5 Questions With… Mike Kruger

Mike Kruger is the Director of Digital Strategy at the United States Department of Commerce. He is responsible for the online presence of 12 bureaus as well as the Office of the Secretary.

Question 1: How do you define ‘digital strategy’?

“Everything I do as a public servant comes back to serving the citizen and giving them what they want. Digital strategy is the process of aligning our digital products with the needs and desires of those citizens. At Commerce, like at other large organizations, that process comes with a culture change. Our customers are moving to mobile devices, so we have to start providing data on a mobile-friendly web page rather than a PDF. Our customers can track packages online with the click of a button, so we must figure out how to provide them with the ability to digitally track a patent or grant application. The National Weather Service pioneered the idea behind an API, yet not all of our data are available that way. We need to reassess all the information we provide and brainstorm ways to make it easier to find and more accessible.”

Question 2:  As the Director of Digital Strategy at U.S. Department of Commerce, what keeps you up at night?

“I have literally lain awake at night worrying that Commerce doesn’t do a good enough job ensuring our greatest national resource — our data — is accessible to enough individuals and companies. NOAA’s National Weather Service data powers a billion-dollar industry. Online real estate marketplaces, where customers spend billions of dollars on residential and commercial properties, are powered in part by Census data. Smart entrepreneurs and business leaders use our data to create entire industries and thousands of jobs for fellow Americans. We are moving in the right direction with the America’s Economy app from Census that integrates economic data, via an API from multiple government agencies including Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but I worry that we are missing opportunities to do even more by not engaging with the right individuals in the right location.”

Question 3:  What kind of mobile device(s) do you have, and what are your three favorite apps?

“For work, I have a Blackberry Bold. I use it for email constantly, and I appreciate the tactile keyboard. For my personal life, I have a Samsung Galaxy SII, but I can’t wait for the Moto X to come out this autumn. I’m a 100% Google/Android guy. My three essential apps are HootSuite so I can follow my Twitter feed, ESPN ScoreCenter so I can keep up with my Nats [Washington Nationals], and the Flickr app so I can share photos of my wife and son. My favorite app is probably the Dominos app. It is a perfect example of a company deciphering exactly what customers want and making it available quickly and easily. It really should be the template for all other apps.”

Question 4: What makes your role at the U.S. Department of Commerce different from other, similar positions in the digital sector?

“Many individuals within the digital field are concentrated in the business-to-customer sector, especially in retail. As the Director of Digital Strategy for the U.S. Department of Commerce, and like others in the public sector, I have a mission to serve everyone— and do so without worrying about profit. It is a blessing and a curse to not have to worry about the bottom line every day. I have the freedom to pursue ideas that may not make an immediate economic impact, but I also have to design everything I do with 315 million potential customers and all their various needs in mind.”

Question 5:  What advice do you have for aspiring digital professionals?

“Figure out what you love about digital. Do it. Give it away for free. When your skill matches your love, someone will pay you for it. My first career was as a middle school history teacher. At some point I realized that I loved playing on Facebook and Twitter more than grading papers. So I volunteered on a presidential campaign to help monitor their social media outlets and volunteer engagement. When someone offered to pay me to do that, I left the classroom and haven’t looked back. Keep learning. Just because someone is paying you now doesn’t mean they always will. Ten years ago, creating a webpage was a specialized skill that allowed many to earn a good living. Today, technology has evolved so that anyone who can type can put up a webpage. Get on distribution lists. Join online communities. Sign up for the daily e-newsletters of Mashable and Techcrunch.”


For more information about Mike and his organization, follow him on Twitter (@mikekruger) and visit the United States Department of Commerce website.

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