Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

The Federal Government Needs Platform Evangelists

The federal government is doubling down on shared platforms as a key component of digital modernization.

News today describes a new Executive Order that will direct agencies to use the service to authenticate users of federal agency digital services. My first thought on hearing this news was – “that’s awesome!” I’ve always admired the Login team, some of whom I count as friends, and I am a huge believer in the power of platforms.

“Whoa, how are they going to pull this off?”

Me, just now

After taking in the news for a bit, my next thought was – “Whoa, how are they going to pull this off?” is a shared service for authenticating users that is managed by the Technology Transformation Services (TTS) within the General Services Administration – a place where I used to work. During my time at TTS working on a team that supports another shared platform, I learned some things about how federal agencies manage these services. I think some things will need to change if, and other technology platforms managed by federal agencies, are to be truly successful.

The most important piece of advice I could give the team – or any team in the federal government managing a shared platform is this.

Hire a platform evangelist.

Before joining the federal government I worked for a succession of different platform companies, some of which were specifically targeted to governments. I also worked as a municipal Chief Data Officer focused on publishing open data to external users and encouraging them to do new and interesting things with it. In these roles, I got to see first hand how much the success of a platform depends on the community around it.

This community is made up of users of the platform and those interested in seeing what it can do for them. It helps shape the future direction of the platform by providing intelligence into the different features and functions that are important. And it helps curate an ecosystem of different apps and bits of content about the platform that makes it easier for new users to get started. A thriving and growing community is one indicator of a successful platform.

And communities don’t pop up around a platform by themselves. Building and growing a community needs to be someones specific responsibility. They need to be empowered to do the kinds of outreach and evangelism that a successful platform requires. The job requires special skills and an appreciation for how a community can help a platform evolve and get better.

When I worked on a platform team in the federal government I was struck by the absence of platform evangelists – people specifically charged with outreach to users, customer success, and growing the community around the platform. I often slid into this role informally because I thought it was something that the platform I worked to support needed to be successful. And I still think that.

If shared services like are going to be successful in the long run, they need a healthy, vibrant, and growing community of users around them. This is a job that is perfectly suited for a platform evangelist.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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