Social Forces May Transform Government Technology

In the past, many technology advances came from government laboratories. The Internet began as a covert US military communication channel.  Commercial aircraft design also got a big lift from Air Force projects. And the need for faster computers was largely driven by investments in supercomputers during the Cold War.

Over the past 10-15 years, the private sector has been pulling ahead with companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook driving innovations in data analytics and cloud processing. Startups like Uber are challenging notions about public transportation. Also, in the US, large healthcare providers are making strides in records management, contrasting sharply with the botched launch of the Obamacare computer network.

Being able to connect the dots with structured data will enable government to move from reacting to data to anticipating patterns and trends that may emerge within the data.

Now it may be time for the pendulum to start swinging the other way, according to Dustin Haisler, CIO for e.Republic, a media company focused directly on government issues. Haisler, who has worked in both the public and private sectors, believes new technologies like the cloud, along with generational changes, may help lift government information management systems to a higher level.

“When you look at the governmental side, there are definitely lags behind keeping pace with the private sector,” he said in an interview with the BPI Network. But improved customer experiences in the private sector are now shaping the expectations that ordinary citizens have for government agencies.

Haisler said five years ago public sectors were wary of using the cloud. Now, that’s shifting. “A lot of CIOs in government agencies across all levels have been in the infrastructure business for most of their careers,” he says. “And the cloud now offers an opportunity to focus less on infrastructure and more on using that foundation to create ways to build transformational applications and experiences.”

For government to catch up with private industry, certain things must fall into place. For example, Haisler says government IT leaders need to adopt data standards and adapt very quickly to cloud-based systems while becoming very smart about the use of data. Government has always had a large amount of data, “but they haven’t been able to use it or process it in order to make informed decisions or to anticipate needs for their customers.” Haisler explains that “being able to connect the dots with structured data will enable government to move from reacting to data to anticipating patterns and trends that may emerge within the data.”

Government DYI Technology

One big change happening in public agencies is in how government agencies identify and implement solutions. “Today, we have the rise of agencies that are architecting their own solutions,” says Haisler. “They’re pushing the envelope and experimenting with new technologies even as agencies struggle to find a balance between privacy and the need to enhance services by analyzing more data."

A lot of this is being driven by consumer expectations. Just a few years ago, if you saw that someone was trying to access the location of your mobile phone, it might have seemed frightening. Now people expect their location to be read to help provide the best information to them wherever they are.  This is having ripple effects as government agencies look for better ways to serve the taxpayers.

These new behaviors create new challenges for government. For example, rapid changes in cybersecurity, data analytics, and application development are forcing more government agencies to compete with the private sector for the best talent.  Even here, however, Haisler is optimistic that government can take some big strides with the help of two different groups – millennials and startups.

The Kids Are Alright

That’s right, those same young people who were viewed as slackers a few years ago are turning out to be very independent in their work styles and very hip to the latest technologies. In a recent Deloitte study, it was reported that millennials will makeup 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Less than 10 years away.

Many don’t want a 9-5 job and would rather sell their talents on the freelance market, according to Haisler. Just as some young people drive for Uber so they can set their own hours, many are offering their tech skills through employment sites like Elance and Upwork. A recent study indicated a third of young workers are freelancing now, and that figure is likely to rise to 50 percent by 2020.

“From a government perspective, the good thing is millennials really care about social good,” says Haisler. “They care about seeing their ability to have an impact on large-scale city and government agencies across the country. So many of them are starting up companies or finding ways to volunteer just to nudge and change government.” Haisler also believes this untapped group provides an “incredible opportunity for government agencies to embrace new technologies and behaviors.”

Startup City

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The second group that will help usher in change for government is the rise of a new bread of companies called GovTech startups. Haisler explains these companies as firms dedicated to government and that “derive the majority of revenue from government as a customer.” Haisler believes the increased demand for new technology and services in government can be seen by the growing $96 billion dollar annual information technology spend just in state and local government. Haisler believes “This new trend has sparked agencies to find innovative ways to tap into these companies and their technologies.” One example Haisler quoted is the Entrepreneurship-in-Residence program launched by Jay Nath and the Office of Civic Innovation in San Francisco. Haisler says, “The San Francisco EIR program shows that not only is government ready for change but it is creating new models to incubate it.”

Haisler’s company has done a lot of research on how the role of government is changing in response to changes with consumers and enterprise technology. “Ultimately, I think that government has to be very proactive on how they embrace these disruptive forces,” he says, “or they risk becoming irrelevant.”


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