iConstituent appraised at CMMI¨ Maturity Level 2 for both Development and Services

iConstituent, LLC, a leader in government digital communications, today announced that it had recently appraised at CMMI® Maturity Level 2 for Development version 1.3 and for Services version 1.3. CMMI® is process improvement framework designed to help an organization manage processes and continually improve upon them.

“With iConstituent’s successful assessment at CMMI® Maturity Level 2, we have demonstrated our commitment to quality assurance and most importantly, our customers. “ said Ben Shichman, iConstituent’s Chief Operating Officer. “Our company culture is one that fosters continual growth and improvement, and this important milestone affirms our dedication to that path.”

iConstituent was evaluated in the areas of software development, customer training, helpdesk and IT systems management.

“Our staff worked hard to achieve this goal; from the beginning, our company was determined to implement CMMI® across the enterprise – from software development to training, systems management and helpdesk – in order to help us grow as an organization and deliver the best possible quality products and services to our customers.”, continued Shichman.

iConstituent was appraised by the operations performance consulting firm Entinex (www.entinex.com) during the first week of November, 2012 by a team made wholly up of independent assessors.

® Capability Maturity Model, Carnegie Mellon, and CMMI are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Carnegie Mellon University.

About CMMI®
Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI®) is a process improvement approach. CMMI® can be used to guide process improvement across a project, a division, or an entire organization. CMMI® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Carnegie Mellon University.

For more information, visit the CMMI Institute web site at www.cmmiinstitute.com.

About iConstituent
iConstituent® is the leading provider of government digital communications solutions and is an approved Congressional vendor. iConstituent develops digital communication and constituent relationship management solutions that help Federal, State and Local agencies and offices communicate more effectively with their citizens and constituents. In addition iConstituent provides a full spectrum of professional services to help agencies take advantage of digital communications best practices and policies to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their constituents in the Federal, State and Local markets. iConstituent is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with additional offices in Santa Monica, CA. iConstituent’s products and services are used by the U.S. Congress, Federal and State agencies, statewide office holders, state legislative caucuses and non- governmental organizations.

For more information, please visit www.iconstituent.com

The Constituent Gateway 4.0 – After Sending the Mailing

Posted by Derek Haller, Product Manager

As we come up on our launch date (tonight, for some of you!), we’re going to round out our series with a look at all the cool information you get from the Constituent Gateway 4.0 after you’ve sent out a mailing.

A major buzz word in the technology world lately is “big data” and “data visualizations.”  These are just a few of our favorite things at iConstituent; we’ve specialized in them for almost a decade.  All those emails, clicks, views, shares, and survey responses are kept in terabytes of storage arrays by us, shaken up like a James Bond Martini, and then fired right into your Constituent Gateway experience for use in list creation, data analysis, and of course, your post-mailing reports.  But none of this recorded data is very useful if you can’t make heads or tails of it, which is why we spent a good chunk of our time on the Constituent Gateway 4.0 refining with diamond-precision how we wanted to present that information back to you.

iConstituent has specialized in "big data" for almost a decade.

So, now that you’ve sent out that impressive eNewsletter, with the super-catchy subject line, well-crafted language, a perfectly targeted list, and a world class design…  What’s next?

I’m glad you asked.  As the most frequently viewed screen in the entire product (based on our page view metrics), the Executive Summary report is your top-level recap of the effectiveness of your mailing campaign.  It was imperative that we presented the information in it in a very easy to understand format with the best possible visualizations.

We populated the top of the Executive Summary with “Snapshot Boxes”, which are tiny capsules of key data about the mailing.  Each Snapshot Box’s title is a link to a separate, full-page report about that particular statistic (e.g., Views).  We like to think of the stack of snapshot boxes collectively as a launch pad to all the different information available.

We intentionally designed the Executive Summary so that the snapshot boxes were “above the fold”, meaning that you could – without scrolling – see a quick summary of the entire mailing at a glance.  

When you do scroll down the page, you’re presented with our new visualizations for other key statistics about the mailing.  The Activity Details area lists all of the interactions (which we’re now calling activities), ordered in a logical manner.

To the right, the mailing’s Click Throughs are shown in order of most to fewest clicks with a corresponding bar graph.

