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Establishing a U.S. Customer-Focussed Digital Ecosystem

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The lifecycle of a digital product is typically more difficult to manage than that of a physical product because digital products do not occupy physical space. When people don’t see something every day, it’s easy for it to languish without sufficient support to remain compliant and useful.

Even if a team determines that it is time to sunsetting a digital product such as a website, they rarely have a plan for doing so in a compliant and responsible manner, reusing what is helpful and discarding what is not.

With this, the Enterprise Digital Experience team of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), an internal team seeking to improve customer experience across GSA’s online portfolio, developed a Digital Lifecycle Programme, which provides a roadmap and tools to assist GSA web teams in managing a website over its entire lifecycle.

The Digital Lifecycle Programme is a component of an ongoing enterprise-wide initiative to transform GSA’s digital properties into a user-friendly, customer-centric ecosystem that is accessible to both GSA workers and customers. This ecosystem consists of:

  • Establishing a Digital Council and Executive Board for the agency to provide supervision and direction;
  • Revising internal agency policies to define roles and responsibilities for digital property management;
  • Defining common measurements for web management best practices for senior leaders and
  • Developing accurate job descriptions for website managers and ensuring that their work is reflected in their performance plans.

The public has a right to transparent and accountable management of their digital assets, and the people who do web management work deserve credit for that work.

During the development of the Digital Lifecycle Programme, the GSA Enterprise Digital Experience team talked to many website teams and stakeholders about their digital management. They focused on people who didn’t have a background in technology or programming to find out how they deal with digital management and compliance issues.

Through these conversations, they learned that there are four times in a website’s life when its manager and team need help making decisions and understanding their compliance requirements. So, the Digital Lifecycle Programme was built around these four stages Proposal, Design and Launch, Management and Evaluation and Redesign or Decommission. The Digital Lifecycle Programme guides website managers through the rules and laws that federal websites must follow at each step.

The hardest part of making the programme was spacing out these requirements so that website managers only had to think about those that were important at that time. To do this, they worked closely with website managers and tested and retested these steps before launching it in beta, and they still test and change it.

Now, if a programme office thinks it needs a new website, the Proposal phase will help them figure out what they need to make that site work. They also set up a new way to get approval. Now, teams must present a business case to the Executive Board and get approval before they can move forward with development.

As they build the site, they use a short but thorough Design and Launch Checklist to remind them of what policies and laws they need to keep in mind before the site goes live. They can use the Management and Evaluation tools to keep the site compliant as they work on it.

The Redesign or Decommission tools will assist them in making an informed decision about whether the site should remain online or be sunsetted as it starts to lose its utility or the team that supports it changes. The tools also walk them through the sunsetting process.

The Digital Lifecycle Programme is and probably always will be a work in progress. Its success and relevance depend on the collaboration of the GSA website managers, digital pioneers, and federal clients.

It is proudly presented as a model to other federal agencies by the Enterprise Digital Experience team. They may lessen administrative responsibilities, remain in compliance with the law, and deliver outstanding customer experiences in GSA’s digital space—and remove outmoded, stale products and services—by considering sunset even as they develop and launch websites.

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