Innovation Strategies for the Practitioner: A ‘Paper Workshop’
Have a pen and paper (or a computer screen) handy. Take a moment to consider a great idea you have for constructive change – an idea that would make things better, improve morale, increase productivity, result in better customer service, or higher quality products or services. What problem could be solved, challenge overcome, process improved, or opportunity seized? Now write down your idea, initiative or innovation. Seriously, right now, write or type it.
Now imagine what success would look like – what would change or be improved? What would the benefits be and are there any potential negative aspects? Write your responses now, being as specific as possible, in a few sentences.
Now I want you to think BIG ….no even BIGGER! What would “Wild Success” look like? What if your initiative ‘went viral’? Instead of improving one process, solving one vexing problem, or overcoming one significant challenge, could your initiative be applied across your entire division, other regional offices, your entire organization, your industry? Are there other industries that might benefit? Write down now what ‘wild success’ might look like in a few sentences. Hold these thoughts!
By leading ‘from the middle’ I mean anyone, at any level, initiating or influencing constructive action when you do not have direct authority or control of the resources, policies, or staff necessary to accomplish a desired outcome. You need the help and cooperation of others to collaborate for success. “Unauthorized Progress” does not refer to ‘conspirators’ working around the bureaucracy, but rather ‘pro-spirators’ who take proactive initiative to achieve the mission, and don’t wait to be told what to do. I’ve identified six criteria decision makers use to determine if they will support new initiatives. The criteria, and statements to evaluate the initiative you‘ve just written, follow. Rate your initiative for each statement from 1 to 5 (1-Strongly Disagree to 5-Strongly Agree). If you honestly assess your initiative, it will not likely achieve a ‘5’ in all categories and this exercise will identify areas where you can improve your idea. Rate your initiative.
When you innovate and challenge the status quo, not taking action is not an option! Eight steps for leading change from wherever you are follow. What steps have you already taken with your initiative and what is the next step?
Often, despite our best efforts, our innovation initiatives fall short of expectations or even fail. In my experience observing hundreds of innovators, the most common reasons for failure fall into six areas. Prior to implementation, if you anticipate the possibility of any of these issues impacting your initiative, you can mitigate or eliminate many of the causes of failure. Which of these could impact your initiative?
I have identified 12 implementation strategies successfully used by innovators to enact their initiatives. Some are listed here and are often used in combinations optimized for the specific initiative and workplace. Consider if one or more of these strategies might be helpful to implement your idea.
In the foreword to Unauthorized Progress, former Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Thad Allen, quotes Arthur Ashe in his guidance for those working for constructive change. This quote is particularly relevant to innovation practitioners.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe
I wish you the best of luck in your innovation journey. If you are interested in receiving a short summary and description of the 12 implementation strategies (and when to best use them) email me at [email protected]. Also, if interested, you can learn more about leading from the middle and inspiring stories of people leading from wherever they are to achieve meaningful and often extraordinary results, check out Unauthorized Progress here.
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Innovation is Both the Medium and the Message for ELC 2020
Planning for Imagine Nation ELC 2020, to be held in Philadelphia on October 25-28, 2020, is underway. With a focus on Mission Resiliency: Technology, Culture, & Agility ELC will bring together government and industry leaders to leverage technology and innovation to improve government.
The Institute for Innovation is working with the ELC Leadership Team to highlight innovation throughout the themes of Mission Modernization, Cybersecurity, Emerging Technologies and Lab-to-Market. Contributions will come from the Institute’s initiatives, as well as from its Igniting Innovation 2020 conference and awardees.
ELC 2020 will have digital and virtual components; this was the plan for ELC prior to the current pandemic. ELC is currently being planned as a largely “in person” conference but given today’s environment, the Leadership Team is taking a look at both hybrid and entirely digital options.
The Leadership Team for this year’s event are the Chairs, Bill Zielinski, GSA and Tim Smith, OnPoint; the Vice Chairs, Ron Thompson, NASA and Jeff Shen, Red Team Consulting and the Enterprise Content Leads, Laura Stanton, GSA and Jonathan Bennet, Adobe.
