Behind the Times: Government Missing Out on Technology Innovation

Government needs technology to meet the needs of its citizens, but it also needs the help of the industry to make good decisions that do not push us further behind.
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Technology is our present and future.

It permeates every aspect of life from how we connect with each other, to the way businesses run. But government is increasingly lagging behind. You don't need to look past the last few weeks of headlines to see that government is failing to leverage technology to serve people better at the state and federal level.

When done properly, technology makes our lives, businesses and government much more efficient. Technology creates an interconnectedness that makes solving any problem possible. Whether crowdsourcing funding for a community project, reporting potholes via a municipal mobile app or bringing people together to discuss political issues of the day, the more we allow technology to democratize solutions the more we realize its potential.

But far too often in government we keep our systems closed to outside input. Government makes technology decisions in convoluted ways and often times outside of the scrutiny of public eyes until we read another headline about a failed project like the one abandoned by the Department of Motor Vehicle, after $135 million was already spent on the project. Or when the California courts abandoned a $2 billion project that would have electronically unified files. The plug was also pulled on a project to overhaul the state's payroll system, for which $250 million was already spent. While an upgrade to the California Public Employees Retirement System was two years late and double the original budget of $279 million.

Government needs technology to meet the needs of its citizens, but it also needs the help of the industry to make good decisions that do not push us further behind.

Government is not new to the world of technology, after all researchers in government agencies helped make the platforms that led to the creation of the Internet. But we have a long way to go in terms of efficiency and innovation. According to a report released by the Standish Group, an estimated 31 percent of all IT projects - both public and private - will be cancelled before they get completed. And more than half of all projects will cost more than their original estimates.

Why is it that $4 billion worth of technology projects in California are currently pending, "in process" or might never happen? According to the California's Department of Technology, dozens of projects are pending or on hold for review. Who is doing these reviews? Surely it's not the same people who green light these projects in the first place. If state government in California has proven anything it is that it is not capable with its current assets and leadership to make technology decisions without a major shake-up.

Ten years ago we were purchasing physical software disks to upgrade our home computers, now it can be downloaded at the push of a button. By 2016, it's estimated that the bulk of IT spending in business will be on cloud computing platforms and applications, according to the IDC Worldwide and Regional Public IT Cloud Services forecast. Yet many in California government still resist cloud computing even as the federal government and states including Colorado adopt cloud-first priorities.

Now is the time for California state government to get involved with the technology community; now is the time to reach out to the innovators to gain understanding of their trade; and now is the time to form partnerships that will lead us into the future.

Many of the worlds top technology and computing companies are based right here in the Golden State. There are more tech start-ups in California than anywhere else. And it seems like experts descend on California almost weekly for conferences to collectively tackle problems.

In the past eight weeks alone, San Francisco has held three of the largest technology conferences in the world - Oracle World in September, Disrupt SF in October and this week's Dreamforce - and yet California as a whole is lagging behind many states in the adoption of technology innovation. We're missing a golden opportunity to tap these resources.

The benefits of these conferences cannot be stressed enough. The attendees are experts and leaders in the technology that will help shape and transform our way of thinking, the way we interact with one another and how we use the data we already have available to enhance our lives. Technology and innovation have changed the way we live and many of those responsible for those changes converge in one location - in our state - for sessions that have the potential to result in progress we have not even dreamed of yet.

It's appalling that we have these resources at our fingertips and we are not taking advantage of it. Every time the best and brightest gather in our state to collectively think about and solve problems that don't include those of California government we are wasting an opportunity.

We have to do better.

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