Innovation is defined as the introduction of something new, or a new idea, method, or device. In practice, most discussions of government innovation are focused on high-profile efforts, such as cybersecurity, mobile applications and access, and DevOps, using supporting technologies like AI and ML. But, there are other, more down-to-earth ways to look at innovation; while it can mean taking a groundbreaking idea from concept to game-changing reality, for government agencies, it can also mean improving on existing processes and solutions. By either definition, what doesn’t change is the goal: to improve services to the public.
“Innovation is a term that is so broad and so misused,” according to Kurt Steward, VP of Sales at Infor. Steward, who spent 10 years in local government and now interacts with agencies of every kind, said that results are what should drive technology decisions, not just the need to “innovate.” After all, he said, “They’re not in business to make money. They’re in business to serve constituents.”
Steward pointed to areas that are more “mundane,” but absolutely necessary to providing a better level of service, such as financial systems as well as processes that support licensing and permits, payments, and forms and applications. Another area that benefits from technology updating is asset management—everything from buildings to office equipment to fleets and even medical devices.
Building on a Strong Foundation
Cloud computing is an enabler of innovation, supporting the ability to iterate changes, as opposed to being several versions behind. A major benefit of cloud, Steward said, is that it allows you to redeploy people who were managing stovepiped legacy systems to tasks that have higher value and truly require human interaction. He added that a well-structured cloud infrastructure lets organizations connect parts of government that were previously siloed, supporting real-time data crunching and reporting that can give decision makers a better view of a situation.
AI and ML capabilities may factor into these improvements. Steward said that he sees people getting comfortable with these technologies in their personal lives, but that they may take longer to be accepted in government offices. “Smart assistants, IoT devices… people have these at home, but they’re just scratching the surface of what can be done to improve business processes.”
By way of example, he described Infor’s Coleman AI platform, which uses natural voice commands to launch automated tasks by simply asking a question. With its familiarity from smartphones and digital assistants, this conversational UI means less need for specialized training… and less time spent on searching for critical information.
Different Challenges, Common Needs
This doesn’t mean agencies need to rip and replace their legacy systems. “It’s a journey. Using cloud as a secure foundation, functions at all levels of government can improve,” said Steward. At the same time, IT costs can be managed more effectively, so more resources can go toward serving constituents. And while the specific challenges vary by vertical, such as education, utilities, or transit, he explained, the underlying issues—and solutions—have a lot in common.
For example, Steward described K-12 education systems that are now requiring vendors to meet FedRAMP standards for security. “Federal agencies require it; state and local agencies are embracing it,” he said. He also pointed to transit systems that need to run asset management tools, which are also useful to many other agencies. “By moving many of these IT functions to the cloud, agencies can contain costs so they can free up resources to better support their customers, whether that’s students, taxpayers, or trading partners.”
But, he said, it doesn’t have to happen overnight. “Making these kinds of changes can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Working with a technology partner that can guide you and provide cloud-based, as-a-service capabilities can free up resources, budget, and most of all, people.” By taking incremental steps, Steward said, you can seamlessly move towards a model that balances all of those factors, delivering scalability, flexibility, and greatly improved customer service.
“Government is awash in data,” Steward said, adding technology needs to be both deep enough and broad enough to handle the demands as well as the opportunities. “We’re still in the early years, and government is just getting started. But the next wave will be the agencies that have seen the initial successes and say, ‘I want to do that, too.’”