During six years as a senior executive at Gateway, including one year as the computer manufacturer’s CEO, Rick Snyder came to appreciate the central role that computers and Information Technology (IT) play in peoples’ lives and the economy. Soon after becoming the governor of Michigan in January 2011, Snyder realized that the state had a long way to go to establish a strong IT-citizen interface. The status quo, he feared, was unnecessarily layered, redundant, and complex, making it difficult for citizens, businesses, and state employees to get the information they needed. Snyder therefore laid out a vision to transform the state’s IT infrastructure that focused on the needs of customers (i.e., citizens, businesses, and state employees) and situated information and logins in one location. “We want to go toward something that I like to call ‘MI page,’” Snyder explained in late 2012, “a customer-centric model that says, ‘You are one person; you are one entity.’”
Over the last four years, state officials have undertaken a significant, multi-faceted effort to make the state’s IT infrastructure more customer-centric. Their top priorities are creating a strong enterprise information management system; replacing disjointed legacy systems with a single login and landing page for all state employees, citizens, and businesses; and making all citizen-facing applications accessible on mobile devices. At the same time, they have tried to leverage agile development and user-centered design to devise systems that are tailored to customer needs. Finally, they have endeavored to leverage the state’s existing IT strengths—including its consolidated IT setup and an enterprise portfolio management office—to help agencies and staff keep pace with this rapid change. “This is not your traditional, long, drawn-out government project,” said Eric Swanson, the Director of the state’s Center for Shared Solutions and Technology Partnerships, a leading organization in the reform effort. “These things are moving Mach 90.”
Nonetheless, this momentum was difficult to establish early on when state officials were priming agencies and staff for change, and it is not guaranteed to continue in the coming years as technology and customer needs continue to evolve. Thus, Snyder, Swanson, and other state officials have had to wrestle with and will continue to face a range of questions. How should they design new IT infrastructure and processes to maximize customer-centricity? How can they use agile development and user-centered design to inform their approach? How can they effect cultural change across state government? How can they prime the state’s workforce to adapt to the imperatives of 21st-century government?
Since the start of the 21st century, Michigan had taken critical steps toward becoming an optimized technology enterprise and creating an agile workforce in IT. Beginning in 2000, the state had started consolidating its IT infrastructure. This resulted in the creation of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), a central agency that has the power to push IT staff in different departments to move forward on reform.5 DTMB’s IT division also created an enterprise portfolio management office, which, as Swanson noted, serves as an incubator for and evaluator of innovative projects. Finally, Snyder appointed several senior officials with significant technological expertise. Chief among them were Budget Director John Nixon—who, according to Government Technology, is considered one of the most “techsavvy CFOs” in the country—and CIO David Behen, who had served as a county CIO and had substantial private sector experience.6 Thus, thanks to prior structural changes and Snyder’s strategic appointments, the state was, in crucial respects, well positioned to pursue the governor’s reform agenda at the start of his tenure.
Nonetheless, Michigan had to make significant changes to the status quo to achieve Snyder’s goals. The most immediate problem was the state’s fragmented approach to data management. For example, one large executivebranch agency had more than 170 data sharing agreements, including multiple agreements for individual programs. Thus, in 2013, Snyder issued an executive order that highlighted the need to “establish an environment where improved sharing and management of data will enhance services to citizens.” With that aim in mind, Snyder led an effort to create a standard data sharing agreement for all state agencies. What’s more, to ensure that these new policies were implemented, the governor and his staff took steps to break down a culture in which agencies felt that they owned their data. Most notably, they created data stewards in each department who meet monthly and serve as “the principle points of contact” for creating a synergistic data-sharing effort.
Halfway through his first term as governor, Snyder had taken significant steps towards creating a robust enterprise information management system—another key facet of transforming the state into an optimized enterprise.
While the emphases on improved data management and cultural change were valuable ends in and of themselves, they were also significant because they solidified the foundation for the state to pursue Snyder’s goal of creating a more citizen-centric approach. In 2014, the state began rolling out key facets of the citizen-centric approach, one of which was MiLogin. MiLogin allows the state’s “customers” to use a single username and password to access all of the state’s webbased platforms. Making this change was critical, Swanson explained, because, with 18 agencies, 130 unique websites, and 246 applications, there used to be (at least) 376 unique ways for customers to interact with the state online. Thus, the state made an approximately $8 million investment to migrate over 150 legacy applications to a central platform and create a single, easy-to-use login for millions of Michiganders.
