18F looks back on first birthday
It’s fitting that the Digital Analytics Dashboard was publicly released Thursday. It made for a banner day for the General Services Administration’s 18F, part of the joint team that constructed the Google Analytics-like website for federal government, coincidentally a year to the day since the digital services shop launched in 2014.
The dashboard is just one example of the scale of project that 18F has grown to take on a year after its public debut, when the group introduced itself with this blog post:
With a unit of about 15 Presidential Innovation Fellows eager to change the way government delivers digital services, 18F dove right in. Within four weeks, they launched NotAlone.gov, proving it doesn’t have to take months or longer to build a modern government website.
That project was one of soon-to-be 18F Executive Director Aaron Snow favorites.
“That was maybe the most intense fun I’ve had all year,” Snow told FedScoop.
Coming from a procurement background as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, Snow said that while it was hard to pick other standout projects, he favors the ones that focused on improving acquisition services, like the recently launched OASIS Discovery tool, which allows the federal procurement community to conduct initial market research more easily and quickly through GSA’s One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services vehicle.
“That was a terrific example of lean [user experience] coming up with a solution with the client that the client hadn’t imagined,” he said. “But the process worked and brought them a terrific result.”
Hillary Hartley, deputy executive director at 18F, also cherished projects that exemplified the team’s foundational principles, like FBOpen, a pilot overhaul of the FedBizOpps.gov website.
“While it’s not being actively worked on right now, it absolutely set the stage for how 18F lives and breathes and works,” Hartley told FedScoop. “It set the stage for us, which was huge just to say, ‘This is the kind of stuff we want to work on; we want to be API-driven, we want to be data focused, we want to be looking for new ways to make old kind of clunky problems better.'”
She said projects like FBOpen, Midas and MyUSA “were the proof of concept that 18F could exist to really accelerate things that had been incubated in the [Presidential Innovation Fellowship].”
Now, 18F has more than established its lean, customer-focused values, and it’s one of the go-to digital shops within government. Demand is through the roof, the directors said, and that’s forcing them to toy with different service models and grow the team to scale delivery.
“A year ago we were 15 people and hopeful that a couple agencies would take a flyer on this little unit at GSA that was thinking differently about how to build digital services,” Snow said. “And a year later — boy, it’s Pandora’s box.”
One way 18F is alleviating demand is with 18F Consulting, which Snow said is “about to skyrocket.”
“The model they’re after there is to scale our impact — working with agencies to help them think through their problems and help them acquire solutions, rather than go to 18F for complete end-to-end delivery,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to scale. We could hire 5,000 people into 18F delivery and still only be a drop in the bucket of all the IT projects in the federal government; and frankly we don’t want to do all the IT projects in the government.”
With that demand also comes the ability to be choosey.
“We’re going to hire up and take on higher impact projects as we go,” Snow said. “There’s so much demand now that we are forced to be selective about how we deploy the resources that come onto this team, and we want to make sure we’re using those to maximum benefit for the American public.”
Which brings it back to the Digital Analytics Dashboard, a massive project to which 18F lent its expertise, along with GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, the U.S. Digital Service and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. That kind of project is something Hartley sees 18F moving toward in the next year.
“There is for me this desire to make sure that the things we’re building add to the connective tissue that helps the entire government function,” she said. “So all of the APIs we’re building, all of the things that we do, become part of this master operating system.”
And like with any small startup-like team, there’s the aspiration to continue prove one’s place in the bigger landscape it’s trying to disrupt.
“We’re really proud of how we’ve grown and of our initial projects,” Hartley said. “What I hope is that we are actually proving that we’re delivering value as well.”