A wide gap exists between consumer technology and government technology. The former, typified by new-age phones, high-profile tech companies and consumerism, starkly contrasts with the latter, founded in old hardware, niche vendors and a general resistance to evolution. The reason government technology is in such a lagging state is worthy of another post entirely. For brevity’s sake, suffice it to say that traditional procurement practices and poorly-defined objectives play a lead role. Fortunately, a short-term salve to the ailing government technology situation is in reach: simply borrow what's working from the consumer world.
There are glimmers of hope that government is taking its first fledgling steps to getting current with technology. The Obama administration provided direction that government agencies should embrace the cloud. Many agencies are embracing the smartphone movement and are increasingly rolling them out to their members. And, for all of its poorly-planned, badly-designed, horribly-executed, no good, very bad Healthcare.gov, it was an attempt at connecting American citizens to insurance companies through modern means. Here are some other technologies already prevalent in the consumer world that could immediately close the government technology gap:
Although it was already mentioned above, its potential in revolutionizing government IT operations makes the cloud a contender for the single biggest thing to happen to government technology in recent times. It simultaneously removes the need for agency members to manage physical hardware, while increasing uptime, reducing costs and leveraging the enormous resources of Amazon, Google or any other cloud provider. Given the enormous shift in enterprises already moving to the cloud, government would do well in fully committing to the transition.
Few other technologies have gotten as much buzz(word) attention as machine learning (ML). While it's unlikely (for now, at least) the panacea that the media makes it out to be, ML has already played an important role in many places you may not realize. Google search results, email spam filters, Netflix recommendations and even Google ads are all driven by some sort of ML. Simple, well-defined and recurring tasks are typically good candidates for an ML solution. In government, this presents endless opportunities. Detecting patterns of voter fraud, scanning CCTV TV footage for suspicious objects and automatically redacting personally identifying information (PII) in FOIA requests are just some public-sector venues which could benefit from an automated ML solution.
SaaS Software Applications
While moving to the cloud and implementing, ML tools may be sizable lifts for a government agency, immediately adopting an existing consumer software solution in government is likely the easiest path to high-quality, modern technology. One platform that comes to mind is Google Apps. Google has made a push into government and has signed plenty of states, agencies and local governments onto its Apps platform. Federal, state and local agencies can immediately enjoy the lightweight cloud-enabled email and collaboration products that consumers use every day. Another application that comes to mind is Salesforce. With broad applications in the consumer world, Salesforce has made the jump into government with agencies like New Jersey Transit and the General Services Administration wielding the software to improve delivery times and knowledge sharing.
It's clear that technology built for consumers can have immediate impact in many government agencies. The first step in realizing these benefits is for government IT professionals to expand their search outside of traditional beltway vendors and commit to updating their procurement processes to make way for the latest advancements in technology. Only then can governments and professionals make real progress in closing the technological gap between the tech they use at work and the tech they use at home.
Matthew Polega is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.