Trends

GOVERNMENT IT REPORT

Consumers Give High Marks to Federal E-Gov Websites

Politicians would give almost anything to garner a voter-approval rating north of 75 percent.However, a surprising number of federal agencies are getting much higher marks for their customer-facing websites than the politicians who oversee agency operations from the vantage of Capitol Hill.

Citizen satisfaction with federal government websites remained, on average, at 75 on a 100-point scale at the end of 2010 — an annual rating just a tad below a quarterly peak rating of 75.3 in the third quarter of 2010, according to a survey released by ForeSee Results. Since the ratings began almost eight years ago, three of the top five quarterly scores occurred in 2010. That indicates continuing progress by federal agencies in creating a meaningful Internet presence.

While private sector websites, in general, tend to score higher satisfaction rates than government sites, according to ForeSee, the best-scoring federal websites outperformed the best-scoring private-sector offerings. Three Social Security Administration sites took the top three positions in the report’s ratings, ahead of Netflix, Google and Amazon. Several other federal sites were sprinkled among the top 12 listings.

ForeSee produced the report in association with ACSI LLC, home of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), developed at the University of Michigan.

Agency Cooperation Spurs Progress

“A lot of the credit for achieving these good ratings goes to the website managers at the agencies. They take a long-term view of serving the public, and they are dedicated to that,” Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results, told the E-Commerce Times.

“It’s not so much the programs they use, whether internal or external, or even if they have a formal customer relationship management program. I think the success comes from making the proper website adjustments by interacting with citizens through constant surveys of people who come to their sites,” he said.

“Also, the agencies have achieved a good degree of cooperation and sharing of best practice ideas among themselves. The Federal Web Managers Council has contributed to that,” Freed added.

The council, operated through the General Services Administration (GSA), provides information and training for federal Web operators.

The Web managers council, in fact, just recently launched a new website tool, HowTo.gov, to enhance cooperation among agencies in utilizing innovative technologies.The site will facilitate the exchange of best practices and ideas across a full range of customer channels.

Among the resources and capabilities provided through the site: strategic planning and coordinating of customer service channels; federal Web requirements and policies; cloud computing, apps, data and Web infrastructure tools; Web content management; and online citizen engagement through social media.

While HowTo.gov is primarily aimed at government managers, support groups and services are invited to utilize it. By monitoring the site, private sector providers of Internet tools will likely be able to track agency needs and requirements.

Despite the progress federal agencies have made in website management, challenges remain. One critical hurdle is dealing with a demographic issue. Three of the top federal websites are directed to senior citizens, but that will change.

“E-government has been a federal government success story, but it would be foolish to declare victory just yet,” said Freed. “There is a whole generation of ‘digital natives’ that have never known a world without the Internet, and they will expect to interact with the government the only way they know how: online. Federal websites must continue to keep pace with constantly higher expectations.”

While websites can, and do, increase productivity, federal agencies will still face the challenge of budget constraints in terms of investing in website management, the report notes.

The Federal Buzz: Notes on Government IT

NIST Cloud: The National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST) is moving briskly to carry out its mandate as the designated agency for developing standards related to federal cloud initiatives. To foster collaboration related to the secure adoption of cloud computing at the federal level, the agency has launched the NIST Cloud Computing Collaboration Site.

While the site is primarily designed to support federal cloud installations, vendors and other private sector entities have been encouraged to become involved in the NIST program through the site.

“This wasn’t designed just for federal agencies as they develop cloud capabilities. It is currently being implemented and supported by federal agencies, industry representatives and academic experts,” Bob Bohn, NIST’s cloud architecture project lead, told the E-Commerce Times.

The site format includes a TWiki mechanism to keep all stakeholders informed of the progress of five cloud development working groups by posting agendas and working documents. The five working groups are: Business Use Cases; Reference Architecture and Taxonomy; Standards Roadmap; Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart the Adoption of Cloud Computing (SAJACC), and Cloud Security.

“Business firms currently are involved in the TWiki since many of the members of the working groups are from the private sector. It was our vision that the private sector would be involved in the NIST cloud strategy by participating in the working groups and help shape the cloud computing road map,” Bohn added.

“We regard the TWiki as a log of activity and progress of each working group in addition to a communication tool for the members of the groups. To be involved in the TWiki and participate, you have to join one of the groups. From the outset, our group activity has been described as open, transparent and participatory,” Bohn said.

House Rules: As with the general public, members of the House of Representatives may not be able to drive cars while using electronic devices. However, Member use of such devices while driving legislation through the House is moving closer to reality.

The House modified a rule that prohibited the use of mobile phones and personal computers on the House floor to banning the use of such devices when it is “disruptive of the decorum.” The change “will give the Speaker greater latitude in deciding which mobile devices may or may not be used by Members on the floor,” the House Rules Committee said.

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