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Speed and Impact: Innovating in Government IT

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State and local agencies must move faster on deploying technology that delivers real-world results — and they need to rapidly scale new solutions and services once they prove to be valuable. This article explains how agencies can use cloud to augment existing systems, enabling them to quickly add and expand important new services. It also offers examples from jurisdictions that have taken this approach.

Adding cloud capabilities to existing systems is a game-changer for transformation

Move fast, drive results and scale quickly.

That was the advice to government IT leaders at Government Technology’s Florida Digital Government Summit in Tallahassee. The key to innovation is rapid, incremental change that drives real-world impact, said Darrick Mowrey, senior customer engineer with Google Cloud, in a session called “Spotlight on Innovation” at the Florida summit in May.

Mowrey recalled his experience helping state government agencies adapt to urgent new needs in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Google Cloud created quick-response teams to help agencies deploy new IT capabilities — often in the span of a few weeks. This required a sharp focus on where technology could have the most impact and then scaling with the lessons learned from those projects.

“Find the value and move as quickly as you can to deliver that value,” Mowrey said. Scoring quick wins clears the way to pursue more ambitious services for constituents. “Providing that value early and making sure it reaches the right level is going to be critical.”

Projects with straightforward benefits, such as providing a new service to residents or increasing internal efficiency for agencies, also tend to be simpler to contract and procure. “It's easier to get things out the door,” Mowrey said. “And it's easier to get sign-off from executives because you know you are going to provide value.”

BEST PRACTICES FOR FAST INNOVATION 

Agencies frequently use cloud-based services to augment existing systems rather than replace them. For instance, the New York City Cyber Command didn’t completely reinvent its IT operations in the cloud, Mowrey said. But the organization — which leads New York City’s efforts to prevent, detect, respond to and recover from cyber threats — did create a massive cloud-based data warehouse to store petabytes of security information, including multiple years of server log data from city departments.

“That could not be done on-prem within a reasonable time period,” Mowrey said.

The incremental approach delivers value faster and makes it easier for technical staff to develop new skills. “We are not changing their world drastically, and they are able to move forward,” he said.

The innovation-centered session at Florida Digital Government Summit produced a half-dozen best practices for public-sector IT leaders:

  • Simplify your strategy. Innovation must start with a clear and concise plan for solving business challenges (not technology problems). In addition, building strategies on standards-based technologies rather than proprietary products lays the groundwork for scale and sustainability.  
  • Empower your people. Identify leaders who can get things done and free them to push the envelope. Empowerment also includes ensuring everybody has the training they need to succeed. 
  • Strengthen vendor relationships. Technology vendors have experience across multiple government disciplines that can help resolve challenges and reveal opportunities to innovate. Lean on these experts instead of trying to figure everything out in-house. 
  • Consolidate software. Government agencies often use multiple applications to perform similar tasks. Look for opportunities to standardize software platforms across multiple departments. Common platforms reduce complexity, allowing organizations to devote more resources toward innovation.   
  • Double down on data, security and compliance. Doing more with data is the heart of innovation in the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Nevertheless, agency leaders cannot let their guard down on securing data and complying with privacy rules. Incident response and risk management must be high priorities. 
  • Grow in the cloud. Agencies can implement software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions in a fraction of the time required to deploy traditional on-site systems. While agencies should not neglect legacy systems that are still viable, they should look for ways to converge cloud and legacy capabilities.   

THREE AREAS TO TARGET

Looking to the future, Mowrey identified three critical areas that will demand continued innovation from government IT leaders:

  • Constituent experience. Agencies should use technologies like virtual agents and learning automation to make it easy and intuitive for constituents to interact with the government. People should not have to memorize an agency’s organizational chart to find information or engage only during business hours to consume public services. 

    The Illinois Department of Employment Security used this approach to help state residents cope with massive job losses triggered by the pandemic. The department used Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI to rapidly deploy virtual agents that helped more than 1 million residents file unemployment insurance claims.

  • Cybersecurity. Jurisdictions need to work together to face the ever-expanding cybersecurity threat landscape. This means, for example, that state governments should help smaller cities and counties protect against broad-based attacks, Mowrey said. New York state is moving in this direction by creating a joint security operations center that will serve as a hub for threat intelligence sharing and cybersecurity coordination across the state.

    In addition, the New York City Cyber Command used Google Cloud Platform to develop a highly secure, resilient and scalable cloud infrastructure that helps its cybersecurity experts quickly detect and mitigate threats across city agencies.


Ultimately, government agencies must focus on incremental actions that deliver fast impact and significant value, while setting the stage for broader transformation.

“Get those quick wins under your belt,” Mowrey said. “This allows you to take on those bigger changes you might want to do within your organizations to really change how you deliver for constituents.”

Visit Google Cloud’s State and Local Government Solutions site for ideas and information.