Another integral aspect of the citizen-centric IT approach is MiPage—a free application that, as the DTMB website explains, “serves as your real-time link to all things Michigan.” It contains (among other things) a newsfeed with updates on major state and local events; mobile-friendly applications for a wide array of state services; and a search function that allows customers to learn about different state services and functions.7 It also embodies the governor’s vision to make government more user friendly. “The bottom line,” Swanson said, “[is] to improve and simplify government for citizens and businesses.”
To increase the relevance of MiPage and to augment the citizen experience further, the state has made a major push to maximize the number of webbased state services that are accessible via mobile devices. This also benefits state agencies because, as Swanson pointed out, Google now ranks results for mobile users based on whether the sites are mobile-friendly. Thus, if a state agency is not equipped to offer services on mobile devices, it risks losing its customer base. Nonetheless, securing agency buy-in has required continued cultural change. As Swanson recalled, some agencies initially did not take seriously the timeline for moving to mobile apps. However, after Behen, the state CIO, held a meeting with the General Managers (the senior IT account executives in each state agency) in which he forcefully emphasized the need to make progress, there was a sharp increase in the development of mobile applications. To Swanson, these interactions reflect the growing recognition among state employees that IT reform is a priority for some of the highest-ranking officials in the state. “He [Behen] keeps pushing us,” Swanson explained, “because his boss [Snyder] keeps pushing him to create that…one [digital] environment.”
To support these endeavors, Snyder, Swanson, and other state officials have striven to create a 21st-century workforce. This includes recruiting technologically savvy staff who, as Swanson said, are “hungry” to effect change. They have also created modern offices, such as the sleek “co-lab space” in which much of Swanson’s staff innovates. Finally, as part of an effort to create a digitally friendly ecosystem, the state has increased wireless connectivity and positioned more employees to work remotely. For example, the Michigan State Police recently closed 20 of its 29 posts. As a result, many officers now use their squad cars as their offices. Thus, Snyder and other state leaders are striving to create an agile workforce—another key ingredient to moving the state to the most innovative quadrants of the Uptake and Edge Matrix.
Infusing all of these reform efforts is an emphasis on agile development and user-centered design, much of which has been overseen by Suzanne Pauley, the director of the eMichigan program. Pauley—who reports directly to Swanson and oversees the development and management of the state’s web portals—has done extensive userdesign testing, including surveying citizens in public spaces, conducting focus groups, and completing usability studies. She has also played an integral role in ensuring that the state’s web portals are compatible with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act—a priority that Snyder emphasized in a 2014 executive order. More broadly, Pauley and her team are striving to remain cognizant of—and create a product that dovetails with— the governor’s vision.
I don’t think as a citizen, I should have to understand how state government works. I should not need to know there are 18 agencies and what each one of them does…. So [we’re] looking at the user experience across our entire digital environment and figuring out how do we get to that one brand, one experience, to make it so that it is seamless.
Six years into Snyder’s tenure as governor, he and his team are still seeking to become more innovative. Among other things, state officials hope to introduce a predictive element into their digital work (e.g., equipping MiPage to anticipate citizen needs, just as its counterparts in the private sector—like Amazon.com—are able to do). They also eventually hope to make their technology interactive so that customers and state officials can communicate a bout problems and co-create solutions. Finally, Swanson and his staff soon expect to engage in more rigorous cost-benefit analysis to develop a stronger evidence-based argument for their reforms. In short, they recognize that they have further to go to become a fully citizen-centric organization and reach the outer bounds of the Uptake and Edge Matrix.
Nonetheless, the citizen-centric IT transformation has already made significant progress. The state currently has over 40 active mobile applications, with more than 50 applications in production, and tens of thousands of MiPage users. What’s more, they are pushing themselves to make rapid progress by rolling out a new version of MiPage every three to four months. (As Pauley said, “If we try something and it doesn’t work we want to know right away, we’re agile, if it’s going to fail we want it to fail fast so we can take corrective action.”) Finally, they are maintaining their edge through a mobile advisory cabinet where eight private sector leaders advise them on how to maximize the effectiveness and creative nature of their approach. An innovative culture and restlessness have already taken hold.
Above all, state officials are driven by a sense of mission and purpose because, as Swanson said, they know their work is intimately connected to the government’s efforts to sustain legitimacy. In other words, the State of Michigan has not only committed itself to pursuing innovative change; its leaders have also maintained a keen focus on the reason they are pursuing this reform. It is for this reason above all others that they are well on their way to becoming a citizen-centric organization and reaching the most innovative regions of the Uptake and Edge Matrix.