States Should Fall in Love With Digital Innovation

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. If any state IT pros are still looking for a Valentine, they should look no further than digital innovation.

Citizens want interacting with their government to be fast, easy, and painless–it’s an added bonus if they don’t need to leave the house. That’s where digital services can come in. Gone are the days where citizens had to trudge down to a government office and fill out a form in triplicate. Instead, government agencies can deploy apps and web portals to make interacting with the government far more pleasant, as well as help the government save money and improve efficiencies.

Tom Cochran is the vice president and chief digital strategist for the Public Sector at Acquia.

But for that to happen, governments have to get on board the digital train. MeriTalk SLG spoke with Tom Cochran, vice president and chief digital strategist for the Public Sector at Acquia, about the importance of investing in digital innovation.

When it comes to digital innovation, what kind of projects or solutions give governments the most bang for their buck?

Focus on things that people use a lot. Some cities get a lot of quick wins by doing things like making parking easier with a parking app. These are nice things that after you do them, seem super obvious. Once you are used to having a parking app and then you go to a city that doesn’t have one, it’s a real pain in the ass–I don’t have six bucks in quarters in my car.

Basically, making people’s lives easier with these seemingly small fixes gets government leaders a lot of political wins with their constituency. So citizen services like that are really important.

What are some stumbling blocks that government often face when deploying new digital solutions? How does Acquia help its customers overcome or avoid those obstacles?

Some of the biggest challenges are procurement, hiring, and security.

While we would love to have the solution for all those challenges, unfortunately, we don’t. But, what we do have is a lot of empathy and understanding. We’ve worked on these challenges before, and can help organizations go through the process of finding solutions. I think that patience is really required in order to get through these challenges because these are the first hoops you have to jump through in order to get digital innovation right.

You’re a big fan of governments using the open-source model. Why should governments share their code?

Open source is important in government because the money used to fund government projects is taxpayer money. So the owner, if you will, of the code should be the people that are paying for it.

Plus, if the city of Boston creates something that’s useful for its city, it’s pretty likely that it’ll be useful for another city–either in the United States or around the world.

Once you start operating in a default open environment, you have this massive force multiplier working behind you. When code is shared across governments, government IT leaders can amplify their initiatives by leveraging the work of teams across the country.

What is your top piece of advice for state and local governments looking to improve their residents’ digital experience?

Other than, talking to Acquia and figuring out how to work with us?

Governments need to be open to taking calculated risks. They need a more nuanced approach to understand that not all risk is bad.

Aside from that, governments must enable their employees with the technology they need to do their jobs well. Technology exists to solve any and all problems the government has, leaders just need to figure out how to provide access to the right technology. It’s unfair to set expectations that people are able to solve very difficult public sector problems without access to the right tools and technology.

I guess that’s really more than one piece of advice.

What innovation in the digital space are you most excited for?

Artificial intelligence, for sure. I think it’s something that is really going to transform every aspect of our lives, and that includes Federal, state, and local governments.

Digital innovation might seem daunting, but Cochran stresses that it’s important for governments to focus on improving the citizen experience.

Roses are red. Violets are blue. Citizens like improved digital services, how about you?

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