Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Back to Blog

Five factors for building a successful government-wide digital analytics program

This post was originally published on the DigitalGov blog. Marina Fox is the Digital Analytics Program Manager and Gwynne Kostin is the Director of the Digital Services Innovation Center. 18F has worked with the Digital Analytics Program to help build analytics.usa.gov and pulse.cio.gov.

Launched just three years ago, the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) continues to drive the 2012 Digital Government Strategy’s mission to improve the citizen experience by streamlining the collection and analysis of digital analytics data on a federal government-wide scale.

The DAP officially launched on October 15, 2012 with a release of its first version of the government-wide Web analytics code. The first agency to implement DAP was the Department of Interior, on doi.gov. Today, 45 agencies — including all CFO Act agencies — have implemented the common code across more than 4,000 public-facing websites, counting 1.5 BILLION pageviews each month.

The DAP has become a giant of a digital analytics implementation on a federal-wide scale, bringing an unprecedented wealth of insight on the federal web space usage to agencies and the public.

With the Web analytics implementation under its belt, the DAP team is working to add a government-wide web customer satisfaction survey tool to help agencies better serve the online public. Over time, DAP will be the hub for the tools and training needed to propel data-driven decisions across the federal digital space.

What makes DAP a success? There are many reasons. We share five here to both celebrate the collaboration among agencies working to deliver the digital government promise to the public and as a mini-playbook for your own program implementations.

The big five

1. Customer service is key: Put agencies first and make them part of the team

Talk to your customers

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a government to implement a government-wide program of any kind. Managing change is not easy, especially an organizational culture change. In the case of DAP, asking agencies to place a piece of code on their websites for federal-wide tracking initially raised eyebrows and questions. Trust had to be earned one user, one website at a time, so the DAP staff dedicated hundreds of hours speaking to the agencies, answering questions, addressing concerns, and providing assurance with the program.

As DAP grew, we created a dedicated helpdesk to provide on-going support to users not just for general Q & A, but in-depth analytical and reporting support. Creating custom reporting templates and helping users find relevant metrics as they try to answer business questions became the bulk of what the DAP helpdesk has done for the agencies.

DAP also hosts regular monthly office hours by phone to provide program updates and answer any questions from our users.

Engage your customers and get their help

Encourage self-help. For any program, as the number of users grows, user training becomes a critical element. With limited resources to spare, we tapped into GSA’s Open Opportunities program to bring in other agencies’ Web analytics experts to train the DAP users on how to use the tool. This not only allowed us to expand the training program from just Webinars to quarterly in-person trainings with live streaming for remote participants, but further helped with DAP agency adoption and acceptance as the DAP instructors came from other agencies.

Give your customers a voice

If you want your customers to talk about your product or service (and use it!), you have to give them a forum. The best way for us to hear from customers on a daily basis is via a collaboration network. We set up a DAP User Online Forum, where users can collaborate, post questions, answer question from other users and add issues and ideas. The online forum is monitored and moderated daily.

Yet, not everyone is outspoken, and some prefer to give feedback anonymously. To get those voices, DAP launched a quarterly Pulse Check survey with just two questions: 1) How happy are you with DAP? and 2) What can we do to make it better? We get more specific, timely responses to complement our annual customer satisfaction surveys.

Establish a community of experts

Don’t create in a silo. Eventually, programs have to get a buy-in from customers anyway, so why delay? Convening power users or experts and involving them in the creation and development of products or services leads to a better product and increases program ownership. With that in mind, DAP created a DAP Experts Community, pulling a group of digital analytics and technical experts from across the government. The DAP Experts Community is a great asset to the program as they consistently challenge DAP to improve and enhance data collection and analysis.

2. Walk the walk: Empower agencies with examples on how to make data-driven decisions

Talking about great data is great. However, applying the great data to make informed decisions is what it’s all about. While users understand the value and importance of Big Data in general, and DAP in particular, using the data and applying it to drive decisions can be overwhelming. “Where do I begin?” is a common question we get when agencies first on-board with DAP.

At DAP, we’ve always felt passionate about sharing lessons learned and demonstrating how data can be used to drive decisions. So, we write topic-based blogs, trend analyses, benchmark recommendations, metrics guidance, methods for analyzing data to support agencies in integrating the use of the data into their daily routine. The best examples, though, come from agencies themselves, demonstrating how they’ve used DAP data to drive decisions, in real-world or out-of-this world scenarios.

3. Innovate on the fly

We like to say that we’ve been flying the “plane” as we’re building it. To keep up with the unprecedented challenge to make a government-wide analytics code work across thousands of websites, the code solution must be innovative, creative, scalable, and secure. To achieve that, we can never stop innovating. It’s second nature.

Making the code “work” is not enough. The code must collect insightful and actionable data for all of the participating agencies agency, and that comes with just the right amount of customization. To ensure that agencies have a choice with respect to hosting the DAP solution, we offer multiple code hosting options.

Given the unprecedented scale of the program, we knew that we’d need outside experts to keep the solution ahead of the game. We created a public repository on GitHub with each DAP web analytics code version. We invite continuous feedback from external technical and data experts to weigh in with suggestions and feedback.

4. Make data accessible inside and outside the government

When DAP first came to life, users were only allowed to view their own agency’s website data. (Even that was ground-breaking as most had only seen the data for their own site and never with full access to reporting across the enterprise.) But, that was just a start.

Just shy of DAP’s second birthday, access to all DAP data government-wide was rolled out to every participating DAP agency user. That meant every DAP user had access not only to their specific agency’s data, but all of the participating agencies’ views, as well as the full government-wide rollup. In the memo to agencies, then U.S. Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel stated, “opening the DAP government-wide data will let participating agencies see other agency’s public-facing website analytics, gain valuable knowledge about shared customers, benchmark against similar agencies, and, most importantly, engage in collaboration and exchange lessons learned.”

Finally, in March of this year, in partnership with 18F, the DAP-based Public Dashboard came to life, letting the world in, for the first time, to see the top 20 popular pages across the federal government public web space. The public response was overwhelming and set the stage for additional innovation, collaboration, and partnership between federal government and the public.

5. Data quality and integrity above all

Data management and governance lie at the heart of the DAP program. Frankly, at the end of the day, none of the above factors matter if the data quality is questionable.

At DAP, data is monitored closely on an hourly basis with the help of automated alerts to pick up significant changes and perform diagnostics. In addition, to ensure that the data is processed and standardized before it is available for reporting, we apply a set of data standardization rules against all of the collected data. As DAP continues to evolve, the role of the DAP Experts Community will continue to expand.

Data quality doesn’t stop with DAP Experts. Every government user of DAP data also has responsibilities, abiding by a set of rules to protect the integrity of the data upon receiving access to it.

It’s a journey

DAP data is a gold mine for research and analysis for improving the effectiveness, efficiency and relevancy of information and services provided on government websites. Implementing a program of this scope across agency mission and budget lines helps government to focus on the reason for being DAP — that is to provide the best digital services to the public. We’ve worked hard to focus on what can make a big government-wide program a success. It’s starts with small steps, bringing on helpers and focusing on the end goals. Yes, it’s a journey, and government is up for it!

Related Posts