Google engineer hired to fix fed website has ideas cities might borrow

Wed, 2014-08-20 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

The former Google engineer who had a strong hand in fixing the federal government’s HealthCare.gov website has a few thoughts that could help guide city web projects, too.

Mikey Dickerson was just named administrator of the new United States Digital Services Team, a band of technology experts aiming to bring advanced computer systems and citizen-friendly Internet portals to the federal government. In an interview published in the New York Times, Dickerson talked about his role and shared some best practices for improving government systems and online interaction with citizens.

Here are a few of his ideas that municipal leaders may want to keep in mind:

  • Generally avoid technology projects designed to produce a single, large outcome and that take years to complete. It’s better to break large projects into smaller increments that contractors deliver on a clear schedule.
  • If large, multi-year projects are launched, perform regular checkups as the work progresses. Government must “find ways to see if there is a problem,” says Dickerson.
  • Opt for web-oriented, mobile-oriented companies when building systems. Avoid contractors wedded to older corporate technology.
  • Favor off-the-shelf products rather over custom software. The private sector has had success using pre-built solutions and government can, too.
  • Also look to the private sector for user experience models. “People tend to trust places like Amazon because they show your order, they let you know about delivery times,” Dickerson notes.
  • Promote the use of open-source software and access to government data whenever possible. “Open access to data is our best friend,” says Dickerson. “The government has a ton of data. Nonprofits need to see it; the states need to see it.”

On the GitHub site, Dickerson offers more details about his federal government goals in the form of the Digital Services Playbook and the TechFAR Handbook. For more about Dickerson's appointment, check out this White House promotional video.