Colorado's new Digital Service agency aims at 'user-centered' projects

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (Third Way Think Tank)

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday announced that the state’s Office of Information Technology will create a new agency made up of designers and engineers tasked with building “user-centered” projects that improve delivery of government services to the state’s 5.7 million residents.

The new agency, to be called the Colorado Digital Service, will be modeled on the U.S. Digital Service, the White House unit that advises other federal agencies on technology projects. According to OIT, the Colorado Digital Service will apply modern management practices, like agile development, across the rest of the state’s 17 consolidated agencies.

“My goal is to transform state government services through innovative accessible technology solutions, and these digital service experts will help us along our journey,” Polis, a former tech executive, said in a press release.

The “digital service experts” that OIT is now seeking to staff the new agency will also be hired for short-term “tours of service,” Polis said, the goal being to draw in a diverse array of technologists who want to share their skills with the state government.

Colorado Chief Information Officer Theresa Szczurek, who also serves as OIT’s executive director and a member of Polis’ Cabinet, told StateScoop this week that digital services is an increasingly important focus of her office, especially as it evaluates how Coloradans communicate with the state government.

“We want to be able to go anywhere, any time, where our residents need services,” Szczurek said in an interview Tuesday at a National Association of State Chief Information Officers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. “We’re finding more people have access to mobile devices than we thought. We need to serve them well.”

One area where Szczurek, who has previously said she wants OIT to deliver “customer delight,” said her office has already made strides is with a mobile app — myColorado — which allows residents to renew driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. While the app’s initial version was developed under her predecessor, Suma Nallapati, Szczurek said the app has room to expand into a “wallet for all of the things you might need for service with the state.”

In launching its Digital Service, Colorado joins a trend of states with IT subagencies that focus exclusively on design and user experience. Another is Digital Services Georgia, which was founded in 2017 to overhaul the look and functionality of that state’s websites, and was presented this week with one of NASCIO’s annual awards. And California is in the process of standing up a new Office of Digital Innovation, which will be tasked with building public-facing applications.

Jennifer Pahlka, who as the federal government’s deputy chief technology officer helped establish the U.S. Digital Service in 2014 following the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov, told StateScoop on Thursday that the new Colorado agency is a “great move.”

“It will help the state serve its people in the way the people know is possible: with efficiency, effectiveness, dignity and respect,” Pahlka, who later founded the digital-government nonprofit Code for America and “informally” advised the Colorado effort, said in an email.

Colin Wood contributed reporting.

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Colorado, Colorado Digital Service, Colorado Office of Information Technology, digital service delivery, Jared Polis, Jennifer Pahlka, Theresa Szczurek, U.S. Digital Service
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