Skuid recently launched the Opinionated Experience, aka The OX, a show where we discuss how to drive business impact through software, human-centered design, digital transformation, and more with leaders who want to get stuff done.
Whether you’re a product owner, an operational leader, or an IT professional, this show is for you. Want to build enterprise software that works and works well? The OX is about being bold – and opinionated – in your design, processes, and how you work in the digital world.
Our first episode was all about the “build, buy, or double down” dilemma faced by software decision-makers. For episode two, we turn to the public sector and how it’s leading the way in building great employee experiences. Host Matt Brown, Skuid’s Senior Manager of Product Marketing, is joined by Ashleigh Holt, Senior Customer Success Manager, and Evan Roth, Public Sector Account Executive. Ashleigh has worked in the DoD and intelligence space for most of her career, and Evan is a former Air Force pilot who made his own shift to the private sector. Their topic, “Unlocking Employee Experience: What the private sector can learn from PubSec,” generated an awesome discussion and key takeaways for organizations in either category.
Watch the episode here or read the full recap below.
Stereotypes of PubSec vs. private sector
Government agencies and other public sector organizations have a certain image: slow to change, clunky, outdated, not particularly tech-savvy, etc. And yet, they are leading the way when it comes to creating innovative employee experiences.
A big part of the drive to innovate comes from employees.“Civil servants are human,” Ashleigh says. “They’re not these robots who need to just use whatever tools that are put in front of them. Everyone wants better, more intuitive experiences. Matt agrees. “Software should humanize us, not dehumanize us,” he says.
In his own experience as a government employee, Evan assumed that the private sector had it together when it came to digital experiences. “That’s absolutely not always the case,” he says. The private sector doesn’t have it all figured out, so PubSec doesn’t need to either; they can use their processes, requirements, and limitations to build excellent experiences on their terms.
Challenges faced by PubSec leaders
PubSec, with its often-stringent rules and regulations, faces a particular set of challenges regarding technology. For one, Ashleigh points out that COTS or commercial off-the-shelf solutionsdon’t typically meet the specific needs and requirements of the government workforce. They may not be extensible or scalable enough to keep pace with security guidelines or changing specifics, at least not without a significant investment in custom code.
For another, PubSec generally has long acquisition cycles. That means that when an agency has selected a tool and put it into use, it may not meet the original requirements. Then, they’re either back to the drawing board or stuck putting together some kind of ad-hoc solution that comes with its own set of problems.
Finally, the difference between digital transformation and digital translation can take a lot of work to grasp. Rather than creating “digital-native” experiences, many PubSec organizations are putting what’s already on paper into the digital space. “Often, they’re translating legacy records from paper to digital,” Ashleigh says, which does not represent real digital transformation. “Translation doesn’t add any real value or update any workflows,” says Matt. Still, it’s often necessary for agencies just starting out on their journey toward digitization.
True digital transformation is no easy featand typically represents a major investment of both time and money — two things that can be hard to come by for government workforces. And as Evan points out, these applications need to be rolled out to huge numbers of people—in the 500K range — and meet extensive requirements around accessibility, security, and more.
Overcoming limitations to create great experiences
While the challenges faced by PubSec leaders are daunting, they also serve as a driving force for innovation. “You’re basically creating diamonds from pressure,” says Evan. Ashleigh agrees, adding that the government's strict rules around approved tools and software “force people to think outside the box with what they have.”
That can lead to some truly creative solutions. “When you think of Salesforce, you think CRM,” says Ashleigh. But many PubSec agencies are taking the platform in entirely new directions, using it to build boutique experience platforms. “Who would have thought you could use Salesforce to create a fitness tracking app?” Evan says, referring to the U.S. Department of the Air Force’s hire-to-retire portal, which started as a fitness app.
As a federally approved and ramped platform, Salesforce is one of the main tools at PubSec organizations’ disposal. It’s highly robust and extensible, which allows teams at government agencies to build for interoperability with legacy systems. With Skuid, it’s also customizable with little to no custom code—a common requirement for PubSec applications. “With Salesforce, teams are embracing the art of what’s possible,” says Evan.
With only a select few approved software tools on hand, PubSec app builders have also become proficient at what Ashleigh calls “paring down distractions” to create experiences that do exactly what they need to and do it well. Matt adds to this, speaking from his experience reviewing potential software solutions. “I would look at these options, like 150 templates, and have no idea how to narrow it down to what would actually add value.” This “analysis paralysis” often prevents companies in the private sector from making a decision and slows their forward progress.
Public sector organizations face limited budgets and quick timelines, which leaves little room for error. To avoid wasting these resources on building an app that no one will use, PubSec leaders are increasingly embracing human-centered design. Matt points out that this doesn’t mean to only “make things look pretty.” It’s about putting the user at the center of everything you create. At recent “Chattanooga experiences,” Skuid’s immersive on-site workshops, Evan has seen public sector and government customers doing just that. “They start with the user journey,” he says.
Three key takeaways
Episode 2 of The OX wrapped up by establishing three takeaways that public and private sector organizations can use to build better employee experiences through great application design. The first came from Evan: “Start with the human first and the tech second.” In other words, begin your process with the user at the center, not with the technological tools and capabilities you have at your disposal.
Second, don’t be afraid to start with digital translation and work up to digital transformation if that’s where you are right now. “Digital translation can lead to digital transformation through building familiarity and experience with Agile sprints and iteration,” says Ashleigh. At the same time, keep in mind that the two are not the same.
And finally, as Evan puts it, “PubSec is leading the way!”
We hope you enjoyed this episode of the OX. Subscribe to our Youtube for more discussions on topics that matter to today’s GSD leaders. If there’s a topic you want us to cover, let us know on our social channels: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.