Magazine article Talent Development

Managing Technology Solutions to Better Serve Constituents

Magazine article Talent Development

Managing Technology Solutions to Better Serve Constituents

Article excerpt

Successfully implementing IT systems and solutions is difficult for any organization--particularly those in the public sector. Technology management, especially when it comes to implementing systems that meet the needs of citizens and employees alike, often is more of an organizational problem than a technological one. By rethinking how we build constituent services, governments can become more effective, and more efficient, at serving citizens. To do that we must challenge how government operates, and loosen constraints that restrict innovation.

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The calculated, slow pace of innovation in government

Exploring and adopting new technologies in the public sector is difficult for several reasons. For one, there is an extreme aversion to risk in government, and waste is the ultimate four-letter word. In the private sector, companies don't demand 100 percent efficiency; they take calculated risks, and not everything hits and pays off tenfold.

No one tells venture capitalists, "You're too wasteful" or "You shouldn't spend that money because there's a chance that company won't succeed." However, the expectation is that government needs to be successful 100 percent of the time. Because of that expectation we've created an entire decision-making process centered on eliminating risk. That slows government down and hamstrings any kind of agility we might have.

Within the concept of agility, there's an element of failing fast that government would be well-served to adopt, at least in part. Obviously, we don't want initiatives to fail, but by using the right technological tools, we can deliver solutions quicker and gather better feedback, and see failure sooner and make those failures not as expensive. Because of the risk-averse government the United States has built, our failures become extremely expensive, and unfortunately, they still aren't rare enough.

Get IT involved early on

We need to become more agile and iterative--if things are going wrong, we need to be able to correct it quickly and move on to the next solution for the problem, rather than being fully invested in a solution that does not work.

To help accomplish that, IT needs to engage with the agency programs from the beginning. IT needs to demonstrate to individuals at the program level the technological tools available that will help them achieve their mission. The technological experience has to be embedded into the program itself.

Let's use an environmental agency in the Department of Natural Resources, for example. IT must create a dialogue with the agency's programs. If they say they want to increase activism, for example, we show them the tools they can use to accomplish that in the digital world. We can set them up with social media channels and tell them how to grow them. We can set up direct email marketing campaigns based on geo-located data. We can do any number of things, but the most important element is that we're there in the planning stages to get projects off on strong footing.

We've worked to build a bridge between the IT department and the programs so that our role isn't simply to take orders, but to be involved in the initial strategy. IT leadership should be proactive instead of reactive in this regard. It's important for the IT organization to have a relationship with the agencies, to be there early to say, "Yes, and this is how you'd do this" rather than saying, "No, but this is what you'll have to do instead." Even though those messages are similar, they aren't received in a similar way.

Workforce changes

Another challenge that we have in the government regarding the workforce is that we're not adopting enough technology to deal with internal processes for it to have a major impact on how we do business. We are pretty good at deploying sound technology, but for the most part we're deploying tools and technology that were available five or 10 years ago. …

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