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How DAIP Is Improving Its Portal—Leading to Better Service and More Compassion

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Wed Aug 12 2015

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How DAIP Is Improving Its Portal—Leading to Better Service and More Compassion-b4b9558427bf7e20c831b36feed40440f9d38890644efb33bd3c1efa5097b066

I am the system owner and executive sponsor for the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP), which is responsible for the DisasterAssistance.gov web portal. DAIP is an eGovernment initiative, bringing together 17 federal partners to improve the delivery of assistance to disaster survivors in the aftermath of a Stafford Act presidentially declared individual assistance disaster. 

DisasterAssistance.gov has been receiving customer satisfaction scores well above the federal average of 76 percent for government websites since it launched in 2008. As a self-help portal, it is always being evaluated for improvements, and the DAIP staff takes suggestions that come by way of customer satisfaction surveys very seriously. After all, none of the staff currently working on the program has ever had to use the system as a survivor. 

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As a direct result of disaster survivor feedback, DisasterAssistance.gov transitioned to a responsive theming platform in 2013, so that one set of code would serve for delivering all site content to the user, no matter the size of the device screen people are using. With smart phone use increasing exponentially each year, it was imperative that we paid more attention to the mobile user. 

This was an enormous improvement for the user, but also for the program. Prior to this improvement, developers maintained two different code sets, and the mobile platform was limited in what content it delivered. SMS text messaging services, so that survivors can receive alerts regarding status changes on their registration on their smart phones, is another example of improving capabilities as a result of customer feedback. 

But responsive theming alone isn’t going to truly improve the survivor experience on DisasterAssistance.gov. It makes a great difference to the mobile user, for sure, but from my desktop or laptop, any improvement is transparent. So where are we headed now? 

In September of 2014, DAIP kicked off a multi-year project to completely redesign DisasterAssistance.gov from the infrastructure up. Part of the challenge of maintaining a web portal that is only used when things are going bad is making sure that no matter the size of the disaster, and the number of users on the site, we always have the capacity to host them all. 

For instance, the site was launched in 2008, when cloud technology was in its infancy, and as a result, we went the traditional server route. We learned after Hurricane Sandy, however, that we were maintaining a huge amount of capacity as steady state that we really didn’t need. The new DisasterAssistance.gov will be hosted in a cloud, where capacity can be elastic, both expanding and contracting based on actual user demand. 

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Next, we’re reengineering the registration intake process to be more survivor-centric. We’ll use an up-front needs assessment to gain a basic understanding of the user’s known needs, and then employ branching logic and business rules to lead the survivor through a streamlined set of questions to gather the data required by the federal partners who provide assistance in the areas of the survivor’s identified needs. If you’ve ever used Turbo Tax to file your taxes, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Our goal is to make every registration unique to the individual survivor, asking only questions that pertain to where they need help, and minimize the amount of additional stress in their lives. 

DAIP’s customers have already been negatively affected in some way: loss or damage of home, personal or business property, and sometimes even a loved one. If there’s a way to build compassion and understanding into a data collection process, we’re out to find it, because after all, isn’t that really what most customers are looking for when they ask for customer service?

Join me for my session, “Connecting the Dots: Using Relational Data to Drive Workforce Analytics,” at Government Workforce: Learning Innovations to learn how to use relational data to build a deeper understanding of the trends you already track.

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