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New Adobe platform would personalize an agency website for individual users

A new Adobe product unveiled Monday would allow a federal agency to tailor its website and customer service operations to specific citizens based on their geographic location and, perhaps, their past contact with the agency.

If the Federal Emergency Management Agency were a customer, for instance, people accessing the FEMA home page from flood- and hurricane-damaged areas would see links to the specific services they're after, Adobe Group Manager Bobby Caudill said.

The company's Customer Experience Management platform is being marketed in the same form to government and to industry, he said, though the two would likely utilize it in different ways.

The new platform also would create an instant, unified record of a customer's interaction with a company or agency, regardless of where or how that interaction is happening, Caudill said.

In a government context, that might mean if a person applying for Social Security benefits online hits a question he can't answer and calls a toll-free number, the Social Security Administration worker on the other end already will know the backstory before he or she picks up the phone.

In that example, the SSA worker's computer would likely recognize the applicants' name and Social Security number and pull up information about the uncompleted form, showing exactly where the applicant stopped, Caudill said.

If multiple agencies buy the platform, then it's possible they could share customer service data, he said, but that would depend on their privacy policies and other issues.

Caudill said he didn't expect a significant backlash from privacy advocates because the records the new Adobe platform would pull together already exist in separate places and the information agencies choose to pull into those records would be subject to existing privacy policies and protected behind existing security.

Adobe, a major government information technology contractor, has been working on the new platform for several years, and expects to capitalize on a recent push to improve the government's customer service, Caudill said.

That push was stated most clearly in an April executive order, directing federal agencies to write new technology-based plans to improve their customer service within six months and to better gather customer feedback on their websites.

As private sector companies have improved their customer service through technology, customers have begun to expect more efficient, quicker service from the public sector too, Caudill said. And the government has stopped viewing its customer service operations as fundamentally different from what the private sector does, he said.

"I've been doing this a long time and just over the past year our conversations with [government] customers and prospective customers have changed dramatically," Caudill said. "I've been given permission by government audiences themselves to stop making a distinction between customers and citizens."

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