>Are Feds Less Creative?

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Contrary to the stereotype, in my observation government employees are just as creative as those in the private sector. The reason they may not seem this way is that they typically think very long and hard about the consequences of any proposed change.

Once an agency has tentatively decided on a course of action, it still takes some time to “go to market” with new ideas, for a few (to my mind) solid reasons:

  • We are motivated by public service. One of the key elements of that is our national security and so we must balance change with maintaining stability, order, and safety for our citizens. In contrast, the motivation in the private sector is financial, and that is why companies are willing to take greater risks and move more quickly. If they don’t they will be out of business, period.
  • We have many diverse stakeholders and we encourage them to provide their perspectives with us. We engage in significant deliberation based on their input to balance their needs against each other. In the private sector, that kind of deliberation is not always required or even necessarily even desired because the marketplace demands speed.

The fact that process is so critical in government explains why IT disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance are so important to enabling innovation. These frameworks enable a process-driven bureaucracy to actually look at what’s possible and come up with ways to get there, versus just resting on our laurels and maintaining the “perpetual status quo.”

Aside from individual employees, there are a number of organizational factors to consider in terms of government innovation:

  • Sheer size—you’re not turning around a canoe, you’re turning around an aircraft carrier.
  • Culture—a preference for being “safe rather than sorry” because if you make a mistake, it can be disastrous to millions of people—in terms of life, liberty, and property. The risk equation is vastly different.

Although it may sometimes seem like government is moving slowly, in reality we are moving forward all the time in terms of ideation, innovation, and modernization. As an example, the role of the CTO in government is all about discovering innovative ways to perform the mission.

Some other prominent examples of this forward momentum are currently underway—social media, cloud computing, mobility solutions, green computing, and more.

Here are three things we can do to be more innovative:

  • From the people perspective, we need to move from being silo based to enterprise based (or what some people called Enterprise 2.0). We need to change a culture from where information is power and currency and where people hoard it, to where we share information freely and openly. And this is what the Open Government Directive is all about. The idea is that when we share, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • In terms of process, we need to move from a culture of day-to-day tactical firefighting, to more strategic formulation and execution. Instead of short-term results, we need to focus on intermediate and long-term outcomes for the organization. If we’re so caught up in the issue of the day, then we’ll never get there.
  • And from a technology perspective, we need to continue to move increasingly toward digital-based solutions versus paper. That means that we embrace technologies to get our information online, shared, and accessible.

Innovation is something that we all must embrace—particularly in the public sector, where the implications of positive change are so vast. Thankfully, we have a system of checks and balances in our government that can help to guide us along the way.

Note: I’ll be talking about innovation this week in D.C. at Meritalk’s “Innovation Nation 2010” – the “Edge Warriors” panel.

>Customer-driven IT Management

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For many years, we have witnessed the failures of excessively product-driven management, where companies focus on the development and sales of products (from automobiles to toaster ovens) to their customers—whether the customers really want those products or not. This was epitomized by the “build it and they will come” mentality.

Numerous companies faltered in this over-the-top product mindset, because they were focused not on satisfying their customer’s needs, but on selling their wares. Think GM versus Toyota or the Days Inn versus The Four Seasons.

Now however, organizations are moving from product- to customer-focused management, with the basic premise that organizations need to engage with their customers and assist them in getting the most value out of whatever products meet their requirements best. In the world of IT, this is the essence of user-centric enterprise architecture, which I created and have been advocating for a number of years.

Harvard Business Review, in January-February 2010, has an article titled “Rethinking Marketing” that asserts that “to compete, companies must shift from pushing individual products to building long-term customer relationships.”

· Product-driven companies—“depend on product managers and one-way mass marketing to push a product to many customers.”

· Customer-driven companies—“engage individual customers…in two-way communications, building long-term relationships.”

The old way of doing business was to focus on the products that the company had to offer and “move inventory” as quickly and profitably as possible. I remember hearing the sales managers yelling: “sell-sell-sell”—even if it’s the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge. And the driver of course, was to earn profits to meet quarterly targets and thereby get bigger bonuses and stock options. We saw where that got us with this last recession.

The new way of doing business is to focus on the customer and their needs, and not any particular product. The customer-driven business aligns itself and it’s products with the needs of its customers and builds a long-term profitable relationship.

“In a sense, the role of customer manager is the ultimate expression of marketing find out what the customer wants and fulfill the need), while the product manager is more aligned with the traditional selling mind-set (have product, find customer).”

The new model for a customer-driven enterprise is the epitome of what social computing and Web 2.0 is really all about. In the move from Web 1.0 to 2.0, we transformed from pushing information to stakeholders to having a lively dialogue with them using various social media tools (like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, discussion boards, and many more)—where customers and others can say what they really think and feel. Similarly, we are now moving from pushing products to actively engaging with our customers so as to genuinely understand and address their needs with whatever solutions are best for them.

In a customer-focused organization, “the traditional marketing department must be reconfigured as a customer department [headed by a chief customer officer] that puts building customer relationships ahead of pushing specific products.”

I think that the new organizational architecture of customer-driven management is superior to a product-focused one, just as a emphasis on people is more potent that a focus on things.

Similar to customer-driven management, in User-centric enterprise architecture, we transform from developing useless “artifacts” to push out from the ivory tower to instead create valuable information products based on the IT governance needs of our customers.

Further, by implementing a customer-focus in information technology management, we can create similar benefits where we are not just pushing the technology of the day at people, but are rather working side-by-side with them to develop the best solutions for the business that there is.