Putting Web 2.0 to work

2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner Nancy Sternberg's use of new technology tools gives Business.gov an edge

2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner

Small Business Administration

'None of us is as smart as all of us' is my favorite saying for ensuring that everyone on the team feels they can speak up and contribute. It also reinforces the collaborative nature of our program because our site represents the efforts of 22 partner agencies from across the federal government.

Working on Business.gov and interacting with the small-business community has provided me with firsthand knowledge of how our program is helping business owners save time finding information they need on a regular basis. I make a point of personally attending business and association conferences where I can interact with business owners and hear what they think of Business.gov and what issues they are struggling with. The positive feedback is an incredible motivator for working harder and doing more.

Nancy Sternberg, program manager of the Business Gateway Initiative, has been chosen as a 2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner.

Submitted photo

At its launch in 2004, Business.gov was a forms-pushing federal compliance site, indistinguishable from many other government sites. However, in late 2007, it was redesigned for easy access to more than 9,000 resources throughout government. Since then, the government's one-stop Web portal for business, which the Small Business Administration manages in partnership with 21 agencies, has been steadily growing in popularity.

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People involved with the transformation give much of the credit to Nancy Sternberg, the hard-driving program manager of the agency partnership, the Business Gateway Initiative.

Sternberg said the first six months after her May 2006 start were marked by a lot of complaints from partner agencies about diversion of time and money to the site.

She persevered as her team worked to create benefit statements for each agency. 'I don't give up,' she said. 'We gave them tools that helped them go back to their agency. We were very successful in getting the naysayers to quiet down and even step up.'

'She is driven to continuously improve the site and works hard to ensure that customer feedback and requests drive the enhancements,' said Sternberg's boss, SBA Chief Information Officer Christina Liu. 'Her passion and enthusiasm are infectious.'

Sternberg's previous jobs had prepared her well. A programmer with a degree in management information systems, she left the private sector in 1992 for the Agriculture Department, where one of her responsibilities was compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act. She also took a three-month detail in 2001 at the Office of Management and Budget, where she handled data collection for the act.

The Business Gateway Initiative works with a variety of agencies. Sternberg said the partnership helped the General Services Administration save customers time with data harmonization to minimize redundant entries at Forms.gov. The group also provided funding and expertise to help reduce the number of coal-mining forms required by several agencies and is doing similar work for NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sternberg applies Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate collaboration among the partners, her two full-time employees and 20 contractors to solicit customer input and save money. 'We need to reduce our budget to really keep these people hanging with us,' she said.

Because security prohibits the contractors from accessing an internal drive, Sternberg coordinates their work via the Web with Basecamp, an open-source project management application.

Sternberg led an upgrade to Google Customer Search Engine technology that makes it easier to access local regulations. A mashup links Google Maps and office locations so visitors know where to go.

She also brought in open-source Alfresco software to replace the content management component in proprietary BEA WebLogic, paying only for annual support and saving 50 percent on the price. She plans to replace WebLogic's portal feature with open-source JBoss.

Teamwork is the watchword of Sternberg's collegial management style, which relies on humor and democratic decision-making.

'When you're leading a team, that's just a gift, to be out in front,' she said. 'I like to work in an environment where I'm heard, and when I do speak, people care, and to some degree, I can see I have made a contribution.'

Sternberg credits Liu as a role model. 'Every time I bring her an issue, her response is always, 'How can I help you?' I try to do that for my team. I have a great deal of respect for her. She's always looking for new ideas.'

Liu, in turn, lauds Sternberg's style. 'What is unique about Nancy is that while she's quite professional, she displays a good sense of humor, which makes her so well-liked and respected.'

Further proof is in Business.gov's improving customer satisfaction scores and awards. Visits were up 30 percent in the month after its December relaunch. 'Business.gov has become a destination of choice for business people,' Liu said.


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