When I was an Assistant Secretary of Administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a part of Secretary Jack Kemp’s team several years ago, we had the vision to be able to manage government more like a business. We sought ways to be more efficient and effective, improve decision-making, and to hold people accountable for their actions. Though our intentions were noble, technology tools and solutions just did not exist at that time that could bring our vision to fruition. However, this is not the case in 2017. The newly arrived Trump Administration is in the position of having full access to new tested and proven technology solutions that can help bring the vision of running the government more like a business to life. The new administration and government civil service officials have an arsenal of innovative solutions at their disposal to support lean, mean, efficient and transparent government operations. The following are four technology solutions that are available to the federal government that can bring efficiency, accountability, and reduced costs to government operations while providing improved products and services to the American taxpayers.
1. Cloud Technology
Most people have now heard of Cloud technology but few really know the powerful potential benefits that it can bring to the US government. Cloud deployments for federal government agencies contain costs by sharing services and infrastructures. Cloud based IT platforms allow for complete integration of government agencies’ and other stakeholder’s systems and data in real time. The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, DOJ, USDA, and the Department of Education are amongst the first to implement Cloud Technology in their respective agencies. The cloud represents not only a smart way to save money on commodity IT, but is also a transformative technology that allows improvements in speed and efficiency, improving how government serves citizens. Security of data in the cloud is sound and cloud providers have demonstrated they can keep data safe. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program provides a reliable way for agencies to know what providers they can trust. Most high-profile security breaches in government today come from the older legacy systems.
Case Study: USDA - In 2011, the USDA leadership made strategic decisions that have delivered significant savings -- over 30 percent in just the first year when the U.S. Forest Service, the USDA’s largest agency, migrated services to a new cloud-based system. This new platform allowed the agency to better track its equipment, analyze data and streamline invoicing. Soon all 29 agencies within the USDA migrated to this platform -- which did not require capital expenditures given its cloud service nature -- and the real savings in employee time and money continued to scale at that 30 percent rate, representing millions of taxpayer dollars annually. The agency is now able to determine how its resources are being used in over 6,000 locations, enabling subsequent efficiencies. This automated process eliminates human error and cuts staff time spent on menial but time-consuming tasks such as invoice processing. That frees up federal IT workers to concentrate on their primary functions -- monitoring, controlling and analyzing infrastructure -- so the USDA can improve its workflow and focus on actually meeting its goals.
2. Automation and E-Signature Technology
Too many transactions with and by government begin on paper. Whether it is by printing, filling out documents, signing and mailing, the result is a perpetuation of the paper pushing process. It is obviously inefficient, but it is a process repeated hundreds of times a day by government agencies. With cloud-based e-signature technology, paper processes can be replaced with fully automated workflows, greatly increasing the efficiency of day-to-day operations and providing agencies with improved tracking and transparency. This allows government agencies to focus on delivering an improved customer experience. Paper processes can take weeks, to be finalized. E-signature technology and automated workflows can bring that down to minutes.
3. Data Analytics
Governments have invested in data management systems and platforms to collect and operationalize their data. However, deriving insight from that data has been a challenge. Organizing and analyzing data within the government is critical. When brought together, big data provides a holistic view and enables effective action. As discussed more in depth in my previous article - Data Analytics for Government: Transforming Government from Inside Out - The public sector can and should be a leader in data analytics. From public security to public health, it is no longer necessary for governments to make decisions regarding the spending of taxpayer dollars based on routine and assumptions. Data analytics will not only allow decisions to be made based on real-time facts, but will also facilitate the measurement of quality and performance and reduce costs.
Case Study: State of Indiana - A successful case of data analytics’ role in government administration is the state of Indiana. There, then Governor and now Vice President Mike Pence decided to make data analytics the center of his long-term vision for improving the management and effectiveness of government programs by incorporating data-driven decision making to the state. Agencies have been collaborating and sharing data to improve services. Data sharing is not a common practice in government, but the State of Indiana recognized that sharing data was imperative to successful data analytics. Indiana’s government determined to use insights from analytics to help pursue six public policy goals: Increase private sector employment; attract new investment to the state; improve the quality of the state’s workforce; improve the health, safety and well-being of families; increase high school graduation rates; and improve the math and reading skills of elementary students.
4. Artificial Intelligence
AI is the capability of a computer program to perform tasks or reasoning processes that we usually associate to intelligence in a human being. Often it has to do with the ability to make a good decision even when there is uncertainty or vagueness, or too much information to handle. These intelligent systems improve accuracy of predictions, accelerate problem solving and automate administrative tasks. AI will enable government workers to be more productive since the technology can be used to automate many tasks. AI can be used to search for patterns, examine worldwide similar case studies, discover new insights, extract meaning from raw data, make predictions, and interact with people, machines and the physical environment. AI will create a faster, more responsive government and allow citizens to interact more naturally with digital government services. Government agencies will need to make investments in modernizing their data architecture, build application-programming interfaces for AI application on their existing data and incorporate public-private partnerships.
Case Study: Las Vegas Health Department - The Las Vegas health department typically selects at random the restaurants it will inspect. However, earlier this year, it tried something new. The agency used a software program to analyze tens of thousands of tweets in order to identify possible food poisonings. The program then connected those tweets to specific restaurants and dispatched inspectors to check for any health violations. The Las Vegas experiment resulted in citations in 15 percent of inspections compared to just 9 percent when inspections were random. The new approach using AI saved the agency time and money.
The federal government’s adaption of these and other new technology solutions that promote efficient and effective government can thoroughly transform its management and operations capabilities for good. These technologies can greatly enhance decision-making and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in government operations. The technical evolution of government can lay the ground work for the implementation of “Smart Cities”, where citizens, businesses and government agencies will have communications and interoperability 24 hours per day, 7 days a week and in real time. Innovative management tools and technology solutions are finally available for use by the federal government. It is now up the new administration and the private sector to work together to take advantage of the opportunity.