At the U.S. Department of State, I worked on a multi-disciplinary team of 20+ developers, designers, network engineers, IT security specialists, content editors, testers, and project managers to build a app for the Secretary-designate in just nine weeks.
The “Transition” app was John Kerry’s (and his staffers’) conceptual map with which to navigate the Department of State. They began using it as soon as the White House announced his appointment as Secretary of State on December 21, 2012. It helped him better understand the Department — an organization of 70,000 employees and 275 global offices (embassies and consulates) — and its policy and management issues in order to prepare for his confirmation by the Senate as the 68th Secretary of State.
This app, for first time in the Department:
- Mashed up Department data to give new insights and perspectives
- Parsed and relayed content in appropriate contextual settings
- Provided a nearly seamless experience between desktop and mobile devices
The Transition app is a comprehensive system that allows the reader to learn the basics of the Department of State, including key contacts, organizational structure, embassy staffing models, budgets, and leading issues. This is a vast improvement over the legacy system, which was five heavy 3-ring binders’ full of prose content. With the Transition Reader app, Secretary-designate Kerry and his staff were able to do more than just read a primer on the State Department: they could use it as a research tool to answer questions and to begin formulating their policy agenda. After using the app, Secretary Kerry said it helped him “make connections” — which was one of our main goals for this project.
The system includes:
- iPad app
- desktop app
- XML-based input templates
- “book-builder” web-based tool for the editors to use to edit, tag, and organize content
- Mobile app allowed Secretary-designate Kerry to take his work home with him, while desktop apps provided the same content and experience while at work.
- Mobile app works in both online and offline mode.
- Interface lets readers ask questions or request more information from content providers via a context-aware “tell me more” feature.
- System synchronizes recently read, favorites, and annotations across platforms.
- Provides instant delivery of new and updated content.
- Allows for quick filtering and searches for content.
- Increased data security (over paper binders).
- Significant reduction of paper and ink.
Just a few of the reasons this system was so remarkable:
- We moved from a document-based model of information-sharing (which we’ve used since the 19th century!) to a database-driven model.
- We minimized change management by using the standard government conventions of paragraph markings (human-readable tags that give the reader context as to the classification of a paragraph) as machine-read metadata to parse content and display in the appropriate contexts.
- We collected granular metadata on all content in order to provide a navigable set of keywords for each document.
- We deployed the first mobile app on our intranet.
- We are currently building on the success of this system to create a permanent, ongoing knowledge management system that will completely modernize and transform the way we inform and deliver information to senior officials in the Department.