5 Questions With…Mike Kruger of the U.S. Department of Commerce (Part II)

Mike Kruger is the Director of Digital Engagement at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a battle-tested internet professional, having held digitally-intensive positions in the U.S. federal government since 2008. We first interviewed him in July 2013, and circled around again with him this month to get his take on what he thinks about some of the most critical issues that digital professionals have to deal with in 2015 and beyond.

Question 1: In 2013, you told us that ‘digital strategy’ was “the process of aligning our digital products with the needs and desires of those citizens.” How, if at all, has your perspective on this question changed over the past 18 months?

“I don’t think this has changed. We are still trying to meet the needs and desires of American citizens. However, the tools certainly have. In 2013, we had a real emphasis on Facebook. In 2014, Twitter and Instagram were better for engaging with citizens. We’ve revamped our e-newsletter, which was out of fashion in 2013, but has regained some of its former shine in 2014, with higher engagement rates.”

Question 2:  You also told us that “data accessibility for U.S. citizens” was something that kept you up at night in 2013. What are the issues that keep you up at night these days?

“The good news on the data accessibility front is that the U.S. Commerce Department took big steps forward in 2014 in improving our data accessibility. We’re hiring a Chief Data Officer and have already brought on board a Deputy Chief Data Officer. We created a Data Advisory Council and will be having our first meeting in early 2015. Additionally, more resources have been committed to create a complete data catalogue and improve our data dissemination. We aren’t there, yet, but I have a lot fewer sleepless nights on this front.

Going forward, the challenge will be to deliver the personalized service that people want, while still ensuring appropriate level of privacy and security people expect. We want to make sure individuals have what they need to grow their business and create jobs, but we have to avoid the “creepy” factor that has caused trouble for several high-profile brands in the last couple of years. I think the government will continue to err on the side of caution because the cost of failure is so high. However, that will probably mean some frustration from citizens who frequently use government services.”

Question 3:  Do you still have that Blackberry Bold?

“Nope. We have a new CIO who brought us modern mobile phones. Most of my colleagues are now sporting an iPhone, but I opted for the Galaxy Note phablet, since I post to the Secretary’s Instagram account (when will Instagram have a web interface?!?!?) and the larger screen is better for photo quality.”

Question 4: What are the 3 most significant digital trends that will define 2015?

“The return of digest emails/newsletters as front pages – Fewer and fewer folks are going to websites as destinations. We are letting our social networks feed us the information we consume. However, the inbox is still a destination, so providing digests of content to interested parties is a great way to keep connected to customers.

Increase in messenger apps by brands (and then consumers getting turned off by them) – Open rates on messenger apps are unreal, so Snapchat and Kik will be where brands set up in 2015. And we’ll see a lot of stories about brands using those messenger apps to reach large numbers of folks. Since success begets imitation, more brands will jump on these messenger apps and users will be hit with a ton of content like they are on other platforms. That will result in users tuning brands out, much like we’ve seen them do on email, social media and apps. Only those that execute well on the individual platform will have a successful year.

Privacy vs on-time information – In 2015, brands will continue to try to give customers the information they want in the moment they want it and avoiding looking too creepy. Some brands do this really well. Others have failed in very messy ways. Given the volume of data that consumers trade for free services, I think brands will improve and we’ll see a better user experience on digital platforms, especially for e-commerce.”

Question 5: What 3 publications – of any format – do you read regularly these days? (E.g., newspapers, magazines, blog, Twitter feed)

“In addition to all the political publications I have to read for work (Politico, WaPo, NY Times, etc), I have several daily required reads. I make sure to get to ReadWrite, TechCrunch and DigitalGov for the latest on what is happening on the digital-at-large and digital-government space.”

Question 6:  What’s your take on the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer role in 2015?

“I think we’ll continue to see the Chief Digital Officer role expand in numbers and responsibilities. While many industries have been disrupted by digital, many more are still ripe for digital transformation (utilities, construction, supply chain, etc) and a smart business will create and empower CDOs to bring about the necessary change to compete. However, I’m still a believer that the CDO role is a temporary one that will last less than a generation. A sign of success for a CDO is to have digital fully integrated into all business processes. But that means a successful CDO will work him/herself out a job.”


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

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