VA Officials Tout New Website, Look to Future Efforts

With the redesign of the VA.gov website for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency has made progress in providing a better customer experience. Now, alongside partners at the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), the agency is looking toward other areas to improve across the department, said officials from VA and USDS today.

“From a layperson’s perspective, we wanted to deliver a much better experience for our customers, and the experience metrics bear out the improvement,” said Barbara Morton, deputy chief veterans experience officer at VA, during GovernmentCIO Media’s CXO Tech Forum on Thursday. She cited a 20 percent increase in customer satisfaction after the relaunch as proof of the effort’s success.

“My personal experience with it is that it was the most anti-climactic big launch that I’ve ever been a part of … because it just went smoothly,” quipped David Bao, deputy executive director at USDS.

Bao stressed the importance of the agile approach that USDS and VA took, working over multiple months, creating minimum viable products, and creating multiple versions of the site.

“A lot of government websites look very corporate, and the reason they look very corporate is because they were typically designed from the inside-out. So what we wanted to do in working with Digital Services is really listen to what veterans are telling us, which is that it’s very hard to navigate the department,” Morton added.

With the redesign of the new website now in the rear mirror, Morton and Bao touched on other areas that could use improvements in user experience.

Morton pointed to a potential shift in her office’s focus from VA’s healthcare to VA’s benefits system.

“My office has focused initially, while we’ve been standing up these past few years, on healthcare. I think the next big opportunity is in the benefits space,” she said, citing the recently released regulations for the Appeals Modernization Act.

Bao put an emphasis on scaling the best practices up throughout the whole department.

“One of the biggest things that Digital Services is going to be focused on from here throughout the coming year and beyond, is after the successes we’ve had so far within VA … how do we now better influence the rest of VA’s IT force to be able to have similar successes? We are fully confident that the rest of the 9,000-person IT organization at VA is fully and entirely capable of having similar successes in all the other projects that are going on at VA,” he said.

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