Ventilator Project at MassRobotics
Severe cases will require a ventilator to be able to deliver enough oxygen into the lungs to the rest of the body. According to the New York Times, there are about 170,000 ventilators in the US while the American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 people will need them over the course of the pandemic. Startups at MassRobotics have formed a non-profit effort – The Ventilator Project – to prototype a low cost mechanical ventilator. Alex Frost, CEO of QuickFlora, and Tyler Mantel, Founder of Watertower Robotics, have reached across the robotics and healthcare community to build a team to rapidly scale into production once FDA approved, but they need additional expertise and guidance to assist with regulatory acceptance of the prototype. Currently, they are applying for emergency approval and financial assistance through quick turnaround sources. MITRE is connecting them with internal expertise and resources across their network, such as the shared information on two DoD programs seeking prototypes. If you would like to get involved with this effort, contact Eric Renda or Alex Frost. Please share this opportunity with your network!
Should Chief Data Officers be Insiders or Outsiders? Perspectives from an “Outsider” CDO
Michael Conlin has a strong opinion. In the last InnOvation, Ed Kearns, then an “insider” CDO for the Commerce Department, Introduced us to an article by Innovators Circle members Diana Zavala, Judy Douglas, et al, that examines, Should Chief Data Officers be Insiders or Outsiders? How the Answer Can Boost Organizations’ Effectiveness and Innovation. Ed asserted that the CDO should be a peer of the CFO, CIO, and Business Unit Leaders to ensure that all decisions are fully informed from a variety of balanced perspectives .,, and that insider CDOs have a distinct advantage in this. Conlin shares a different perspective.
“As Robert Heinlein said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.” Vanishingly few government employees will have a grasp of the art-of-the-possible in data management, data analytics, data science, etc. Government organizations simply aren’t doing innovative enough work for existing government employees to lead the way into this ‘brave new world’”.
The relentless competitive pressures of industry, especially the consumer-oriented sub-sector, are where data innovations are developed every day. Government needs to attract data leaders from industry. Those data leaders need to attract additional talent from industry. Both the leaders and the talent need to develop professional networks that enable them to tap into best practices from the commercial sector.
There are two primary considerations: data maturity and commercial sector parity. The lower the organization’s level of data maturity, the higher the need to source data talent from outside, in particular from organizations with a high level of data maturity. Similarly, the further the organization is from parity with commercial sector best practices (where the art-of-the-possible is advancing aggressively), the greater the need to attract a leader from outside. This reflects the expectations from the President’s Management agenda and the Federal Data Strategy.
End of rant.
Michael Conlin, Chief Data Officer, US Department of Defense (and veteran of industry)
ACT-IAC Announces Igniting Innovation 2020 Conference and Awards Finalists
April 22, 2020 – The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), the premier public-private partnership in the government IT community, today announced the Top 40 Finalists for the seventh annual Igniting Innovation 2020 Conference and Awards event.
This year’s Top 40 Finalists were selected from 140 nominations. “We received a lot of nominations focusing on IT modernization, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation this year”, said Zain Ahmed, industry co-chair. Cybersecurity, mobility, and blockchain continued as themes from last year.
The finalists’ innovations support healthcare, defense, public safety, aviation, finance and grants management, acquisition, and workforce management and training programs. “The amount of innovation in government, industry, and academia supporting the President’s Management Agenda is very impressive”, said Alycia Yozzi, this year’s government co-chair.
The finalists will exhibit their innovations at the Igniting Innovation 2020 Conference and Awards event on August 3, 2020 at the Marriott Marquis Washington DC Hotel. “We’re pleased see two academic institutions in this year’s finalists”, said Dr. Elizabeth Bejar, this year’s academic co-chair.
Attendees will vote to select the Top 8 “best-of-the-best” innovations and the overall Igniting Innovation Award winner. To get more information, register to attend, or view the Top 40 Finalists, please visit https://www.actiac.org/events/igniting-innovation-2020-conference-and-awards.
