Below is a blog I posted internally on our Oakland County web site. I wanted to share it with you to see if people outside Michigan have some thouights for us. Here you go!
Are there tough times in Michigan? Are people wondering if they have a future and what that future will hold?
I recently had an experience that made me think about what our future may hold. As my family and I sat on the tarmac at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for two hours, I watched carefully the reactions of my fellow travelers as we waited for news about a minor maintenance malfunction. Some sat back calmly and waited for news, while others became agitated trying to leave the plane for their sought-after connecting flight. My family didn’t have the pressure of missing another flight, but I tried to place myself in their shoes and wonder if I could be calm when everything I had planned was falling apart around me. Having no control over the outcome can be frustrating and bring people to the brink of meltdown.
I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the current economic situation in Michigan. We have little or no control over the freefall that our economy is in, and many are melting down under the pressure as they witness their investments and assets, like their homes, de-value. Are they scrambling to change their plans for retirement or debating whether they can send their children to college? Like a missed airline connection, are they displaced from their carefully planned out futures?
Diversifying our economy will give us some control over our destiny — just like making the decision to leave the plane or stay onboard hoping for the best. I am fortunate to work for a visionary, our County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who is looking out into the future to lure the companies of the “new economy” to our region. He realized early on that we must diversify our economy in Michigan and launched his Emerging Sectors program with incredible success. Considering his actions, I realize that we do have some control in this economic climate, but the larger market forces must be successful if we are to grow our economy. Every company that makes change happen, big or small, in partnership with visionary government leadership, is making the economy grow.
Back to my weary travelers who are fighting to get to their destination with no control over their destiny, I draw a correlation with our citizens that may be either losing their jobs (or just trying to make ends meet) with little or no control over their destiny as well. They need government services now more than they have ever needed them in the past. How will we deliver these services as our revenue declines? How will we decide who receives services and who will not?
As a public servant I learned early in my career that delivering services efficiently and cost effectively is not an easy task. Technology now plays a key role in streamlining our processes and driving more services out to the public, Oakland County government is more “open” to citizens today than ever before because of our investment in technology. Accessing government over the web has grown from a few transactions in 1998 to millions in 2009. Embracing the web has allowed us to reengineer our service delivery platform which in turn has changed the way citizens interact with government.
A County Commissioner asked me the other day, “Are we being cost effective with our technology investment and is it still worth spending so much?” I thought to myself, we have been making these investments for years and as a result we have been changing the relationship between citizens and government. I impulsively responded, “We could go back to providing services with pencil and paper and you could hire hundreds of additional people to accomplish what we are accomplishing with technology.” The ensuing conversation was much more productive, but I later realized that this Commissioner was frustrated with our financial situation and was probably being approached by frustrated citizens about the cost of government. In essence, they were frustrated that their individual plans had been altered and they had no control over the situation, just like the travelers I watched on my flight.
In my opinion, investing in technology for strategic change to government is needed now more than ever. People will argue that it may be more important to provide services directly to people and not continue to spend funds on expensive technology initiatives. I would argue that it is the enabling technologies that are streamlining the delivery of services to millions of citizens — and that technology will be a key element in the reengineering of everything government does. Change the process of government by using technology to enable that streamlining effort, and bring down the cost, and ultimately gain greater control over our destiny. A continued investment in technology ensures government services will be delivered cost-effectively and efficiently, and be more readily available to more people than ever before.
My family watched as many people disembarked from the plane that day to begin trying to gain some control over their destiny. Little did they know that right after they began their alternate journey, the maintenance problem was fixed and the plane was pushed back from the gate. I wonder if they regret not hanging in and riding out the tough times to get to their good times? Maybe that is what we need in Michigan. Maybe we need to ride out the tough times while working together to gain control over our destiny. Maybe we need to embrace technology more in these tough times to help us get there. What do you think?