Last week, the Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration announced that $100 million from the Technology Modernization Fund would be allocated to projects related to customer experience efforts.
Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana and TMF Executive Director Raylene Yung spoke to FCW about the investment.
How does this announcement fit with the TMF so far – have you seen any CX proposals yet?
MARTORANA: We kept having some CX proposals among our 130 submissions that came in when we released the payback forecast in May last year. The way we actually handle our suggestions is we have primary, secondary and tertiary suggestions areas that suggestions could hit. Obviously, a submission from an agency often ticks a few boxes, doesn’t it? Customer experience and cybersecurity, modernization of legacy IT systems.
This allowed us to sync a lot of management goals and really focus on the customer experience.
Customer experience was not necessarily a central part of the focus on IT modernization that was paramount in the development of TMF. Do you expect members of Congress to be on board, and if there’s anyone who isn’t, what’s your take on them?
MARTORANA: In the specific guidance that was provided as part of the American rescue plan, two specific things were mentioned among many others. One was fixing SolarWinds, so cybersecurity, and issues that became relevant during Covid-19, and many agencies… started providing almost all of their public interaction experiences through digital channels.
A lot of our systems were really flawed and I think that really speaks to the IT modernization that is needed across the federal organization.
YUNG: A few investments that we announced recently… I think they would also fit into this forecast. A good example is investing in [the National Archives and Records Administration] that requires a time-consuming, paper-based process that must be brought online and allows veterans and millions of people to request records digitally.
How do you measure impact for these types of projects?
MARTORANA: We really focus on project outcomes, period. That’s part of the methodology that we actually use when we evaluate… a project is what the end customer benefit is, whether the customer is the public, a beneficiary, or even a federal employee using a system.
The example Raylene set in relation to NARA is excellent because these are paper-based processes and there is tremendous exposure to both the public trying to interact with us on paper and the federal employees who process that paper actually have to edit.
So then the agencies have to come back to the board with some kind of metric?
MARTORANA. Absolutely: It’s an important part of how we manage this portfolio. What’s really different about the way we’ve managed TMF for the past…nine months is that we start our project approval process with technologists at the table and in addition to technologists, digital acquisition experts and change management staff who are in Agencies have carried out transformations. Up front we look for value and project outcomes, and then as we go through the process the agency teams work very closely with them [project management office].
Then, if they’re lucky enough to receive an investment from us, we’ll continue the journey with them. We conduct monthly interactions with them. They come to the quarterly review in front of the full board. We don’t release money unless they meet very specific milestones that are negotiated in advance. We really manage this like an active investment, not a one off, you come in, get the money and then, good luck, you’re on your own. It’s really a very active process between the board and the TMF PMO really spends a tremendous amount of their time managing the active projects.
YUNG: You mentioned this flexible payback and then how we show value through metrics, and I just wanted to say that those are also tied. The idea of setting a flexible payback is directly related to the type of impact and return on investment we think we will get from an investment. Therefore, disproportionate time and cost savings for the public may result in a reduced rate of reimbursement for the agency. We look at a complete, holistic picture of what that return on investment looks like.
Have you scaled as a people and organization since ARPA’s $1 billion investment? Are there any other organizational changes that have taken place on the back end of things?
YUNG: In the last few months we’ve reviewed more proposals and made more investments than TMF has in the previous three and a half years combined, so it’s really scaled up considerably. These include the number of people in the PMO, the expertise of the employees and the great commitment of the board. I’d say the board members…spent a lot of time reviewing proposals with agencies in those monthly and quarterly reviews that Clare mentioned.
It’s similar with CX, something we’re excited about [is] …we are also opening new positions to hire additional subject matter experts and technical leads for the team who can work directly with agencies and our new investment portfolios.
MARTORANA: It was really important for us to go from a program management operational rhythm to a real part of the technologists at every step of the process. We know that we get better results for technology projects when we involve subject matter experts in every part of the process.
[Yung] really changed the team… One thing that the PMO team has streamlined is the processes that typically make initial project proposals, which some agencies have spent a tremendous amount of time on. The PMO team designed this type of “expression of interest survey”. It’s really easy. An agency can just submit a few project ideas and get feedback very early on before investing a lot of time.
The PMO team, led by Raylene, has worked really hard to ensure we are responding to agencies as quickly as possible. We know they are under a lot of pressure and we really want to try to support them and give them answers as soon as possible.