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5 Steps to Speeding Up Smart Government (by Slowing Down)

If you want to increase innovation, many experts suggest slowing down first.

All around the world, technology leaders are trying to work smarter, innovate and do more with less. From the Internet of Things to smart cities, from big data collection to connected drones, everyone’s trying to gain that competitive edge.

At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay current with emerging technologies while mitigating security vulnerabilities. What can be done to keep up? Surprisingly it may be best to slow down, look around and catch your breath. That’s right — if you want to speed up innovation, many experts suggest slowing down first.

Why? To rethink, re-examine, realign and refocus your strategic plans related to emerging tech and innovation.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies that “slowed down to speed up” performed much better — averaging 40 percent higher sales and 52 percent higher operating profits over a three-year period.

Why did they do so well?

“Higher-performing companies with strategic speed made alignment a priority. They became more open to ideas and discussion. They encouraged innovative thinking. And they allowed time to reflect and learn.”

While there are many helpful items government can learn from this study, I want to focus on capturing and communicating lessons learned. As I look back at successes and failures in technology management during my 30 years within the public and private sectors, there are five action steps that consistently helped to improve the status quo through implementation of new, innovative technologies. The repeatable process includes:

1. Establish (or update) your strategic IT plan. A new plan is usually required at least every four years, with major updates every two years and annual adjustments. This can also be aligned to election cycles. Typically this includes help from outside (unbiased) resources that can benchmark against public- and private-sector peers. Regardless, pause to assess enterprise progress and risk levels. The latest Michigan examples are posted online and previous IT strategic plans are also available.

2. Establish your technology vision based on input from important internal and external customers. Examine industry best practices in specific areas of interest. Review the National Association of State Chief Information Officers awards and industry best practices and white papers to help. Make sure the right people are in the room from all parts of your organization.

3. Set clear, achievable technology innovation goals and metrics using the business priorities from clients, public policy guidance and direction from elected leaders. Which areas need attention? What are the opportunities? How can you deliver low-hanging fruit as well as longer-term reforms and legacy replacement?

4. Ensure that cybersecurity priorities and innovative opportunities are articulated and included. Often this needs to be done in a separate security plan or an appendix to your main IT strategic plan.

5. Follow this effective “As Is, To Be, Gap Analysis” approach with a rigorous, repeatable process that ensures decisions are implemented and lessons learned are clearly articulated. Create a culture that continuously looks for good ideas and innovation from different stakeholders. Reward teams that achieve desired results and especially people who go above and beyond expectations. Honor the best projects with internal awards and recognition, with the expectation of winning national recognition.

As the Harvard study explains, getting beneficial outcomes requires people, process and technology being aligned to meet business needs. This methodology is similar to building a winning college football program that expects to win and builds a positive reputation that lasts, despite occasional setbacks. This means that everyone is not only striving to improve, but management actively encourages new ideas. Welcome creativity and incorporate innovation into the way things get done.

Technology leaders can make a huge difference by setting the example and walking the talk of innovation and collaboration. Staff needs time to reflect, learn, prepare and innovate.

As Alabama’s great coach Bear Bryant once said, “It’s not the will to win that matters — everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.