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Omni-Channel for Government Part 2: A Data-Powered Experience (VIDEO)

Jordan Hirsch, Director, Strategy
#Data Visualization | Posted

As I discussed in Part 1 of this blog post, an omni-channel strategy is not just for retail organizations. Omni-channel is a powerful tool for governments to foster trust, enhance the citizen experience, and power more efficient and effective service delivery. The tool that powers all this? Data. Behind every omni-channel strategy is a set of structured data. In this post, we’ll take a look at some non-retail organizations who are using data to power successful omni-channel strategies, and walk you through how to get started with an omni-channel strategy for your organization.

Who’s Doing It Well?

The City of Boston

The City of Boston is doing some very interesting things with their data to improve service delivery and meet users where they are. The Boston Mayor’s office introduced CityScore, “an initiative designed to inform the Mayor and city managers about the overall health of the City at a moment’s notice by aggregating key performance metrics into one number.”

Aggregating data from across the city, measuring everything from emergency service reaction times to the on-time garbage pickups, CityScore uses data (and transparency) to shine a light on the city’s performance both at a glance an in detail, providing valuable insight into pain points and areas for improvement.

A snapshot of vital stats from the City of Boston
Source: CityScore,

Is this omni-channel? Not exactly, but it is a piece of a larger strategy to optimize city services and provide an enhanced citizen experience across city government. For example, the city partnered with Uber to utilize so-called “smart data” about Uber usage to help inform traffic management and planning in the city. Previously, the city had worked with a vendor to improve the “Street Bump” app, which automatically detects potholes and other street quality issues and sends the data to a central repository; this information is then used to identify and prioritize repair projects.

Individually, each of these is a clever use of data; collectively, they form the basis of an omni-channel approach to government: one which lowers the barriers for citizens to benefit from government services, and which prioritizes reducing friction in citizen interactions (for example, through transparency and good design).

The American Red Cross

A non-governmental organization that  is practicing omni-channel thinking is the American Red Cross, whose Digital Operations Center is a great example of meeting users where they are to provide service delivery where it’s needed most. The Center is the first social media-based operation devoted to humanitarian relief. In addition to automated social data visualizations, the Digital Operations Center is staffed during emergencies by volunteers who are trained to respond online to questions from the public, distribute critical information, and provide comfort and reassurance during emergencies.

A key element of this system is that it monitors channels that users are already using, rather than forcing them to adopt a new behavior or tool in order to access services. 

Your Next Steps

The good news is you don’t have to spend your entire digital budget and reorganize all your operations to start down the path of omni-channel. There are some low-risk steps you can take in the short term to improve your understanding of your citizens and their needs, and review how well the user experience you offer meets those needs.

  • Personas
    Personas help you understand who your citizens are. There are a wealth of resources about them online, but at its core, a persona is a representation of a type of user (or citizen) that helps guide your design efforts by clarifying who it is you’re designing for. They tell you things like demographic and psychographic information about a person, their goals, what their day is like, and what their context is. Personas are by definition an over-simplification of a real person, but they allow you to focus your efforts somewhat by not trying to design for everyone at the same time. Although of course governments have to serve all their citizens, trying to design for everyone – as opposed to focusing on the most common use cases – is a sure path to designing for no one. Start small, and try to limit yourself at first so you don’t get overloaded.
  • User Journeys
    Once you have a set of personas in place, you can map out of a set of user journeys. These will help illustrate how citizens interact with government and access government services. A user journey shows all the steps the person represented by a given persona has to go through in order to accomplish a goal (for example, renew their driver’s license). They should show online and offline aspects of the journey as well as document how this persona might be feeling at every given point. What channels are they using to interact with government? Perhaps most importantly, where are the gaps where the user needs to carry out a step but there is no simple way for them to do so given your existing channels? Each touchpoint on this journey is a chance to either build confidence, or erode trust.
  • Data audit
    What do you know about your citizens? How can you use that information? Is it shareable? Is it accessible? What are the regulatory and privacy concerns? Auditing your data after creating personas and user journeys helps simplify the task, as you don’t have to look at every piece of data you have – start by looking at data that impacts or is generated by the personas and user journeys you’ve chosen to start with. Don’t shy away from what you might find in the data; use this is a chance to improve based on the story the data tells you.
  • Channel Audit
    How are you already communicating with your citizens? Compare the channels you have in use to the ones needed to fill all the gaps in your user journeys. Remember external channels like social media, and offline channels like phone lines, mailings, and offices. Is your messaging consistent across these channels? How about the user experience? Is the information available the same across channels? (It often isn’t!) Eventually you can get more advanced and look at tone and voice, but for now, focus on consistency of information across channels, and ensuring that you are communicating using channels where you will actually reach your citizens.

Change Takes Change

Keep in mind, operating in an omni-channel capacity isn’t something that happens overnight. It requires a solid strategic foundation and often can mean some cultural change as well. Remember that omni-channel is content, and content needs strategy. And remember that strategy can be hampered or enabled by culture.

Make sure your goals are clearly identified, and that you have a clear strategy to get you there. Be willing to share data and experiment. Be willing to evolve  – you may not get it right at first, but every step tells you something and gets you closer to your goal of providing a true omni-channel experience that puts your users at the center of the experience. A willingness to experiment and learn will help you not just “do” omni-channel, but “be” omni-channel.

Of course, Phase2 can help you with any or all of the above! Get in touch today to learn more about getting started with omni-channel.

Jordan Hirsch

Director, Strategy