For more information on Igniting Innovation 2020, contact Mike Howell at [email protected] or 703-208-4800 ext. 228.
Connect with us on Twitter: @ACTIAC
Spread the word! Suggested Tweet: ATTN innovators! Join us August 3rd to see the best #GovInnovators and #GovInnovations at @ACTIAC's #IgnitingInnovation Conference!
About ACT-IAC – Advancing Government Through Education, Leadership and CollaborationThe American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) is a non-profit educational organization established to improve government's service delivery and operational performance through the effective and innovative application of technology. ACT-IAC provides a unique, objective and trusted collaborative forum where government and industry executives are working as partners to address critical issues, apply best practices and pioneer innovative solutions. ACT-IAC also provides high-quality learning and educational opportunities to improve the knowledge and expertise of the government workforce – both public and private. Further information about ACT-IAC can be found at www.actiac.org.
Media Contact: Mike Howell at [email protected] or 703-208-4800 ext. 228.
Should Chief Data Officers be Insiders or Outsiders?
How the Answer Can Boost Organizations’ Effectiveness and Innovation
Are the most innovative CDOs insiders or outsiders? In our last blog, “Enriching the Soil for Data Innovation”, we described how Chief Data Officers in the Federal government were planting seeds for success by harnessing their organization’s culture, fostering data experimentation, engaging in collaborative activities and sharing data-focused experiences. The leaders we spoke with were successful by understanding and adapting to the needs of the organization in order to advance data innovation and maturity. The Evidence-Based Policy Implementation Act legislates the hiring of CDOs at all agencies. With a significant number of new data leaders being appointed, let’s consider whether some organizational characteristics may affect the selection and plans of the CDO.
Why Consider an Insider?
A popular discussion point is whether it is better for a CDO to come from inside the organization or be brought in from outside. It seems the most likely answer is “it depends” on what the organization needs from the CDO. With recent appointments, we see both tactics being used. What might lead to consideration of an internal appointment? For an agency whose charter is to share data, such as NOAA, an internally appointed CDO who understands the strategy, the operations, and culture, has an advantage. These include insights about:
An internal candidate understands how to navigate within the organization, knowing how to tap into the right resources and structures. However, the internal candidate must also guard against falling back to organizational norms and “business as usual”. The objectives laid out in the Federal Data Strategy Action Plan and the Evidence-based Policy Act may need new approaches to drive significant change. What would make an internal candidate successful? Their willingness to experiment, challenge norms, set clear goals, and inject alternative approaches to build momentum and deliver results.
Why Consider an Outsider?
An external-to-the-organization hire (from industry, academia, non-profits, or elsewhere in government) signals a desired focus on fresh perspectives or new skills. It may reinforce the elevation of the role of the CDO as a key leader in the organization. An advantage of hiring a CDO from outside the organization is that they provide an independent voice and are not encumbered with history. However, this CDO must build internal credibility to influence and motivate early adopters to drive change. The caution, however, is to not cause more disruption than the organization can handle. Benefits of bringing in a CDO from outside the organization include:
What would make an external candidate successful? The same willingness to drive change, but an understanding that not all organizational experiences and assumptions translate equally effectively. The net effect should be greater, more constructive change. The leader must have the willingness to take the time to understand the current organization, its goals, and challenges.
Where Should the CDO Report?
On the heels of whether the CDO is an internal or external hire comes the question of where they should report within the organization. Should the CDO report to the agency director, to the finance function or IT function, or possibly somewhere else? Definitively, the appropriate answer here again is
The mission and responsibilities of the CDO will dictate where they should land. It helps to understand the specific parameters that the organization is dealing with to determine the best positioning within the organization. These parameters may include the data-sharing charter, regulatory and compliance requirements, operational challenges, organizational size, and overall agency strategy. Don’t obsess about the details; rather, understand the levers the CDO has available to drive the desired positive change.
