training videos, collaboration or rules and procedures -- all of those things. They aren't classified. They might be a little sensitive, but they are not classified. So why would we pay millions of dollars more to secure them when, at the end of the day, you have a bunch of consultants managing that infrastructure anyway? What often happens is that 20 percent of the government ends up driving 100 percent of the decisions, rather than being pragmatic about it. There are certain things where it doesn't make sense to buy your own applications. Why buy blogging software when you can get free blogs? Or you aren't going to go out there and re-create Twitter, Facebook, Picasa or Flickr when you can get it all done for free.
Q: Was this the argument that you used to sell this approach?
A: Yes, but more important, we started with a pilot. I started with my agency of 700 people. With those 700 people, we moved forward, tested it, made sure all the security requirements we had were well documented, and then scaled it from there. And all along, Mayor Adrian Fenty was extremely supportive.
Q: What advice would you give to a CIO who was trying to adopt a similar approach?
A: One of the biggest things that has been very helpful for me was the creation of test labs. I've created labs within my organization that are the test bed for innovation. We try out new ideas, we look at models that can be scaled quickly, and we throw hundreds of ideas against the wall and try to fail them fast. And the ones that resonate, we scale them very fast also. It keeps the pace of innovation moving forward. Then philosophically, the question is why government has to be a laggard when it comes to innovation and technology. It used to be that government was the leader -- government was the trendsetter. And we've lost that. Now everybody's taken these hyperconservative positions and that hurts us now when it comes to innovation, efficiency and delivering services. From a philosophical approach, I would say, "Be bold. Be aggressive when it comes to innovation. Don't just turn it into a word that you talk about -- execute."
The lab I have consists of three people who I work closely with, and we basically experiment. We try to think through where the technology going, what it is going to look like. And we try to look at where the county is headed, where the world is headed, what's happening in the developing world, what's going on in the public-sector space. We try out new ideas, whether that's in the social-media space, or whether that's artificial intelligence, whether that's in robotics. We look at all those technologies to see how they could transform the public sector.
The promise of technology was not that it would cost millions of dollars and always be behind schedule. The promise was that it was going to fundamentally change the way we worked. So how do you think this through? What did the light bulb do when it became part of our cultural fabric? It transformed the way we worked, played and lived. In the same way, what can these new technologies do, what transformation will they bring? What did the locomotive and steam engine do in terms of transforming our economy? That's what we need to focus on -- going back to the basics and determining how you increase value at lower costs, rather than asking for these big, multimillion dollar enterprise projects. And finally, I would say that there's no better time to innovate than during tough economic times. This is a great opportunity.