Oklahoma’s website modernization: State services at your fingertips
By Christa Helfrey
Getting the help you need should be easy, and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has taken huge steps to make that happen. Our job is to make state services accessible and secure to all.
That’s what motivates OMES Executive Director Steven Harpe, who brings 31 years as a private sector global technologist to state government.
“Nearly 4 million Oklahomans depend on us to do our jobs and keep the state safe,” Harpe said. “We take that seriously.”
Recent visitors to Oklahoma state websites may have noticed a new look across many agencies. This is the product of a monthslong web modernization project by OMES and Adobe to connect Oklahomans to their needs during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
In early 2020, some of our agency partners depended on archaic technology, like fax machines, and overwhelmingly outdated software. There was even a 1990s computer still in service. All of this meant Oklahomans were not getting where they needed to go.
OMES Director of Web and Citizen Experience Amy Blackburn said the pandemic exposed major deficiencies within state websites. User experience varied across agencies because sites could not be easily updated, or they weren’t available to users by cellphone.
“In the past, sites were not mobile-responsive,” Blackburn said. “Now, we are working from a mobile-first mentality because that is where people are accessing information – on their mobile devices. They can do that very easily with state agencies and previously, it was just not even an option.”
Another problem was how inconsistent the websites were. Blackburn said, because each agency site looked starkly different, from font to layout, it created confusion for Oklahomans. Sometimes even pages within the same agency looked like separate websites. Blackburn said it was important to create consistency.
“We created a design framework that incorporates the new state brand and also a mobile-responsive experience,” Blackburn said. “It has a similar layout, every site, so citizens know where things are going to be every single time.”
From detached platforms to unified government
Telework strained out-of-date technologies and processes, challenging both citizens and state agencies at a critical time. Blackburn said one agency relied on a desktop computer from 1994 to update its website; it was their only option. The web modernization project sought to improve the experience for both citizens and state employees managing the websites.
“We wanted to make sure that we were informing our citizens and also making it a little easier on our state agencies to provide updated information.”
“State services are no longer about people fighting their way through the system. They are about meeting Oklahomans where they are and connecting them to what they need.”
After four months and funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, OMES and Adobe helped 25 agencies transition to the new web platform. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission was one of the first, due to a crucial need for unemployment last year.
“It was really, really critical,” Blackburn said. “We migrated [OESC] over to Adobe Experience Manager, along with the other 24 sites in our group.”
OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt said it is important to modernize Oklahoma government websites, especially when almost everyone accesses information from home instead of in person.
“The new [OESC] website features a more user-friendly interface designed to allow claimants, job seekers and employers to easily navigate to the information and resources they need,” Zumwalt said. “In addition, [it] features a virtual agent that provides users with timely assistance through both answers to frequently asked questions and the ability to connect virtually with a live [person].
“We greatly appreciate the role that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has played in helping OESC stand up a new website that improves the online experience for Oklahomans interacting with OESC services.”
Other agencies that made the move include the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Banking Department and the prominent Oklahoma.gov website.
“Ultimately, we would like to get every state agency onto that platform because it’ll help us achieve some digital and data goals,” Blackburn said. Both her team and Adobe maintain a support role to refine and enhance agencies’ AEM websites.
While COVID-19 challenged the State of Oklahoma, it prompted innovation and lasting change in how we serve our citizens.
“It created a brand-new permanent team here at OMES,” Blackburn said. “Before the CARES Act, the Web and Citizen Experience team did not exist. Now, we have a resource here for state agencies to utilize to help create websites and create citizen experiences that really impact the user.”
“State services are no longer about people fighting their way through the system,” Harpe said. “They are about meeting Oklahomans where they are and connecting them to what they need.”
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Christa creates and manages original content for all OMES social media platforms, with an emphasis on written and visual communication. She assists with the research, writing, editing and distribution of OMES internal and external publications for grammar, spelling, consistency and OMES branding compliance.