When you included Social Media sharing content (which we always encourage), you’ll see your Social Sharing stats broken down by Social Network below the clicks.

At the bottom, your survey results are shown with a bar graph of answers to each question to quickly show you what the most popular responses were.

And just like the snapshot boxes are a launch pad to even more reports, every single element on the Executive Summary (all the things in a blue font) is a link to a separate, detailed supporting report to help you really understand your mailing campaign’s effectiveness. 

With our rolling launch starting tonight, you’ll be able to start seeing all these awesome features in the coming days and weeks.

The Constituent Gateway 4.0 – Mailing Wizard

Posted by Derek Haller, Product Manager

In yesterday’s post we talked about using the Constituent Gateway 4.0’s new Drag and Drop Editor to easily build a compelling eNewletter.  Today, we’re going to showcase the full process for constructing your eNewsletter which we’re calling the Mailing Wizard.

First, a little bit of background!  When we set out on Project 5000 / the Constituent Gateway 4.0, we did a usability study (stay with me) where we watched users as they employed the product to create a complete, send-worthy, eNewsletter mailing.  While in the previous Constituent Gateway, you could get the job done (we send tens of millions of emails on behalf of our customers each year, after all), our observations of the user behavior showed some product areas we could optimize to make it much more intuitive and a heck of a lot smoother to do.  Our ultimate goal was (and still is) that anyone should be able to login to the Constituent Gateway, and without any training, send out an eNewsletter.  Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Our ultimate goal is that anyone should be able to login to the Constituent Gateway, without any training, and send out an eNewsletter.

In order to reach this goal, we took a step back and decided we needed to completely overhaul and streamline the mailing process.  While you still need to do all the usual important things to complete a mailing (such as send yourself a Test Email at least once), we moved everything around into a simpler, more instinctual, flow.

To start with, your Pending Mailings immediately show you – in a very easy to understand visual of completed or not completed spheres – your current progress in all of your unsent mailings.

  

Once you jump into a mailing (or Add a new one), you end up in the Mailing Wizard.  The wizard is a step-by-step assistant that guides you through the process of making an eNewsletter.  When you've completed the steps within the wizard, your work is done and ready to be sent. 

There are five steps to the Mailing Wizard and a quick summary screen where you can review everything you’ve done before approving the mailing.  We know, sending an eNewletter to thousands of people can be nerve-racking. 

You start the wizard with the obvious things: giving the mailing a name, crafting the perfect subject line, and choosing the from email address.  From there, you visually select the template you want to use. The Mailing Wizard shows you each template in your account with a nice thumbnail of its layout so you can better pick the one best suited for your content.

Continuing to the HTML step is your Drag and Drop Editor, which we covered yesterday.  On the Text step, you are reviewing the Text Version of the mailing which is useful for devices that don’t render HTML in emails.  The Text Version is automatically generated based on the content you added in the Drag and Drop Editor to make it as simple as possible.

On the Mailing Info step, we’ve made some nice changes.  Your Mail To and Exclude list selection is now an autocomplete field, just like most modern email clients or Facebook.  You just start typing the name of your list – like you would a name or email address if this were Outlook or Gmail — and it will autocomplete it for you.

But don’t worry – if you don’t remember the name of your list or need a more traditional search, clicking Choose List opens a search window where you can see all of your lists.

The final step in the Mailing Wizard is a summary, which will show you if you’ve forgotten to do anything (like pick a time you want it to send or pick a list of recipients).

Once everything is all set, the big orange Approve button turns it over to our cross-country fleet of mail servers to start delivering your message.  You are, quite literally, all done!

Easy enough, right?  We think so.

Check back tomorrow where we’ll talk about what happens after your eNewsletter has been sent.

iConstituent Awarded GSA Schedule 70 Enabling Federal Government Agencies to Procure Contract Citizen Engagement and Digital Social Media Cloud Services

 

iConstituent, a leader in digital communication, social media and citizen engagement solutions for Federal, State and Local government, today announced that it has been awarded a U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule 70 Contract for Information Technology services (contract number GS-35F-0534Y).
 
