When most people hear “customer experience,” their mind likely goes to consumer brands, such as a favorite sports team, clothing store, grocery chain or content provider, and not the federal government. But with all the inherently governmental functions we rely on—facilitating domestic and international travel, small business loans, subsidized medical care and more—it’s clear the U.S. federal government has a public-facing customer experience charter too.
Research from McKinsey shows that there’s opportunity for improvement: Americans rank the federal government last in terms of average customer satisfaction, behind even recently criticized industries like airlines and pay TV. To address these shortcomings, the Biden Administration released an executive order intended to transform federal service delivery and rebuild trust in the government in December 2021. 
The executive order tasks 17 designated high impact service provider (HISP) agencies with 36 specific customer experience improvements intended to make federal services faster, easier and more consistent across major life events. Right now, federal agencies are determining how to implement these improvements in a scalable and cost-effective way. The right IT modernization infrastructure partner can be a force multiplier for those efforts.
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To improve customer experience, start by modernizing IT
Agencies can’t transform what they do until they transform how they do it. In today’s digital world, IT infrastructure underpins essentially every aspect of an agency’s interactions with the public. This means federal agencies must consider IT modernization as a key aspect of their customer experience journey. Investing in IT infrastructure now could pay huge dividends across everything agencies do later on.
Legacy systems rely on the traditional “hub and spoke” model of IT, where all data processing and storage happens in a core data center location, and all networking traffic flows through that same location. This centralized architecture is inconsistent with the federal mission requirements in today’s fast-paced digital world. It doesn’t scale quickly; it can’t reach end users where they are, and it creates data silos. In fact, one could make a strong argument this outdated IT model helps explain why the Administration viewed the executive order as a necessary catalyst.
In contrast, today’s commercial digital leaders are creating distributed, interconnected infrastructure across their entire global footprint, helping them get closer to customers at the digital edge and support agile, data-driven operations. We call this an Interconnection Oriented Architecture® (IOA®), and it’s essential to creating a better user experience.
Deploying on Platform Equinix® to take advantage of our global colocation footprint and industry-leading interconnection and digital services provides a quick, economical way for federal agencies to transform their IT infrastructure in preparation for their customer experience initiatives. Consider the following examples of how to leverage IT modernization to achieve federal customer experience improvements.
A centralized government web portal requires distributed, interconnected infrastructure at the edge
The executive order calls for the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop a roadmap for a redesigned USA.gov to serve as the “digital front door” for all federal services, benefits and programs. If implemented properly, this will dramatically simplify and speed up the process of learning about and obtaining services.
Websites that rely on traditional centralized IT are easily overwhelmed during periods of peak demand. To create a user experience that drives greater satisfaction, the GSA must deploy distributed infrastructure at the edge. With infrastructure in diverse locations throughout the country, rather than a single centralized hub, the agency can keep latency low and ensure a consistent experience no matter where end users are located, whether that’s in rural Montana or New York City.
In addition, the GSA would benefit from having a highly interconnected infrastructure. To create a cross-agency portal for government services, it must be able to move data quickly and securely between agencies. A centralized IT infrastructure is beset with data silos, and therefore isn’t conducive to creating an open data sharing ecosystem. In contrast, a digital infrastructure partner like Equinix could help the GSA easily tap into different agency data sets across the world using either physical cross connects or a solution like Equinix Fabric™, which enables secure, remote, virtual interconnection.
Equinix could also help the GSA tap into an ecosystem of the top FedRAMP-certified cloud service providers to ensure greater flexibility and scalability of data storage. By modernizing its IT infrastructure, the GSA will be able to connect with the right partners and service providers in the right places.
IT modernization can streamline service delivery at the VA
One government challenge close to our hearts is ensuring the veterans who have sacrificed on behalf of our country are properly cared for upon discharge. The Department of Veterans Affairs has struggled in the past to create a modernized electronic health record system and to provide other benefits and services to veterans in a timely manner. With an integrated platform as its digital core, the VA can offer on-demand support through the channels that work best for users, which could go a long way toward improving the VA customer experience.
Currently, the VA averages 125 days to complete a disability claim. This is over four months that veterans go without much-needed benefits. Providing a streamlined web portal for filing claims could cut down the time between filing and initial review. In addition, enabling on-demand support may not directly contribute to a shorter wait time, but it will let the veterans know they haven’t been forgotten while they wait.
As with our previous example, the VA web portal would require distributed digital infrastructure to help meet veterans where they live, and direct interconnection services to move data from source to destination quickly and securely.
In addition, should the agency choose virtual agents to offer customer service to more veterans with a shorter wait time, edge infrastructure will be essential to training the AI models needed to create a human-like experience that delivers accurate results.
Passport renewal at State can go from months to days
For most Americans, their primary interaction with the Department of State is acquiring or renewing a passport. Unfortunately, this process is widely considered slow, frustrating, and overly dependent on manual paperwork. Even for an expedited passport renewal, the wait time is between 5 and 7 weeks. After citizens receive their passports, getting through international airport security checkpoints can also be frustrating.
It’s no surprise the executive order calls for the Department of State to address passport wait times with a new digitized renewal experience that does not require mailing physical documents, and offers an online payment option instead of mailing a check. Deploying distributed digital infrastructure at edge locations can provide the level of low-latency connectivity needed to move data quickly and securely from applicants to processing locations. With these capabilities in place, the Department could complete passport renewals in days instead of months.
Inter-agency collaboration between the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at airports could also help improve customer experience when it comes to using passports. In fact, the DHS has been tasked to improve its own customer experience across both domestic and international travel. To do this, the DHS must test innovative technologies that reduce wait times at airport security checkpoints, improve identity matching and communication during additional screenings, and give customers additional mechanisms to provide feedback. Again, these kinds of improvements are only possible via modernized IT infrastructure.
Start your IT modernization journey today
Platform Equinix offers a global colocation footprint, making it easy for federal agencies to stand up distributed IT infrastructure near end users. In addition, our Equinix IBX® data center locations are home to cloud on-ramps from top secure cloud providers, making it easy to establish a cloud-adjacent connection that allows access to their services on demand. Platform Equinix is also vendor-neutral, meaning agencies can pursue a hybrid multicloud approach without getting locked into a particular vendor and dealing with excessive data egress fees.
Equinix Fabric enables dedicated software-defined interconnection between ecosystem partners, helping data move where it needs to go quickly and securely. This empowers agencies to move data anywhere in the world Americans need to access it without giving up chain of custody for that data. In addition, Equinix Fabric supports direct inter-agency data transfers.
We’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible with IT modernization for federal agencies in this blog. With the right approach to digital infrastructure, agencies could successfully implement every customer experience commitment listed in the executive order.
To learn more about how Platform Equinix services can help you deploy the distributed digital infrastructure you need to serve Americans better in more places, request a consult, an IBX data center tour or a Digital Strategy Briefing.
 McKinsey & Company, “The call to rethink government customer experience.” Authors: Jesal Dalal, Marcy Jacobs, Kunal Modi, Meg Sachdev, and Sarah Tucker-Ray. July 28, 2022.
 The White House Briefing Room, “Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.” December 13, 2021.
 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs