big data

Government Technology: 3 Innovative Trends

There is a false perception that government technology is always slow in embracing innovation. Based on my recent experience at the recent 2015 ACT-IAC Igniting Innovation Conference and Awards (Igniting Innovation), I would say that innovation not only exists in the public sector but that the federal government is leading the way in using more efficient, cost-effective and innovative technologies to solve society’s problems. The Igniting Innovation event is an opportunity for IT leaders in the public and private sectors to converge and recognize the Top 30 IT solutions, services and products that best exemplify collaboration and innovation in the federal government. At the event, Departments and Agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, to name a few, shared their innovative IT solutions. Recognized as a Top 30 Igniting Innovation award recipient because of our work on a cloud based application, Insite, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Corner Alliance found itself surrounded by over 600 conference attendees who shared similar beliefs that technology can improve how the government functions.

While the event had public sector technology innovations that covered a wide spectrum of topics, such as the National Cancer Institute’s smoking cessation program, TSA’s travel pre-check services, and the event’s winner New York City’s crowdsourced permit management system, there were still predominate themes across many nominees.

3 Trends Shaping Government Technology:

Big Data

One of the first big themes from the Top 30 Igniting Innovation recipients without a doubt was big data. Government agencies have access to more data than they they often know what to do with at times. Previously various sets of data would sit in separate silos and analyzing connections was an arduous process. But with innovative programs like the Department of Labor’s Open Government Initiative, which pulls information from 6 disparate information systems, not only the government but the public as well can search and analyze this data. While we at Corner Alliance believe that not all data sets need to be big data sets to be useful, those agencies with access to more data can see huge benefits.

 Mobile and Apps are King

As we walked around the event, the other theme that was hard to ignore was the use of mobile devices and apps to make government more accessible. Smart phones have completely altered the way we live our day-to-day lives and we want to interact with our government in many of the same ways we interact in our personal lives. Mobile devices and apps were being used for the National Cancer Institute’s smoking cessation program, the winning New York City crowdsourced permit management system, and even helping Utahans keep track of their hunting and fishing licenses. Mobile and app based innovations will be huge for government going forward in every sector from health to public safety.

Open Source

As supporters of innovation on a budget one of our favorite themes was the use of open sourced technology. Many agencies think that innovative technologies are out of their reach because of perceived cost, but with the availability of open sourced technology many of the top 30 recipients instituted their programs for little to no cost. That’s a trend that all taxpayers can appreciate.

We were excited to see and be amongst so many government innovators. It was a good reminder that the public sector is pushing the boundaries of what technology can do for citizens. What innovations do you most want to see from government?

 

The Case for Federal R&D Investment – 3 Success Stories

Government innovators face a unique set of challenges when exploring new ways to deliver on their agency’s mission. Creative thinkers can be hesitant to introduce challenging ideas in a culture that too often rewards the status quo and lacks clear avenues for communicating ingenuity up to leadership. Institutional oversight, risk aversion, and authority limitations help government entities run reliably (most of the time…), but these realities inhibit their ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions or dedicate funding to long-term research & development efforts (R&D). That being said, it’s not impossible to strike a balance between traditional governance and entrepreneurial curiosity. Agencies like the Department of Defense and NASA have a long, well-documented history of driving green-field R&D that has provided tremendous economic and social benefits to citizens. In fact the Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal government invested $55 billion in R&D unrelated to national defense in 2012. In these non-classified settings, government agencies have begun to embrace an open and collaborative approach to innovation. For example, an agency might award grants to universities pursuing applied chemistry research or sponsor tech transfer between a private firm and federal scientists in a government lab.

Today’s top areas of federal nondefense R&D investment include healthcare, space science, technology, energy, and the environment. To highlight some recent success stories, here are 3 of the most innovative federal R&D programs:

 

  1. Advanced Manufacturing Partnership -- $2.2 Billion FY13

President Obama chartered this interdisciplinary consortium in 2011 to “enhance America’s global competitiveness” in next generation manufacturing areas like robotics, sustainable industry and supply chain innovation. The National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy, NASA and a cadre of Academic thought leaders make up a portion of AMP’s diverse membership. To prioritize areas of investment, AMP evaluates opportunities against criteria such as leveragability across industry sectors and encouraging American workforce demographics.

  1. Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy (ARPA – E) – $265 Million FY13

Born out of the success of DARPA, this Department of Energy venture takes a rapid, iterative approach to modernizing energy production and consumption. Current priority areas include improving energy storage – something that often blocks the critical path to mobile device innovation – and converting natural gas to transportation fuel. ARPA – E also shows a commitment to delivering lab research to consumers through its Tech-to-Market program (which helps explain how the agency parlayed $70 million of initial investment into $450 million of private sector follow on last year.)

3.Networking and Information Technology Research & Development Program (NITRD) -- $1.1 Billion FY13

This program brings together the National Science Foundation, NIH, DARPA, NIST and other heavy hitters you’d expect to be tackling today’s highest profile buzzword – Big Data. About half of NITRD’s projects go to foundational research like data management, mining and machine learning to uncover tactics of broad applicability across government data centers. They also dedicate funding to the development of more sophisticated applications, algorithms and cyber infrastructure necessary to support domain-specific data challenges (i.e. hurricane prediction modeling at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). This two-pronged approach brings welcomed sensibility and a real chance of success to a discipline that has seen too many well-intentioned working groups come and go as of late.

 

What other federal R&D programs have you seen creating impact lately? Where other areas of R&D investment should government innovators prioritize?