Feb 28 2024

Q&A: How ITA Prioritizes Its Many Digital Experience Projects

The International Trade Administration has used a lean-agile management program for a while, and now it’s streamlining communication.

The International Trade Administration continues to evolve its process for selecting digital experience projects to ensure that all business units are on the same page, according to CIO Gerald Caron.

Caron wants to improve communication across those units so that both executive and technical leadership understand the DX projects in progress and how they will advance ITA’s mission.

When Caron joined ITA in February 2023, the agency already used a lean-agile methodology to choose the DX projects it would pursue as an organization.

The CIO spoke with FedTech about that process and ITA’s DX priorities.

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FEDTECH: What was the state of ITA’s digital experience when you joined?

CARON: ITA was on a good path when I got here, which was refreshing, and that path was implementing what we call the lean-agile management program. That program was really concentrating on getting our business units together and helping decide what the priorities were for the organization.

Part of that program also includes managing requirements, from acceptance to the milestones that need to be worked out or thrown over the fence to the IT group. They are vested into the project because they are the business owners and mission owners.

It’s been maturing, and we’ve been making tweaks to make sure it works for the organization. All of the business units meet quarterly, look at the entirety of the work and unanimously decide what work is going to continue.

That has greatly increased the output of our team and the value add of what we release. We saw 13 major releases this last year as a result of this program, up from just one the previous year. I think that's been a great help on our digital journey.

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FEDTECH: What tweaks have you made to the program?

CARON: We’ve made changes around communication, making sure that everybody is invested in what’s going on and adding some transparency to what the CIO is doing and delivering on. We’re trying what I call 360-degree communication, so that everybody has a greater overall understanding of what is being done, why it’s being done, why it’s been prioritized and that everybody has agreed on it.

FEDTECH: What digital experience projects do you have in the works?

CARON: We work very closely with our dedicated customer experience/user experience team on our external presence, which would be our website, and our internal presence. Having a dedicated team shows the importance.

If somebody wants to know something about trade.gov and they go to Google, we would love to be the first to show up. We are trying to anticipate how people think and how they want to interact in different ways.

Some people like getting information verbally; some people like to receive things visually. Having that visually appealing site to go to without having to figure out how to navigate something is very important.

Gerald Caron
Working with the providers helps us understand where the technology roadmap is going so that we can plan ahead.”

Gerald Caron CIO, International Trade Administration

FEDTECH: What technologies are at the top of your priority list for incorporating into ITA?

CARON: We are low-code/no-code first and foremost. If there is a perfectly good wheel, why do we have to reinvent it?

We are completely in the cloud, which is a great advantage because it gives us a lot of flexibility and lets us more directly work on delivering the things we need. When you have a data center, there are logistics and servers that go with that. We have better time to value and can get things out in a shorter amount of time.

We’re able to better sustain things in the long run because we aren’t adding complexity. We’re a small agency, but we have some very important applications because we do a lot of interfacing with the public that wants to work with the Commerce Department. It’s very important that we can easily sustain with the resources we have.

DISCOVER: Why going multicloud helps agencies control costs.

FEDTECH: How have industry partnerships helped ITA improve digital experience?

CARON: Industry partnerships are so important, especially being in the cloud. There are new features in some of these platforms that are being made available at warp speed today, and working with our service providers to understand what those are and how we can leverage them helps: “Here’s our use case.” “Well, here’s the technology that you have available.”

Let’s say I’ve used a particular tool for a specific purpose many times, but we’re only using 10 percent of it. Could 90 percent be taken advantage of? How can I make the most of my investments?

Working with the providers helps us understand where the technology roadmap is going so that we can plan ahead.

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