Many agencies establish Government-wide contracts, which simplify the procurement process for federal agencies by allowing them to acquire a vast array of products and services directly from commercial suppliers. The largest Government-wide contracts are established by the U.S. General Services Administration under its GSA Schedules Program (also referred to as Federal Supply Schedules and Multiple Award Schedules). State and local governments also use the GSA schedules for purchasing goods and services.
 
"iConstituent's GSA Schedule 70 offers qualified agencies the ability to order an entire Citizen Engagement solution to help them achieve better service to their constituents," said Blake Nelson, VP of the US Public Sector for iConstituent. "Our comprehensive solutions for engaging with citizens and constituents through social media, digital channels, automated relationship processes and other managed and professional services, are now available from a single source. Agencies seeking to engage with citizens and other constituents using all of the digital resources available to them in order to lower costs and increase engagement now have a GSA contract vehicle that can provide those critical solutions."
 
GSA Schedules provide access to more than 11 million commercial supplies (products) and services at volume discount pricing that can be ordered directly from GSA Schedule contractors or through the GSA Advantage! online shopping and ordering system.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Fall Tracking Survey 2009, 85% of respondents felt it was important for government agencies to allow people to contact the agency officials through the website, and 46% of respondents felt it important for governments to post information to sites like Facebook or Twitter.
 
Zain Khan, iConstituent’s CEO added “With iConstituent’s turn-key solutions, Federal Government customers now have the tools they need to meet the challenges of managing communications with their constituencies across multiple channels.”
 
About iConstituent
iConstituent® is a leading provider of government to citizen communications solutions and an approved Congressional vendor. iConstituent delivers digital communication and constituent relationship management solutions that help Federal, State and Local agencies and offices communicate more effectively with their citizens and constituents. In addition iConstituent provides a full spectrum of professional services to help agencies take advantage of digital communications best practices and policies to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their constituents in the Federal, State and Local markets. iConstituent was founded in 2002 in California and is headquartered today in Washington, D.C. Our products and services are used by the U.S. Congress, Federal and State agencies, statewide office holders, state legislative caucuses and various non-governmental organizations. For more information, please visit http://iconstituent.com/public-sector/.

The Constituent Gateway 4.0 – The Drag and Drop Editor

Posted by Derek Haller, Product Manager

During our research, the biggest thing that we kept hearing is that our users preferred to write the language of their newsletter’s in the tool they’re most comfortable with.  This could be a word processor like Microsoft Word, Notepad, their iPhone while running around Capitol Hill – the point was that they wrote their language outside of the Constituent Gateway.

90% of the users we interviewed said they write their newsletter draft in a separate program than the one they use to send the newsletter with.

So knowing this, we asked ourselves: What are our users doing in the Constituent Gateway Newsletter PLUS?  We could tell that they spent a considerable amount of time inside the product from our user analytics research, but what were they doing?  The answer, in hindsight, seemed obvious. 

They’re designing their newsletter. 

By the time the normal Press Secretary or Communications Director fires up the Constituent Gateway, they know not only what they’re writing but they’ve usually already written it.  Furthermore, by the very nature of the game – wanting fresh, not stale sounding, content – the desire to store and reuse different chunks of language was rarely needed.  Each newsletter required unique content, which was attractively designed, and timely.

Since the outreach tool was being used as the last step in the newsletter’s process, we knew that our new design for the Constituent Gateway 4.0 had to cater to this need.  It needed to be intuitive, it needed to focus on the visual design and structure of the content, and it needed to be simple.

After many (many!!) cups of coffee, a few dozen late nights and one or two trips to find inner peace at the Botanical Gardens, we finally figured it out.

Presenting: The Drag and Drop Mailing Editor

Eureka!  Immediately, we could give our users:

  1. An improved process for building their newsletters.
  2. The easiest way for them to edit language, change design elements, and rearrange content.Real-time updates of the mailing’s preview with every change.
  3. A real-time preview of the newsletter with every change.
  4. An intuitive, visual way to show the mailing as they’re building it.

Let's Dive In

The first thing to notice is that in the Constituent Gateway 4.0, the design of your newsletter is always visible.  To invoke the old adage “show, don’t tell”, we wanted you to always be able to see what your newsletter looked like as you were designing it. Gone are the days of making a change in a WYSIWYG Editor, clicking preview, making another tweak, clicking review, moving content around, clicking preview, and on and on. 