CDO Selection Gives Agency Leaders a Chance to Innovate
With the objectives outlined by OMB for elevating the importance of data use and sharing, the CDO needs to be in the “right seat” with the ability for a strong, effective voice in management. The CDO must be empowered to drive positive change through a value-based approach, addressing key data issues affecting their organization and have adequate resources at their disposal to achieve them. With the focus on evidence-based policy and data action plans, CDOs already have a broad mandate to be responsible for data governance and lifecycle data management. They also need to regularly engage with other agency leaders, including the head of the agency, who are entrusted with the resources to execute the mission. CDOs need to be responsive to those leaders’ needs while driving an innovation agenda to demonstrate the power of data. Whatever the organizational factors, agency leaders have the ability to strengthen mission outcomes and impact through the selection of a “right-fit” CDO. Take advantage of the opportunity presented in selecting the right CDO. Seize the data! Empower the CDO!
Judy Douglas, Client Industry Executive, Perspecta; ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation Innovators Circle
Dan Gilbert, Strategist, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
David Park, Director, Digital Services, Perspecta
Diana Zavala, Director, Analytics and Data Services, Perspecta; ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation Innovators Circle
Special Thanks to:
Ed Kearns, CDO, Department of Commerce
Michael Conlin, CDO, Department of Defense
Nancy Potok, former Statistician of the US, Office of Management and Budget
Institute for Innovation leads ACT-IAC Initiative on Success Case Studies
The SBA story above is the first in a series….
The Institute for Innovation is partnering with ACT-IAC communities and government partners to share actionable practices and innovative approaches from which others can learn and adopt. The Case Studies highlight approaches to “move the needle” and drive successful change. Have you or others you know found ways to break through long-standing barriers? To fundamentally change the way your organization operates? Adopted new technology that has changed the nature of work and achieved new business results? Please let us know - we welcome input on projects of this nature for future Case Studies!
Initial Case Studies will include:
Prioritized List of Case Studies
1. Labor IT Metrics - This case study will highlight the comprehensive set of metrics the Department of Labor uses to delivery and manage their technology. This metrics address operational IT, the IT workforce, cybersecurity, and mission modernization.
2. MGT ACT Working Capital Funds - This government-wide case study will explore how certain agencies were able to implement working capital funds that were authorized in the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017. These working capital funds provide agencies with a way to reinvest savings to address unfunded technology priorities. As of December 2019, only 3 agencies received an “A” on the Congressional scorecard for establishing these working capital funds.
3. EIS Success - The Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions program will simplify the process of acquiring enterprise telecommunications and IT infrastructure by enabling the procurement of integrated, secure solutions while providing cost savings through aggregated volume buying. This case study will identify those agencies who have used this contract valued at $50 billion to acquire innovative solutions and the benefits of these solutions.
4. GSA Center of Excellence - This case study will highlight the success stories and lessons learned from GSA’s Centers of Excellence. Candidate COEs will include artificial intelligence, cloud adoption, customer experience, data and analytics, and infrastructure optimization.
5. HHS Emerging Tech - Emerging technology has transformed the health care industry. This study will showcase those emerging technologies, including blockchain and artificial intelligence, and the keys to successful implementation.
SBA’s Maria Roat Proves Strategy and Speed Work Together
Many CIOs enter their role with an all-too common mindset that they must first draw up a perfect strategic plan before taking any steps. That doing anything less might label them as “tactical” rather “strategic. And all too often, they spend their first year and more creating elegant, complicated plans that invariably require greater budgets—and never come fully to fruition.
Ms. Maria Roat, chief information officer of the Small Business Administration (SBA), has proven a CIO can both fight fires and make transformational changes. In just three years, she moved the CIO office from a reactive, technical support organization into a proactive innovative services organization that’s responsive to SBA’s programs
Ms. Roat has 30 years of professional experience in information technology for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the private sector, and in the Navy. Clearly, she learned important leadership as well as technology skills in these demanding environments—and SBA is now stronger for it. (To learn more about Ms. Roat’s background, please check out her bio.)
