Digital Services:
build or partner?

Implementing the best digital services
is a matter of function over form.

Every day your agency is faced with the challenge of delivering mission-critical digital services to meet the needs of your constituents. Whether it’s providing healthcare to millions of Americans, delivering medical services to veterans, or ensuring the quality of our food supply and environment, the expectation is for rapidly delivered, powerful, and useful digital services.

But how should you comprehensively manage your agency’s digital services? Do you allow system owners to manage themselves? If not, do you create your own in-house team to build digital services on its own—or do you enlist an outside partner to work with your digital services team to help ensure best practices? Before determining the answer, let’s identify the two most important components of any successful digital services strategy:

  • Be laser focused on the constituent and always practice user-centered design. It’s easy for agencies to concentrate on the technology or process behind a service instead of on constituents. Delivering the best digital services requires continuous, unwavering, and passionate focus on your constituents’ needs and the best ways to meet them. And your ability to understand and deliver should continuously adapt as citizens’ needs change over time.
  • Implement your digital services in the Cloud using Agile and DevOps methodologies. These are vital components to enable adaptability and quality.

Ask yourself this: can your agency do this the way you’re currently structured, or do you need to do something differently?

Ask yourself this: can your agency do this the way you’re currently structured, or do you need to do something differently?

As a way to help achieve this, the U.S. Digital Service has created a “playbook” ( of successful practices for agencies to follow. It outlines 13 key “plays” to help you build and maintain your digital services. But even with the best “playbook,” your agency needs to make sure you have the best team in place to execute those “plays.”

If your agency chooses to build its own digital services team, you may encounter the following challenges:

  • Funding issues. Depending on the size of your agency, you may not be able to bring in the number of FTEs needed
  • Expertise shortage. Digital services talent with federal expertise is difficult to find
  • Adaptability challenges. It’s a fixed set of resources once talent is hired, so it’s difficult to bring in new expertise and integrate them quickly, adapt to changing technologies, and pivot to meet the changing needs of your constituents

Oftentimes, these challenges are what drive some of the most successful digital services agencies to pursue a partner model and work with a company that can offer the following:

  • Provide experiences and lessons learned from projects done for many other agencies
  • Bring extensive private sector experience, expertise in emerging technologies, and experience with the latest best practices
  • Offer teams that can easily and quickly scale up and down as needs arise

With a partner approach, you can bring in a team to build your digital services on its own or one that can do it alongside you. A great partner will have the passion to maintain focus on the specific constituents for each of your digital services, while incorporating the volumes of data coming in to adapt your digital services to their ever-changing needs.

At Aquilent, we have considerable first-hand experience and success with a partnering approach, having partnered with dozens of agencies to help build their digital teams. We enable agencies to deliver a full set of digital services to multiple constituencies by providing them with full-service, self-contained digital services teams comprised of designers, developers, and strategists.

We invite you to see how Aquilent can help you assess, improve, and mature your agency’s digital services.

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