Now, your changes are immediately visible right on the canvas you’re already using to construct the mailing.

Since we also learned that the newsletter building process was about look and feel, structure, and a final proofread we changed the way you add content into the template.  Above the mailing, the Create button gives you a simple decision: do you want to add content or add a survey?

This creates a new content block and drops it into your template. By double-clicking on it, you can immediately start adding content to the block.

And for that content that has already been written, edited, revised, and approved you can use the simplified WYSIWYG’s toolbar.

But, let’s say you wanted the content you just added to be in the side bar area instead of the main content area.  With the new editor, you simply click on the content block and drag it with your mouse to the desired position.

This lets you easily construct and organize your newsletter, dragging and dropping content blocks this way and that until everything is just the way you want it.  

Do you have some content you want to reuse in a future mailing?  Hover over the content block  and you’ll see a contextual menu where you can click Reuse to store the content in your account’s content library.

Once you have the finished product that you’re happy with, you just click Continue and move on to the next steps in the new Mailing Wizard.  

Wait?! 

What’s the Mailing Wizard?  Check back tomorrow!

Welcome to the Constituent Gateway 4.0

Posted by Derek Haller, Product Manager

10 months ago, our team came up with the audacious idea to completely rebuild the Constituent Gateway’s interface. At first we had all the normal reactions to a big, bold, and sweeping idea being proposed: a few dry sweats, some sleepless nights, and a compulsive need to talk like Woody Allen. But after the initial panic cleared, we realized that we had the opportunity to do something truly amazing for our customers.

 

Enter: Project 5000.

Why 5000? Because the first ticket in our internal tracking system for this project just so happened to be the 5000th improvement we’ve made to the Constituent Gateway since its launch over 8 years ago. We’re not a superstitious group, but it felt serendipitous. And armed with a completely symbolic codename, we got to work.

Our process for approaching Project 5000 was complex and our goals lofty, so we turned to the experts by partnering with Silicon Valley-based User Experience Design firm Sliced Bread.  These are guys who major Fortune 500 companies like Yahoo! and Intuit have trusted to make highly usable, beautifully designed, user interfaces. With them riding shotgun, we embarked on the process of conceiving our new interface with a few high-level goals in mind:

  1. To improve how our users accomplish their most common tasks in each product.
     
  2. For our changes to be reflective of our existing user’s needs.
     
  3. To improve the visual appeal of each product; not just how they are used by our customers, but to bring a new, modern aesthetic to each product.
     
  4. And to create a new, unified, visual design pattern for all of our products; they should all look similar and have an enhanced familiarity from one product to another.

With these objectives, we did two things:

First, we started by interviewing the best source for product feedback — our customers.  We talked to over a dozen different types of users, from the hardcore Power User to the more casual user who might only do one very specific type of task in the different products.  This helped us understand the concerns of the user base; when you interview that many people that use your products each and every day you start to hear similar answers.  We used that study to build a list of areas we needed to ensure the new interface improved.

Second, we pulled years’ worth of usage data — things like the buttons users click, the path they take through the product to get something done, where they most frequently stumble – and got to work on analyzing it.  This analysis helped reaffirm what we had heard from our user interviews on what our customers wanted from a new interface.

We started by interviewing the best source for product feedback — our customers.

The result was the identification of key product areas our users find the most valuable alongside a bonanza of improvements we could implement in our new design.  These ranged from the things people said were important to them (like improving the ease of getting right into writing a newsletter), areas that were hard to use (e.g, changing the order of your content), or new ideas that they really wanted to see implemented.  This critical feedback honed our focus on what the new interface should really cater to and let us begin thinking of ways to optimize the products to be as efficient, user-friendly, and as excellent as possible.

Over the next few days, we’ll be showing you some of the fruits of this work on this blog.  It’s been a 10 month process which is in its final stages: our first customers are being upgraded to the new platform (which we’re now calling the Constituent Gateway 4.0) this week.  It will be rolled out to all of our customers by the first week in January.

We’re proud of what we’ve built and can’t wait to share it with you.