Although government IT traditionally hasn’t been known as being innovative, that’s beginning to change with efforts from several states.
Consider the example of North Carolina. “I’ve been around for 10 years, and in the past, pushing new technology was like beating your head against the wall,” said Eric Ellis, chief technology officer for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and director of the North Carolina Innovation Center. “Fortunately, I have a thick skull.”
Opened about two years ago, the iCenter today houses about $6 million in technology through partnerships with vendors and universities. “We are blessed to have about 10,000 feet of high tech–looking space. But it’s more the virtual component — trying to inspire the culture of innovation,” Ellis said.
Speaking on a panel at the 2015 NASCIO Midyear Conference in Alexandria, Va., Ellis is most excited about the potential of 3D printing, wearables and iBeacon technologies. iBeacon uses Bluetooth low energy for wayfinding apps. “As CTO for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, I see this affecting the state in our museums, aquariums and zoos,” he said. “They seem small to start with, but I think they’ll have some of the greatest impact to our state.”
Utah Chief Technology Officer David Fletcher pointed to the power of cloud computing and what’s known as the Third Platform. “Cloud, mobile, Big Data and social are four developments that have been happening for a number of years that now create a platform that will enable us to launch all kinds of new and innovative initiatives,” he said.
Fletcher is particularly keen to expand use of analytics. For example, the state will host a vendor day focused around Big Data and bring in all of the vendors it can find who will agree to come. Citing some user groups in the state, he said an advanced analytics group that includes vendors, the private sector and researchers will create a Big Data competition around air quality, which is a challenge for Utah, especially in the winter.
In Massachusetts, CIO Bill Oates came to the state office after a stint as IT leader for the city of Boston, home of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. “This is not about new technologies — this is about culture, this is about leadership,” he said. “From the backroom to the boardroom is the critical piece that all of us need to think about.”
Oates recommended that CIOs develop a culture that’s interested in doing things differently and is curious about the new technologies. “If you don’t change the culture, you won’t even find the new technologies.”