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  • Writer's picturePrasanth Nori

Recommendations to MDS

(Assignment No.4 for DPI671M)


It has been extremely interesting to listen to the Massachusetts Digital Service(MDS) team at the beginning of the semester and again at the end, after looking at other digital service groups. Several key things stood out to me and in this post, I will analyse them using the first three strands of the Maturity Model for Digital Services.(Images used in rest of this post are taken from the model by David Eaves and Ben Maguire)

I feel that that these three strands namely Political Environment, Institutional Capacity and Delivery Capability are in need for greater focus if the the digital service group has to sustain. Else there is a great risk of it going the GDS route.

Political Environment

When I look at the MDS approach, it is clear that they are working hard on all three of these fronts and these are definite strengths. They have formal position, reporting to the secretary of the EOTSS, with the Chief Digital Officer being at the same level of hierarchy as the CFO, CIO, Assistant Secretary and others. From the conversations in class, it seemed like they definitely have some political capital with a core sponsor(s). They have some digital service requirements that are largely user experience / front-end focussed.

Thoughts: This strand looked well thought out and on it's way to a strong future state. Given that they've moved over 600 authors onto the mass[dot]gov page and really focussed on getting a great user experience going, it's going to be extremely unlikely and unpopular for any political leader in his right mind to pull support. I am however a little apprehensive of the image of the group remaining user-centric design focussed and changes not going really deep into the stack. I would recommend slowly moving their image towards deeper technology expertise by winning over a couple of services and transforming their entire stack.

Institutional Capacity

The MDS based on one of the documents for FY20, that we read in class is clearly still operating on continuous annual budget negotiations. The digital service work is clearly limited, large and strategic and helping generate a strong reputation internally. I'm still unclear about how much 'stick' the digital service unit has in comparison to the CIO/CTO team. Whose word sticks and who has the final say remains unclear.

Thoughts: There is a clear indication in a shift towards 5-year digital plans with plans that have a strong focus on KPIs, analytics and open-source. It's quite amazing that they're clearly looking at each of these strands and trying to move the needle on each one of them. I recommend that there be greater push for MDS getting a clear consequence system / 'stick' to ensure adherence to user centricity.

Delivery Capability

It's apparent that on the second and third item, with the inclusion of the EOTSS blog and open communication of the department's work and with the need for A/B testing being codified into the official list of strategies of the MDS, they are definitely looking good. Whether there is an overall push for the state of Massachusetts to open up to adopting newer tools is still unclear.

Thoughts: This could be a great avenue to work with other technology teams, understand their requirements for adopting new tools and lobbying together to make it easier to move away from enterprise-approved tools. This will unify the technology teams and show them that the MDS team is there to transform the entire system and not just to outshine the others.


Given how the digital service movement is extremely nascent and needs a lot of push to move from status quo world over, the Massachusetts Digital Service model is unique and has the chance to show the world that this transformation is beneficial, sustainable and must be taken seriously.

My top three recommendations are:

  1. Move beyond front-end and create an exemplar full-stack transformation immediately.

  2. Work with existing political support to codify some authority/power/'stick' to ensure sustainability.

  3. Achieve buy-in and support from other technology teams by solving a few problems of theirs collectively.

I've deliberately kept this post short since I feel most of the thoughts I have are actively being thought about by the MDS team.

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