Talk about a big responsibility: When Rachel Sterne Haot was hired as New York State's Chief Digital Officer last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave her the job of taking the Empire State's "digital presence to the next level."
She's tasked with using her experience and ideas to help state government reach and connect with New Yorkers on a variety of constantly evolving digital and social media platforms.
Haot was previously New York City’s Chief Digital Officer under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who credits her with setting the standard "for how a municipal government can engage the people it serves through digital platforms." If that wasn't enough, Haot's work "made New York City the digital model for cities across the country and around the world," Bloomberg said.
Is it any wonder CMSWire was eager to speak with her?
Before entering government, Haot served as founder and CEO of GroundReport.com, a US citizen journalism platform where she recruited 10,000 independent reporters across six continents. I met her shortly after she launched the site, which she started in 2007 with seed money from family and friends.
A group of 30 volunteer editors help shape about 75 to 100 stories a day, including stories on Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic and exclusive live video of Tibetan protests in Tiananmen Square during the Beijing Olympics. “We are not trying to replace the mainstream media,” she told me, “but complement it with a slightly different perspective.”
Haot also founded digital strategy consulting firm Upward and taught at Columbia Business School. She's a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and was named Chief Digital Officer of the Year at the 2014 CDO Summit.
This week she spoke at a conference in NYC entitled “Potential to Power Girls Symposium.” The goal is to develop a network of advocates to advance policy, intergenerational relationships and opportunities for the next generation of women leaders" by bringing accomplished women and young women together.
CMSWire caught up with Haot recently to talk about her life, her work and the digital future.
Sobel: Tell us a bit about your professional journey.
Haot: I've always been interested in the intersection between technology and government. My time as an intern with the US Mission to the United Nations inspired me to launch GroundReport. Following that, I saw serving as New York City’s first Chief Digital Officer for three years as an incredible opportunity. In 2014, I was thrilled to join Gov. Cuomo’s administration, where my team and I work to modernize government and support technology policy and collaboration with the sector.
Sobel: While working for NYC, you compiled a digital road map — a 90-day report created in collaboration with numerous city agencies, the digital media as well as citizens from all five boroughs. How successful was that program? Do you plan to create something similar statewide?
Haot: Thanks to the contributions of millions, we achieved all initiatives of the city’s digital roadmap, including the relaunch of nyc.gov and the successful "We Are Made in NY" tech sector campaign. We are currently finalizing a roadmap for the state’s innovative potential, which will be released this year.
Sobel: How do you view the intersection of technology and public service?
Haot: Technology is changing the world, and government is no exception. The potential to improve and modernize the way we serve is limitless, and a constant source of inspiration. I see my primary role as supporting innovation by enabling colleagues and partners to be successful – it’s a team effort.
Sobel: You're tasked with modernizing a state website that hasn't been updated in 15 years. But you have said “We’re updating our digital resources with the goal in mind of meeting our constituents online.” Can you elaborate?
Haot: We launched the new ny.gov late last year, after months of work. The primary objective of the website is to put people first. We prioritize customer service and user needs above all else, and the website is more accessible than ever before, with translations in more than 70 languages and design that surpasses ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.
Critically, it is fully responsive, meaning that the design is optimized to be easy to use on any device, from a smartphone to a desktop computer. And to make state services more personalized, we provide dynamically provide resources based on your location, including emergency alerts, job listings, career fairs, farmers’ markets and more.
The site integrates more seamlessly with social media, and we’ve created streamlined how-to pages for top-requested services that make it easier to get things done.
Simpler Media Group, 2015