The term “innovation” has become the buzzword of 21st century government, especially as digital services and virtual technologies take center stage. But what does innovation really mean for the public sector and, more importantly, how do we accomplish it? To kick off GovLoop’s Government Innovators Virtual Tech Day, we asked two awesome government experts what they think makes innovative government:
- William Chumley, Chief Customer Officer at Colorado’s Office of Information Technology (OIT)
- Michael Valivullah, Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
Valivullah explained that many people misconstrue the meaning of innovation. “Innovation doesn’t mean invention,” he said. “It simply means doing something differently.”
Chumley agreed, explaining that innovation means revamping what his state already does to meet higher standards of agility. “‘We need to look at both our technology and our procurement methods and ask, ‘How can we be more nimble?’” he said.
Both experts offered examples of what that idea of innovation looks like in practice. In Colorado, government is building citizen portals like My Colorado and Denver’s pocketgov to digitally engage with the public. “And now we’re looking at ways to enable that access across a broader suite of government services,” said Chumley.
At USDA NASS, Valivullah’s team is similarly looking at ways to leverage digital portals to interact with their target audience of farmers and ranchers. For instance, the department is deploying iPads to decrease nonresponse rates to critical agricultural surveys, allowing agency workers to simultaneously collect data in the field and engage with the public. They’re also working on data management methods to collect and publish drone data from farmers, allowing the agency to better identify and analyze local crop conditions.
But these innovative initiatives do not come without their challenges. Chumely cited workforce turnover and technical skill gaps as impediments to digital innovation, while Valivullah said data management and privacy considerations are major concerns at NASS. And for both agencies, our speakers noted that increasing resource constraints add to their challenges.
To address these barriers to innovation, both our experts said their agencies are turning to technology. “Technology provides agility and efficiency,” said Valivullah.
Specifically, both government organizations are turning to cloud solutions to virtualize workflows, enable mobile engagement, and save on computing costs. At NASS, Valivullah also sees the agency using cloud to power analytical models to make the most out of their collected data.
But while technology can certainly enable innovation, both our speakers concluded by emphasizing the need to marry technological investments to strategy. “Our key focus has been trying not to grow government. We’re looking at investing in enterprise tools to help us innovate around process, rather than just buying things or paying a vendor,” said Chumley.