Recently, we talked with her to find out more about her work at the SBA and asked her to share some lessons learned with her ACT-IAC colleagues. Within a short piece like this, the following are just a few of the key steps Ms. Roat took:
Ms. Roat and her team are now working more closely with the programs on mission modernization acquisitions, include providing a cloud platform for the Office of Investment and Innovation to create a funds-to-funds program that will involve tens of billions of dollars. They are also assisting the Office of Entrepreneurial Development on an acquisition to replace its main legacy system. These efforts include using customer relationship management tools to provide an end-to-end customer view as well as business intelligence tools to provide analytics as a service.
Ms. Roat shared some lessons learned, which are paraphrased below:
Ms. Roat offered a final piece of advice that I cannot overemphasize. And it’s not so much technology advice as it is a mindset. Too often, CIOs view the Office of Management and Budget policy and legislation as onerous rules they must comply with, rather than opportunities to improve IT management. The SBA team embraced Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, the Megabyte Act, and the President's Management Agenda. They used components of each to further support many of their IT modernization strategic initiatives like data center consolidation, software licensing, cloud migration, and cybersecurity improvements. In fact, Federal CIO Suzette Kent told us that she can always count on Maria to volunteer for OMB pilots and lead on key PMA initiatives. Ms. Roat and her team’s achievements over the past three years prove the value of that kind of thinking.
By Dave Powner, director of strategic engagement and partnerships at MITRE. This CIO SUCCESS STORY is the first in a series of brief case studies ACT-IAC contributors will write to share Federal IT lessons learned.
In 2020, ACT-IAC will be highlighting additional success story case studies that were prioritized from input from ACT-IAC members and the Federal CIO. These case studies include successes associated with working capital funds, IT metrics, EIS, GSA’s Centers of Excellence, and HHS emerging technologies. We are seeking volunteers to contribute to these case studies. Please contact Mike Howell at [email protected] or Dave Powner at [email protected] if you are interested.
For Federal agencies, fostering innovation involves understanding when to be bold and where to put forth resources by communicating with other agencies as to what their needs are, while allowing for open communication channels within one’s own agency, said agency leaders today.
At the Government Executive Bold Gov event, leaders from the National Institute of Health (NIH), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Small Business Administration (SBA), and General Services Administration (GSA) spoke candidly about what helps their respective agencies innovate.
Daniel Fogarty, Chief Administrative Officer of Intramural Research from NIH offered that agencies must accept failure and establish a safe environment where ideas can be shared. Adding to that, Principal Deputy Associate Director at OPM Veronica Villalobos said that sharing ownership of failures is important to avoid finger pointing when ideas don’t pan out.
Speaking on challenges that agencies face with innovation, Director of Business Technology Solutions in the OCIO at SBA G. Negesh Rao said that he thinks that a big issue is office politics.
“It’s the fiefdoms that happen—it’s the office politics, the fiefdoms, and the unwillingness to experiment and learn,” Rao said, adding that micromanaging can impede progress and be a time-waster.
In a similar vein, Deputy Director for the IT Modernization Centers of Excellence at GSA Brian Whittaker offered that Federal employees too often chase individual success rather than building coalitions and working together through collaboration. Empowering teamwork efforts is a must for fostering innovation, the panel agreed.
The 100 greatest innovations of 2019
Every year, the staff of Popular Science barricades itself in a room to fight. No, this is not some nerdy fight club; it’s where we select our Innovation of the Year, the breakthrough that we agree is the most important from the previous 12 months. This year, that honor goes to the first one-dose drug to treat a long-neglected problem: postpartum depression.
It takes a lot for that singular product to rise above the rest. The 99 others on our annual Best of What’s New list represent the greatest steps across the universe of science and technology. This year saw the introduction of cars that can talk to other cars, a next-generation wireless network fast enough to replace cable-bound broadband, and a “meat” burger that could convince even the most bloodthirsty of omnivores to ditch beef. We even added an entirely new category for 2019: personal care, which dives deep into the innovations we look to when we need to attend to ourselves.
