Month: May 2015

GOV.UK updates digital service standards

GOV.UKThe GOV.UK team has updated established protocols that serve as the foundation for ensuring government digital teams provide high-quality citizen services.

Effective June 1, the refined Digital Service Standard pares down the number of points from 26 to 18 with a focus on user-centered design, open technologies, agile development practices and stronger emphasis on assisted digital support.

The standard is somewhat similar to the U.S. federal Digital Services Playbook and its 13 “plays” created to “help government build effective digital services.” The difference between the two being UK’s standard is a requisite, whereas the U.S. version is simply a guidance for best practices.

“A transactional service must meet each criteria to pass the Government Digital Service assessment,” GOV.UK states in the update. “If a service doesn’t pass it won’t appear on GOV.UK.”

Updated points:

  1. Understand user needs. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.
  2. Put a plan in place for ongoing user research and usability testing to continuously seek feedback from users to improve the service.
  3. Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with decision-making responsibility.
  4. Build the service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the manual.
  5. Build a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis and make sure that you have the capacity, resources and technical flexibility to do so.
  6. Evaluate what tools and systems will be used to build, host, operate and measure the service, and how to procure them.
  7. Evaluate what user data and information the digital service will be providing or storing, and address the security level, legal responsibilities, privacy issues and risks associated with the service (consulting with experts where appropriate).
  8. Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or provide a convincing explanation as to why this cannot be done for specific subsets of the source code).
  9. Use open standards and common government platforms where available.
  10. Be able to test the end-to-end service in an environment identical to that of the live version, including on all common browsers and devices, and using dummy accounts and a representative sample of users.
  11. Make a plan for the event of the digital service being taken temporarily offline.
  12. Create a service that is simple and intuitive enough that users succeed first time.
  13. Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK including using the design patterns and style guide.
  14. Encourage all users to use the digital service (with assisted digital support if required), alongside an appropriate plan to phase out non-digital channels/services.
  15. Use tools for analysis that collect performance data. Use this data to analyse the success of the service and to translate this into features and tasks for the next phase of development.
  16. Identify performance indicators for the service, including the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs) defined in the manual. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.
  17. Report performance data on the Performance Platform.
  18. Test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it.

Doubling down on a good thing: The National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Lite

edmund pendeltonI’ve known Edmund Pendleton from the University of Maryland as the Director of the D.C. National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Node (a collaboration among the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, George Washington, and Johns Hopkins).

But it wasn’t until seeing him lead the first I-Corps class at the National Institutes of Health that I realized Edmund could teach my class better than I can.

After seeing the results of 500+ teams through the I-Corps, the NSF now offers all teams who’ve received government funding to start a company an introduction to building a Lean Startup.

Here’s Edmund’s description of the I-Corps Lite program.

SBIR/STTR program and startup seed funding

The Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are startup seed funds created by Congress to encourage U.S. small businesses to turn Government-funded research into commercial businesses. Eleven U.S. agencies participate in the SBIR/STTR program, with DOD, HHS (NIH), NSF, DOE, and NASA offering the majority of funding opportunities.SBIR and STTR program

The SBIR/STTR program made ~6,200 seed stage investments in 2014, dwarfing the seed investments made by venture capital. seed stage investmentThe SBIR/STTR program represents a critical source of seed funding for U.S. startups that don’t fit whatever’s hot in venture capital. In fact, half of all seed stages in tech companies in the U.S. were funded by the SBIR program.

The SBIR/STTR program

The SBIR/STTR program funds companies in three phases. Phase I funding is for teams to prove feasibility, both technical and commercial.

Since most of the founders come from strong technical roots, companies in Phase I tend to focus on the technology – and spend very little time understanding what it takes to turn the company’s technology into a scalable and repeatable commercial business.

