Innovation and Transformation: Doing More with Less

Innovation in GovernmentAt GTEC (Canada’s Government Technology Exhibition and Conference), a few weeks ago, two main phrases / buzz words jumped out – innovation and transformation. In fact the title of this year’s event was ‘Collaborating and Innovating’. Perhaps it is also because I am so interested in innovation and change that these two areas jumped out.  Innovation, in my mind, has to involve collaboration. Innovation is bringing in ideas and building on top of them. Innovation involves taking a look at what is happening in the market now and the trends that hint at what is to come.

In the technology sector, after the bubble burst, new and existing companies were forced to transform how they operated and did business. Now with the global economy cooling even more, other industries and organizations are finding they need to learn to transform – to do more with less.

3 Ways of Doing More with Less:

1)       Use technology to bring about efficiency gainsreorganize and re-evaluate processes and policies to increase productivity. Can you cut down the time required to provide the current services with technology? Can you use this opportunity to reset expectations of both consumers and service providers as you bring in new technology?

For government, there are databases that have been around for half a century and some of the inputs that were required 30 years ago don’t add as much value. Are there ways that the amount of data being input can be reduced or changed to meet current expectations of the nation? Can transaction times for accessing information be reduced?  Can more automation be introduced in the gathering, processing and reporting of data?

2)       Collaborate. Especially in large organizations there are a number of teams that have similar functionality for particular departments. Are these teams meeting regularly to exchange ideas, methodologies and best practices?

After attending a session on online accessibility geared towards government web developers, I noticed that departments had similar issues as they were developing and there weren’t many opportunities for them to talk about their day to day issues amongst one another. Providing structure around sharing at the frontline level can truly increase efficiencies. Especially as resources are getting tighter with the economy reset, collaboration can help to identify common issues and solutions, as well as bridge some of the skill shortages as teams work with one another and move to areas where there is a greater need for their services.

3)       Re-evalute the products and services you are continuing to invest in.  Are your customers interested in a better mouse trap? If not perhaps you can reduce the R&D continuing to go into it. P&G recently announced that they were tripling their innovation over the next 5 years by focusing on fewer and bigger R&D projects. ‘Get more for every dollar [they] invest and increase speed to market.’ Part of my philosophy when working with organizations is to help them focus on the areas that their customers and the market will be looking for. It appears that P&G is following the same course. They spend $350M annually of their $2B R&D budget in understanding their customers.

Identifying what customers are looking for applies in the government as well, especially as there are so many changes being brought in place. One aspect that I am pleasantly surprised to see being developed is Open Data (http://www.data.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=F9B7A1E3-1). Make it ‘easier to download and reuse government data’. This is bringing in open innovation through crowdsourcing. There is still a lot of work to be done in determining what data is being classified as confidential but wheels are in motion to increase efficiencies through new technologies (open APIs).

One final comment that caught my attention at GTEC was that a number of organizations are working with technology from the start. This allows policy developers to use the technology to bring in changes that may not even have been an option without input from the technology strategy folks in the room. This will also help reduce the number of changes that are brought in – bring in one change with technology – rather than change the policy and then the technology. With every change there are challenges with adopting the changes and reducing the number of changes reduces the length of time for resistance.

As with every innovation project the front end is quite important. From what is visible, the government is making the right front end decisions to create a more innovative infrastructure. The timing of these initiatives and staying open to new ideas will be key criteria for success.