Groundhog Day Predictions: a New Season in Government Tech

By TA Group Holdings

Every year on Feb. 2, we wait with bated breath for a groundhog to predict whether we’ll be moving forward into a new season of growth and life … or staying, frozen and sluggish, in winter. Around the country, government entities are also looking forward to a season of unprecedented new life. As someone who spent 30 years serving the state of California before moving to the private sector to serve government from the outside, I’ve followed public-sector trends closely for a long time. But — putting on my Punxsutawney Phil hat — I’m predicting something a little different this year when it comes to government tech.

With technology, there’s always a shiny new object on the horizon, myriad updates and disruptions to existing technology, and, inevitably, a new smartphone to review. But in addition to all the brand-new next-gen octane-fueled gadgets, I’m seeing a new shadow on the ground: I foresee a revolution of how government leverages technology in a way that not only improves organizational interaction with the public, but also betters the lives of their constituents. In the coming months and years, I believe we will see a refocus on the human side of tech.

Reinventing Customer Service

Around the country, government is doing a great job at directing their technology budgets to projects that have a tangible impact on their constituents. It’s no secret that in the past, government has had a reputation for being slow to adopt new technologies and methods, and that citizens sometimes are frustrated by slow processes when working with agencies — especially now that we are accustomed to a world where nearly every need in daily life can be accommodated instantly online. 

Now, in California and elsewhere, we’re seeing a sea change in interactive government. “Smart Cities” like Atlanta, Kansas City and Chicago have introduced programs for a variety of connected public services, from predicting potholes to installing public Wi-Fi in parks to using predictive analytics to build community pools in an effort to prevent crime in overheated areas. Moving forward, expect to see a slew of cities following suit.

It seems ironic, improving customer service and public relations through more technology. Yet that’s exactly what will set effective agencies apart in the coming seasons. In California state government, customer service remains such an important goal of government that it is specifically mentioned in the state Department of Technology’s newly published annual report.

Mobile apps for public works and city engagement will benefit citizens by allowing them to pay their utility bills and find out what community events are coming up or what alerts they need to be aware of — and they will benefit government, by allowing millions of people to provide real-time feedback on local issues, public sentiment, and other important topics in a centralized and convenient location. Analytics will improve (or even proactively eliminate) response time to incidents like power outages, car accidents and crime. Also, expect to see easier lines of communication with public officials, abetted by creatively applied technology.

Reinventing Automation

Automation has been a buzzword in government tech for years. However, 2018 brings unprecedented and exciting practical applications to automation: drones and autonomous vehicles. The information that can be captured uniquely by drones has the potential to vastly improve certain aspects of government service, particularly in realms such as emergency response and public safety, construction and public works, and environmental monitoring. 

There is value in using drones over humans for certain tasks for two main reasons: reducing manpower cuts costs, which can then be funneled into other urgent projects; and reducing the risk of harming human life. Many of those aforementioned scenarios hold significant risk, whether it’s responding to a tip about the whereabouts of a criminal or investigating a potential forest fire, and using drones can diminish that danger and improve response time. So, in the near future, expect cities and counties to invest in drones for things like surveillance, routine utility inspection, and planning and zoning.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs), meanwhile, are expected to become publicly available this year and could both cut government spending and improve safety in areas like public works and public transportation. Think of automated street sweeping and garbage collection, which carry a reasonable amount of risk for property damage or injury due to human error. In addition to automated streetcars, trains, and buses — which are already being funded around the country — a regulated system of AVs could revolutionize downtown parking, reduce congestion, and eliminate one-way grid confusion. 

Installing an AV system for public-sector employees could also improve commutes in cities across the country. Ever noticed how empty the roads are on public holidays? A driverless carpool system, as well as better road safety due to AV programming, could go a long way toward improving rush hour for everyone. Going forward, I expect municipalities to focus harder on regulating AVs as we race toward public availability dates, but I also anticipate cities and states to start thinking about the possibilities: driverless trams; a city vehicle that roams around to check for potholes, road debris, and graffiti; vehicles that can do minor construction work on their own … the options are endless.

Reinventing Cloud Computing

I also foresee differences in how public entities interact with cloud providers. 2017 saw a huge influx in government organizations moving infrastructure and information to the cloud. I expect this growth in cloud adoption to continue — and, in fact, accelerate — because it has improved security and transformed the process for an organization to add or amend their storage and workflow needs quickly, overriding previous concerns about risk management. That said, government entities must carefully monitor execution of cloud initiatives to ensure that they remain secure and effective, providing more stability for subsequent cloud migrations.

That focus on maintaining and monitoring cloud processes is heavily reliant upon the vendor community. The relationship between government agencies around the country and their local vendors is vital to continued success in both the public and private sectors. However, we may soon reach the point where the cloud market has gotten so competitive, and organizations so reliant on a cloud vendor, that one of two things will need to happen: either a shift in cloud pricing to make cloud adoption more accessible to government entities nationwide; or, agencies may take a hard look at the possibility of on-premises cloud capability.

Government entities all over the country are seeing the handwriting on the wall — or rather, the shadow on the ground. What it comes down to is this: citizens and civil servants alike have expectations of government being customer-centric. Ultimately, driving to get ahead of the curve with the latest software is useless without a plan on how your organization will use that application to serve the public. The past two years have shown the positive impact of turning attention (and tax dollars) to what citizens need from government, rather than what government needs from technology. 

This Groundhog Day, let’s turn these predictions into reality. Reinventing existing processes to bridge that gap — and prioritizing technology that improves communication, security, service and efficiency — will lead the nation toward a fruitful new season, and a more innovative future, together.

Davood Ghods is the VP of Direct Technology’s Government Solutions Group, He leverages his 30 years of experience serving the State of California, most recently as chief of the California Office of Technology Services (OTech), to fuel digital transformations in public organizations. 

Davood and other TA Group leaders are sharing their experiences each week for 12 weeks in the Growth Never Stops  series. This article is reposted from a 2/2/18 guest post in Techwire)

Read last week’s post by Rick Nelson:  3 Surprisingly Simple Steps to Make Work More Meaningful