SBIR Phases

In 2011 the National Science Foundation recognized that many of the innovators they were funding were failing – not from an inability to make their technologies work – but because they did not understand how to translate the technology into a successful business. To address this problem, the NSF collaborated with Steve Blank to adapt his Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford for NSF-funded founders. By focusing on hypothesis testing, the Lean LaunchPad had actually developed something akin to the scientific method for entrepreneurship. (see here, here and the results here.) This was an approach that would immediately make sense to the scientists and technologists NSF was funding. Steve and the NSF collaborated on adapting his curriculum and the result was the 9-week NSF I-Corps program.

NSF’s original I-Corps program was specifically designed for academic innovators still in the lab; fundamentally, to help them determine the best path to commercialization before they moved to the start-up stage. (I-Corps participants are at the “pre-company” stage.) But NSF realized the Lean LaunchPad approach would be equally beneficial for the many startups they fund through the SBIR/STTR program.

Icorps plus SBIR

The “Beat the Odds” bootcamp – an I-Corps “Lite”

The good news is that the NSF found that the I-Corps program works spectacularly well. But the class requires a substantial time commitment for the founding team to get out of the building and talk to 10-15 customers a week, and then present what they learned – the class is essentially a full time commitment.

Was there a way to expose every one of ~240 companies/year who receive a NSF grant to the I-Corps? The NSF decided to pilot a “Beat the Odds Boot Camp” (essentially an I-Corps Lite) at the biannual gathering of new SBIR/STTR Phase I grantees in Washington.

Steve provided an overview of the Lean LaunchPad methodology in an introductory webinar. Then the companies were sent off to do customer discovery before coming to an optional “bootcamp workshop” 12 weeks later. Four certified I-Corps instructors provided feedback to these companies at the workshop. The results of the pilot were excellent. The participating companies learned a significant amount about their business models, even in this very light-touch approach. The NSF SBIR/STTR program had found a way to improve the odds of building a successful company.

Icorps lite plus sbir

During the past two years, I’ve taken the lead to expand and head up this program, building on what Steve started. We now require the participating companies to attend kick-off and mid-point webinars, and to conduct 30 customer interviews over the twelve-week program. The companies present to I-Corps instructors at a “Beat the Odds Bootcamp” – the day before the biannual NSF Phase I Grantee Workshop.

In March we conducted our fourth iteration of this workshop with a record number of companies participating (about 110 of 120, or 90%) and 14 certified I-Corps instructors giving feedback to teams. This time, we added afternoon one-on-one sessions with the teams in addition to group presentations in the morning. Companies are very happy with the program, and many have requested even more face time with I-Corps instructors throughout the process.

The smart companies in Phase I realize that this Bootcamp program provides a solid foundation for success in Phase II, when more dollars are available.

What’s next

Currently, once these teams leave I-Corps Lite, they do not have any “formal” touch points with their instructors. Over time, we hope to offer more services to the teams and develop a version of I-Corps (I-Corps-Next?) for Phase II grantees.

We envision even greater startup successes if SBIR/STTR funded teams can take advantage of I-Corps classes through their entire life cycle:

  • “Pre-company” academic researchers – current I-Corps
  • Phase I SBIR/STTR teams – current I-Corps Lite
  • Phase II SBIR/STTR teams – develop a new I-Corps Next class

Icorps next plus SBIR ii and iii

The emphasis and format would change for each, but all would be solidly rooted in the Lean LaunchPad methodology. And of course, we don’t want to stop with only NSF teams/companies…as we all know. The opportunity is huge, and we can have a significant impact on the country’s innovation ecosystem.

Summary

NSF led the development of the SBIR program in the late 1970s. It has since been adopted by the entire federal research community. We believe NSF’s leadership with I-Corps will deliver something of equal significance… a program that teaches scientists and engineers what it takes to turn those research projects into products and services for the benefit of society.  I-Corps Lite is one more piece of that program.

