GSA improving how it applies Centers of Excellence to agency problems

Early partnerships proved instrumental in honing the initiative's ability to achieve business objectives, but don't expect a playbook.
(GSA photo)

The administration’s Centers of Excellence (CoE) initiative has “pivoted” from applying all its areas of expertise to agency problems to only the most relevant ones, according to the acting executive director.

Harry Lee said the General Services Administration‘s program initially engaged all its CoEs at once when working with early partners like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Office of Personnel Management. So far, GSA has announced nine CoE engagements with agency partners.

For instance, the Contact Center CoE established with USDA to improve customer interaction simultaneously leveraged the Data and Analytics and Cloud Adoption CoEs, as well as human-centered design. The program also has CoEs in artificial intelligence, customer experience and infrastructure optimization — a grand total of six centers to support agency modernization needs.

“Let’s look at the ones that are most critical to helping the agency fulfill their mission, and let’s focus on that,” Lee said during a FedInsider webinar Tuesday. “In some cases, it’s Data and Analytics, in some cases it’s AI and Data. In some cases, it’s [Robotic Process Automation] and AI and Data all tied in together.”


Knowing which of the six CoEs to tap into begins with understanding the partner agency’s problems and ensuring that solving them will improve the public’s experience while being measurable and financially defensible, said David Peters, deputy executive director of the CoE initiative.

“I think it starts with their business objective,” Peters said. “What are they trying to do to improve service to the public and improve their experience working with the government?”

But don’t expect a detailed playbook to come out of the CoE initiative, he said. GSA has learned lessons about how to partner with agencies and entrust the ensuing implementation, but each customer transaction is unique in terms of being service-oriented, informational or financial.

“I wouldn’t really say there’s a playbook, but there’s definitely strategies that can be applied to address the specific mission, resources, funding source of where a customer is and what they want to improve — including how they measure it,” Peters said. “So there’s absolutely lessons learned, and we’ve gotten better at executing our CoE process as we’ve gone from agencies well beyond USDA, HUD and OPM to others.”

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