Attention IT: Your interns have something to teach you

By Tam Harbert, Computerworld |  IT Management, internship

As part of that work, Gobaud had noticed some business process inefficiencies and started, on his own, to automate some of them for employees. For example, he noticed that staffers were manually updating spreadsheets weekly. They would copy and paste data from one spreadsheet to a master spreadsheet, extending rows and manually updating charts, a time-consuming process prone to errors. "I created a macro that turned this into a single workflow," says Gobaud. "Click a button, select the new data file and click 'OK.'"

Gobaud talked with his supervisor and then proposed to Colangelo the idea of creating a team of IT interns who could identify more areas where such small-scale automation could improve efficiency throughout the White House. Colangelo liked the idea. He named it the Software Automation and Technology (SWAT) team and asked Gobaud to help manage it. They selected four interns for the first session, which was last summer.

The SWAT team worked with Colangelo's enterprise business solutions staff, which focuses on application development and solving business problems. The interaction with real business users was a valuable experience for the interns. "We would watch people perform various tasks and listen to what frustrated them, what was consuming their time," says Gobaud.

Users may have one solution in mind while being unaware of other technologies or techniques that can help, says Colangelo. For example, they may not know that macro templates can make publishing memos quicker and easier. "Our job as technologists sometimes is to say to people, 'I hear what you are asking for, but have you thought about x, y or z to solve the problem instead?' "

The team first gained an understanding of the customers' objectives and needs, says Gobaud, then proposed a way to improve the process and, with customer approval, start developing. "We used an agile development process and worked to get a beta version to the customer ASAP," he elaborates. "We would then iterate and continue development while getting feedback from the users."

That first team completed more than 40 projects in eight weeks, says Colangelo. Among the projects were an improved parking management system, a memo generator and a dashboard showing the status of printers around the White House. (No one wants to let the President of the United States run out of printer ink.) The program has been expanded to 7 interns this summer, and Colangelo thinks that it just might inspire some IT students to go into government.

Already, it has reinforced Gobaud's goals. "I saw the amazing ability that technology has to revolutionize internal government operations and create a lean, effective federal government," he says. "Working at the White House cemented my career goal of becoming a government technology leader."

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Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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