Federal agencies can leverage human-centered design principles to solve a variety of IT issues, government chief information officers (CIOs) shared during the GDIT Emerge Health 2022 conference on Nov. 3.

Rajiv Uppal, CIO at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said his agency has been “pretty big proponents of human-centered design” over the past few years, and that has helped his team to find solutions to common problems.

“What we realized is that there are so many things that we do, often IT will get blamed for it. And if you take a deeper look, it isn’t necessarily an IT issue as much as it is, you know, we designed a system that wasn’t really done with the needs of the user,” Uppal said.

“So, as we’re going forward, we have focused a lot of our attention on human-centered design, product management, some of these skills,” he explained.

For example, the CIO said CMS has invested time and energy into what the agency internally calls “the workforce resilience program.” This program, he said, helps to educate its employees about human-centered design and what it can accomplish.

Uppal explained the program is specific to employees within the Office of Information Technology, who need to know what human-centered design is and “how it is done.”

“They don’t need to be the experts because, as you know, CMS is about 6,000 employees, and we work with about 50,000 contractors, so it’s almost a one to 10 ratio,” he said. “So, most of the work is happening with the help of our vendor partners.”

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“But, what really is helpful is our folks within CMS, if they have a good understanding of what exactly are the best practices when it comes to human-centered design, or when it comes to product management, these are things that we want our folks to know about, so we’ve invested a very significant amount of time and energy in human-centered design,” he added.

Capt. Ivonne Arena, deputy CIO for the Defense Health Agency (DHA), said her agency is also using human-centered design to help ease its employees’ problems.

For example, Arena explained that right now a “big issue” in DHA is that it needs to sustain MHS GENESIS, the new electronic health record (EHR) for the Military Health System (MHS), while also sustaining legacy systems.

“We developed this dashboard – we used Tableau to develop the dashboard for senior leadership – to understand all of the decommission activity that needs to happen… and when we will we be ready to shut down all of our legacy systems,” she said.

By continuing to maintain that dual system, Arena said “we’re talking about over $40 million for us.”

“So, that’s a priority for our CIO right now is to shut down all of our legacy systems. For that, we are delighted to develop this senior leadership tool, so we are able to track all of our decommission activity,” she said.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.