Unintended Consequences of New Government Technology


“Modernization” is one of the very en vogue terms describing a swath of government initiatives these days. Crippled by years of bureaucracy, shrinking budgets and other strictures that prevent agencies from moving with speed and agility, only now have government entities realized “modernization” is a must. Not only is it a goal that will move an agency forward, but a necessity that will keep it from falling behind the rest of the pack.

With any strategic thrust encompassing so many agencies, it’s prudent for those agencies to identify the pros and cons of “modernizing” what they do. Almost always, modernization begets new technology, which has a whole set of unique consequences alone. After having worked closely with a number of agencies in many different roles (project management, product management, training, executive representation, IT support), I’ve seen a number of these consequences play out for better and for worse.

Here are a few of the most common:

Negative Consequences

1.Tech & Hardware Can Become Irrelevant 
Agencies may find that their existing hardware doesn’t play nicely with some new technology, or isn’t compatible at all. Old servers running an email application simply can’t be reprovisioned to work with the new app the agency simply must deploy. That hurts!

The agency spent tens of thousands of dollars purchasing and configuring those servers and hired two people full-time to continue managing them. While it can be painful to jettison aging hardware, the agency can do it’s best to repurpose the hardware. Otherwise, it’s best to stand strong in the face of a sunk cost fallacy and admit that it’s time to move on.

  1. Evolving Regulations & Security
    Advanced technologies likely require changes to the ways you regulate your users and data. Cloud security has far different demands than on-premise applications. Agencies may need to create new regulatory policies and invest in different security measures to accommodate new systems.

However, they should take solace in the fact that a one-time change in policy is a small investment in a long-term technology solution that will pay many dividends.

  1. Changes in Business Processes
    Workflow processes built around old technologies are simply no longer compatible with new technologies. Too often have I seen seemingly tech-forward police departments shoehorn a tired business process into a new piece of technology.

Tech is only as good as the business process it supports. If you’re ready to invest in new technology, be ready to take a hard look at how your agency does business and invest in modernizing your agency’s processes.

Positive Consequences

  1. Less Manual & Administrative Work
    Designed to drive efficiency and free users of rote, repetitive work, new technologies often enable agency employees to spend more time doing the job they signed up for.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Agency in the United Kingdom has automated the process of opening case numbers for advisers, which has reduced handling times by an estimated 40 percent. Similarly, a county in Texas invested in technology that could remotely operate water sprinklers at their parks, which has saved park employees hours of driving from park to park to water the grass.

  1. Improved Agency Collaboration
    New technology, often cloud-based, makes it far faster and easier for agencies to share information and work collaboratively with other agencies and constituents.

The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use collaboration tools to help keep citizens aware of recommended and required safety measures with a citizen-focused mobile communication approach.

  1. Increased Morale
    Government offices and technologies are known for being…less than modern. Showing the members of your agency that you care about their workplace wellbeing and efficiency is often an opportunity to boost morale in an agency. A happy employee is an effective employee. Agencies implementing new technology should recognize that implementing new technology also presents an opportunity to galvanize the agency around a common goal.

In short, killing the “pain of the mundane” increases employee engagement and loyalty.

These are just a few examples of what government agencies should look out for when implementing new tech. The most important takeaway, in my opinion, is that while changing technology takes legitimate time and money, when executed responsibly it can result in huge returns for an agency.

If any agency can be thoughtful about anticipating the externalities of implementing new technology, there’s no reason that “modernization” shouldn’t be a core value of an agency versus a half-hearted attempt at not falling farther behind.


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.


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