Lessons learned

  • The SBIR/STTR program is a critical source of seed funding for technology startups that don’t fit the “whatever’s hot” category for venture capital
  • The program is a national treasure and envied around the world, but we can (and should) improve it.
  • SBIR/STTR Phase I applicants needed more help with “commercial feasibility”…a perfect fit for business model design, customer discovery and agile engineering – so we rolled out the NSF I-Corps
  • The I-Corps was so successful we wanted more NSF funded entrepreneneurs, not just a select few, to be exposed to the Lean methodology – so we built I-Corps Lite

How and why Los Angeles deployed open source and agile

Last week at DrupalCon, representatives from the city of Los Angeles, CivicActions and Acquia shared their development and project management process to begin migrating and consolidating websites across 40 agencies to a single instance using Acquia Cloud Site Factory.

The teams shared how they moved to the open source content management system Drupal, created a responsive web design theme, developed key features and integrated other services such as video and data.

The first sites included in the consolidation plan are lacity.org and lacityview.org.

The presentation also includes a retrospective on goals achieved, areas of improvement and lessons learned. The city’s LA team adopted agile development practices and, based on the success of the project, has been asked to train other agencies.

Project management and development tools used include SMACSS, Slack, Basecamp, GitHub, Google Hangouts and Jira.

Video:

How you can get involved in the 2015 National Day of Civic Hacking

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Photo: Luke Fretwell

The 2015 National Day of Civic Hacking will be held on June 6. To date, more than 70 events around the world have been scheduled.

The global hackathon, targeted to “urbanists, government staff, developers, designers, and activists,” is organized by Code for America and Second Muse.

Here’s how to get involved:

Sofman joins SmartProcure as government sector EVP

Former Code for America Chief Program Officer Bob Sofman has joined procurement startup SmartProcure as government sector executive vice president.

SmartProcure offers participating governments a database of acquisition information to compare products and services purchased from other government agencies across the United States. Vendors can use the service to analyze competitor pricing and government purchasing trends.

“Governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year purchasing goods and services using a cumbersome and often inefficient procurement process,” Sofman said in a prepared statement announcing his new role. “Government agencies often purchase similar products and it’s not uncommon for the same product to vary dramatically in price. Knowing who these vendors are and the prices they charge ensures governments are making the best decisions with taxpayer dollars.”

Sofman was Code for America interim executive director while founder and executive director Jen Pahlka served a year as U.S. deputy chief technology officer.

SmartProcure, founded in 2011, was named a GovFresh 2013 civic startup of the year.

Accela acquires mobile 311 platform PublicStuff

PublicStuff

Government-solutions provider Accela announced it has acquired
the New York City-based 311 platform startup PublicStuff.

The service allows citizens to report non-emergency requests, such as potholes and graffiti, via their mobile devices, which are then serviced through a back-end, enterprise customer relationship management system.

According to an Accela press release, more than 150 municipalities subscribe to the service.

“With this acquisition of PublicStuff, we’re closer to giving residents access to City Hall from the convenience of their mobile phones,” said Accela CEO Maury Blackman in a press release. “We’re delivering on our mission to empower citizens to more easily interact with government services and to help save our government partners time and money through technology.”

Accela recently received $143.5 million in new financing to expand its government solutions offering. According to the company, it has more than 2,000 government agency customers.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Register: ‘Agile Government and the State of Maine’

MaineAgile Government Leadership will host its next AGL Live, “Agile Government and the State of Maine,” featuring Maine Director of Business Process Management Douglas Averill.

AGL Steering Committee Member Robert L. Read will host and moderate the discussion.

The Google Hangout on Air will be held on May 21, 4-5:00 p.m. ET.

Register here.

Video overview of Maine’s agile adoption:

Government-focused DevOpsDays ​DC set for June 11-12

Limited tickets are available for the first DevOpsDays DC, June 11-12, 2015, at the US Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia.

According to organizers, the event is for “executives, program managers, and engineers considering or actively implementing DevOps at their organization.”

USPTO Chief Information Officer John B. Owens will keynote.

“We are excited to be hosting this inaugural event for the DC region, home to so many innovators in the private and federal sector,” said Owens announcing the event. “We know how important DevOps is to our enterprise, and how our recent strides help us better serve our customers at the USPTO. We look forward to the networking and new ideas this event will bring everyone.”

Government registration is $100. Register here.