It's Time for New Thinking

Feeding the growing demand for innovation in government.

by / June 9, 2013

What do robotics, 3-D printing or virtual currencies mean to public CIOs? We pose those questions in this issue’s 6 Emerging Technologies and What They Mean to CIOs feature. Our goal for the story was twofold. First, we wanted an assessment of whether these and other emerging technologies could one day become important to you. Second, we wanted to spark some fresh thinking and conversation around using new technologies to solve government challenges.

Others at e.Republic, Public CIO’s parent company, and I have been talking a lot lately about the growing demand for innovation in government. Policymakers are asking for transformative uses of technology that literally change the cost and performance equation in key policy areas like transportation, education, public safety and health care. And in many cases, they’re asking public CIOs for guidance.

Lately we’ve come across some interesting methods for promoting innovative thinking, and we’ve tried to expose them through coverage in our magazines and websites.

For instance, Orlando, Fla., forms diverse teams of employees — known as innovation teams — and tasks them with solving a particular problem. “We mix it with different age groups — we try to bring the drive of the youth with the wisdom of the senior staff members,” said Orlando CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari. The story is similar in the Northern California city of Rancho Cordova, which uses “Matrix Teams” to tackle community issues. The idea, said City Manager Ted Gaebler, is to drive outside-the-box thinking by mixing together city employees with different skill sets and backgrounds.

Palo Alto, located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, is one of a growing number of governments to create an innovation council. The idea isn’t particularly new — Colorado launched one in 2007 and San Diego created one in 2009 — but it appears to be gaining favor. And it’s hard to think of a city better positioned than Palo Alto to exploit the concept, given the amount of technology brainpower located in its backyard. The council’s initial roster includes representatives from Xerox, SAP and Stanford University, as well as Web 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly. “We want to partner with these people and, together, create opportunities,” said city CIO Jonathan Reichental.

Within a few months, North Carolina expects to launch an innovation center to test new technologies and determine their usefulness in an enterprise environment. For instance, state CIO Chris Estes wants to use the new center to test end-user devices before settling on a strategy for replacing aging desktops. The center will be housed in repurposed state office space, and it’ll be open to agency CIOs, members of the academic community, vendors and local software developers.

Meanwhile, California is studying procurement changes designed to make state contracting more attractive to new companies and fresh solutions. “We’re looking at changing procurement models because we need to find ways of enabling innovation,” CIO Carlos Ramos said at e.Republic’s Beyond the Beltway conference earlier this year. A high-profile procurement task force is expected to deliver recommendations soon for updating California’s technology purchasing policies.

If you have other ideas for sparking innovation, we’d like to hear from you. Let’s continue the conversation.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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