Budget Crisis Spurs Innovation

Speakers at the 2008 Best of California conference discuss the importance of innovative ideas in the tough times we face today.

by / December 5, 2008

Megan's Law Web site maps residences of registered sex offenders.

"If there is a project that comes with an impossible time line, no resources and limited funding, it usually has my name on it," said California Department of Justice Bureau Chief Sheri Hofer. Hofer, speaking at the Best of California conference in Sacramento, Calif., knows a bit about innovation, as working on tight budgets and short time lines has forced her to think of new and different ways to do things.

In 1994, after the rape and murder of a 7-year-old New Jersey girl, Megan's Law was enacted in that state in her name. A year later, federal legislation was passed and each state was responsible for the procedure by which information on the location of registered sex offenders was made available to the public.

The California DOJ was tasked with putting together an online directory of registered sex offenders written in 12 languages, complete with a map and photos. It also needed to be available within six months for no more than $500,000. When Hofer and the DOJ went out to do the procurement, they found a number of traditional vendors who were able to implement that kind of technology -- for about $2 million. However, they did come across one company, named ProMiles, which tracked and mapped low-cost fuel for truckers. This company said they had the technology to implement the project, to do it under budget and within the time frame.

"It's probably something we would have never had done or considered had we had $2 million to implement this project [and it] turned out to be one of the best companies we've ever dealt with," said Hofer. The resulting California Megan's Law site is a very successful application and is the DOJ's first Web 2.0 project, with the public being able to contribute information to the site.

"Innovation means a new way of doing something," said Alcatel-Lucent's Rob Dallas, speaking at the same session. "Invention is an idea made manifest, while innovation is ideas applied successfully." To be innovative, he said, you just have to re-examine the ways things are done and find ways to streamline production, share information or use pre-existing platforms to be more efficient."