also known as scientists -- possess intrinsic value to the American public and decision-makers. As scientists, their research, knowledge and opinions matter. Would you rather listen to biased politicians and nonscientists dissect key issues like global warming, or would you rather listen to thousands of trained scientists at NASA who unanimously agree on factual data?

It’s not always easy for scientists to share their viewpoints and speak freely on issues, though. Scientists who publicly do so frequently face backlash. Examples abound: Religious folks got mad when astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s TV show didn’t give equal airtime to creationism, and Bill Nye took heat after dominating a televised debate with creationist Ken Ham.

Scientists in government have additional problems: The things they say, post to Facebook or tweet has an effect on ...

Another Gender Equality Fail: Top Tech Execs Still Clueless About Women

By Frank Konkel // March 17, 2015

United States CTO Megan Smith // Flickr user Internet Education Foundation

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is a brilliant businessman and a certified billionaire nine times over, but he doesn’t appear to have a clue about gender equality or women in technology.

That much was obvious Monday when Schmidt repeatedly talked over and interrupted fellow South by Southwest panelist U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith during a discussion about -- you guessed it -- gender equality in technology.

He spoke over Smith, a former Google employee, and even suggested which audience questions Smith should respond to. It became so awkward that a woman in the audience eventually called Schmidt out, prompting raucous applause.

Mercifully, the panel didn't run long because if it had, Schmidt might have asked Smith to schedule his appointments, cook his dinner and fold his freaking laundry. 

Unfortunately, Schmidt’s unconscious gaffe seems more the tech industry standard than an isolated bout of ignorance.

A few months ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told women with tech jobs not to ask for pay raises. He suggested women who don’t ask for raises accumulate “good karma” that bosses apparently equate to deserving more responsibility.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that ...

Can HP's 'Security-as-a-Service' Product Change How Agencies Secure Apps?

By Frank Konkel // March 17, 2015

Gil C/Shutterstock.com

HP bills its latest security software offering to government customers as the first cloud-based “security software-as-a-service” solution to meet requirements under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.

In truth, HP’s latest offering, HP Fortify on Demand, is unique among FedRAMP’s growing list of compliant solutions. Government customers can use Fortify to perform security assessments of new or existing application code, websites and end-to-end mobile app security testing through the cloud, an important feature given that various research cited by HP contends that 70 percent of data breaches now occur through software -- not network -- vulnerabilities.

Rob Roy, chief technology officer for HP’s enterprise security products, told me the demand from government customers pushed HP to get Fortify on Demand through the FedRAMP process. It took approximately two years and significant investment, but Roy said he believes it worthwhile because public and private sector organizations continue to struggle with the security of their software, which he refers to as the “soft cheese center” or most organizations.

“Which applications do you protect? The best answer is you have to protect them all,” Roy said, adding that the civilian sector of government operates some 150,000 applications. “We’re seeing ...