How can we turn the IDEA for digital government into reality?

Modernized websites with online forms and electronic signatures are helping government agencies improve service delivery.

By Jonathan Benett

Posted on 12-23-2020

When Congress passed the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, otherwise known as 21st Century IDEA, in December of 2018, the goal was to improve the overall digital customer experience for government customers.

At its core, 21st Century IDEA was to move agencies towards digital government by setting goals and deadlines for agencies to transform their operations and improve user experience for digital services. This would be done through improving website design and creating consistent user experiences online that are mobile friendly, implementing online digital forms for easier enrollment in services and adoption of electronic signatures to streamline workflows, speed-up service delivery and reduce costs.

In the first year, progress was made across government towards modernization. However, the COVID pandemic suddenly forced the government to accelerate its move to a “digital first” strategy.

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COVID is pushing government to adopt digital solutions

The public’s demand for information and services to cope with the disruptions caused by the pandemic far outweighed the capabilities of many government agencies, straining websites and backend systems.

Meanwhile, the government’s 9 million+ workforce was suddenly pushed to telework. Millions of people who worked in contact support centers, offices and other facilities had to be shifted to remote working models almost overnight. Critical services, benefits and tax refunds all faced long delivery delays as agency operations dependent on paper-based processes and manual approvals came to a grinding halt.

The solution to releasing government from paralysis was obvious: Implement the digital solutions outlined in 21st Century IDEA.

Agencies responded by communicating with their remote workforce through FedRAMP Authorized solutions like Adobe Connect, onboarding new employees virtually, and creating online forms and automated workflows that allowed people to enroll in services and receive timely notifications.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used Adobe Analytics to determine what content people needed on their website and they used Adobe Campaign to communicate critical updates about COVID-19 to over two million subscribers.

In speaking at Adobe’s annual Digital Government Symposium, former federal chief information officer Suzette Kent noted that, “In crisis, one often has new clarity about what is important and what’s most needed, and the national response to COVID-19 required that agencies continue to support mission continuity, but also be incredibly nimble and aggressive in how they responded.”

Watch the full discussion here.

Now as we approach one year of the coronavirus arriving in the United States, and two years of the 21st Century IDEA, it is a good time to take stock of some of what has been accomplished and look ahead to 2021 by answering an important question: How can we turn the IDEA for digital government into reality?

Forward motion should be government’s new legacy

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), 80 percent of the federal IT budget is spent on legacy technologies (approximately $72 billion). This was unsustainable before COVID.

The pandemic has shifted work and service delivery models in ways that have become permanent. Government agencies at the federal, state and local levels that implemented online service enrollment with online forms and electronic signatures are not returning to paper-based processes. What’s more, citizens demand a government that is much more responsive to the public’s needs.

The truth of the matter is — the only legacy concept the government should be prioritizing is moving forward to meet the requirements outlined in the 21st Century IDEA.

To help illustrate the benefits of implementing 21st Century IDEA, here are some federal agencies and departments that are paving the way to meet the goals and ideals of digital government and in doing so are serving their customers more efficiently and effectively.

How the U.S. Census went digital

The U.S. Census Bureau revamped its website, and for the first time in its history (nearly 230 years) collected 2020 Census responses online with a website designed to serve 330 million people.

Creating a responsive, mobile-friendly website with consistent user experience allowed the Census to improve its reach and collect more data. Census also provided people with personalized content and landing pages in over 50 languages to achieve greater accessibility.

Because the COVID pandemic reduced in-person face-to-face interactions between Census workers and the public, the decision to migrate to a 21st Century IDEA model was incredibly beneficial for Census.

Of the 67 percent 2020 census self-response rate, 80 percent was online and primarily mobile. This reduced costs (at least $55M savings) and enhanced Census worker safety by reducing the need for in-person interviews.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development turns to digital documents

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set a goal to migrate more than 950 paper-based forms to mobile-friendly, cloud-hosted forms.

Through this modernization effort, HUD integrated best-in-class technology with existing government services, ensuring that all Americans — especially senior citizens — have the necessary tools available to obtain affordable housing.

As a result of digitizing its broad swath of paper-based forms, HUD met a key benchmark outlined in the 21st Century IDEA, which requires all forms to be digital by December 2020.

U.S. Department of Agriculture utilizes analytics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Voice of the Customer initiative enables employees to leverage data analytics and feedback to identify the customer needs and execute strategies to accommodate them.

In addition, the USDA continues its efforts to consolidate data centers and update Farmers.gov, a site dedicated to helping U.S. farmers obtain services, such as farm loans, faster than ever before.

Serve citizens and businesses faster with e-signatures

Adobe is helping agencies at every level to speed approvals with legal, secure, and completely digital workflows — by digitizing e-signatures and approval processes from start to finish.

The Department of Energy accelerated compliance with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) by leveraging its Innovation Community Center (ICC) and artificial intelligence/machine learning technology to digitize more than 150 forms and use of electronic signatures to help streamline service delivery and reduce paper and overall costs.

Building a government digital strategy that puts people first

So, how can we continue to turn the IDEA for digital government into reality?

The short answer: by focusing on digital strategy and implementing digital services that help solve the greatest needs of the people.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption, it also has accelerated the need for digital transformation. Not only is this being driven by citizens’ needs for essential services, but it also has the support of agency leadership and bi-partisan support in Congress — two factors that previously were not as present and as a result slowed digital innovation in government over the years.

Government is looking for ways to be more innovative and to adopt solutions faster to meet the overwhelming needs facing both the people and the government’s workforce.

Now is the time to leverage funding that’s been approved, as well as stay aware of new funding options that may come out in the months ahead, to leverage the 21st Century IDEA, to accelerate digital transformation, and improve the overall customer experience.

To learn more about how Adobe Government can help your agency better deliver digital services, visit us here.

Topics: Government, Insights & Inspiration, Digital Transformation, COVID-19, Experience Cloud, Public Policy

Products: Experience Platform, Acrobat, Sign, Analytics, Campaign,