We take every one of the 100 awards we dole out seriously. That final debate follows hundreds of smaller discussions in meeting rooms, Slack chats, and hallways throughout the year. Dig in, there’s some great stuff in here. Some might even call it “the best.” We sure think so.
From CXO Today
At the turn of the millennium, hackathons represented the equivalent of jamming sessions in music – a bunch of scrawny, spectacled, shabbily dressed geeks sitting around in listless groups discussing technology challenges that most others weren’t aware of and working out solutions that would often appear to be right out of sci-fi movies.
But, not anymore! Today’s hackathons are sprint-like events where programmers, graphic designers, UI/UX craftspeople, project managers and domain experts sit around and seek solutions to real life challenges that have an equally real chance of making into the prototype stage and possibly go into production, if some IT giant evinced interest or some moneybags signed a term sheet.
Over the past two to three years, the narrative has shifted drastically. What were often considered a platform for hiring based on real-time aptitude testing, has moved on to becoming a ground for innovative design thinking that generates IP for the creator and wealth for the investor.
Organizers such as HackerEarth and TechGig say the number of hackathons they organize is doubling year on year. For companies and universities, hackathons are smart, fast and relatively inexpensive means to encourage collaboration, produce new ideas and generate publicity.
HackerEarth’s ‘Global Hackathon Report’ ranks India second, only next to the US, in conducting such events, with the cities of Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad becoming veritable hotbeds. The events help develop low-cost solutions, besides creating fast-track innovative ideas, and encouraging creativity among employees. Emerging technologies such as IoT, AI/ML, mobile app and augmented/virtual reality were among the top domains, reinforcing their positions as potential digital disruptors across industries.
Sachin Gupta, CEO & Co-founder, HackerEarth says, “Hackathons are successfully battling talent scarcity, acquisition, and retention, as well as fueling innovation, across domains and functions. It is a tool to help entrepreneurs and academicians realize their power as change agents – enabling tomorrow’s innovation today – to address a multitude of challenges to create sustainability in every sphere.”
Instances of women-only hackathons have also surged in recent years, as more companies are making a conscious effort to drive gender diversity. For example, this year’s TechGig Geek Goddess, a hackathon for women coders, saw a range of contestants, from college-goers to mid-level managers showcasing their talent in areas such as cloud-based technology, AI/ML and RPA.
Ram Awasthi, VP – Technology, Times Internet Ltd., a judge at the event, said, “The topics are grounded to reality. Since companies are trying to implement AI within their workflow and work process, all these new technology themes are the part of this event.”
The Smart India Hackathon (SIH) is another nationwide initiative that provides young professionals a platform to solve some of the pressing problems we face in our daily lives, and thus inculcate a culture of innovation and a mindset of problem solving. An expert at the event observes, the biggest advantage a hackathon offers is a structure to scale innovation and build new features. Concrete ideas derived from hackathons can help companies provide better customer experience and improve revenue.
American author Steve Johnson points out that “By providing a structure to develop ideas, a hackathon essentially makes it easier for firms to implement innovation. “If you look at history, innovation does not come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.”
But solving a problem in a vacuum… is a waste of time and money!
Innovation is a continuous process and opponents of hackathon criticize the technique, stating that very rarely do hackathons spark real, lasting innovation. They believe the biggest drawback is that more often the answers are divorced from reality. Not many of those participating have a degree from a premier institution or years of product development experience – what these naysayers claim are the preconditions of innovation.
Vijay Sankaran, CIO of TD Ameritrade says in an article published on FastCompany.com that hackathons have become de rigueur for any organization that wants to be perceived as innovative. “But experience has taught me that very often hackathon participants don’t have the right contextual knowledge and technical expertise, they tend to come up with ideas that are neither feasible nor inventive. Worse yet, these flaws tend to go unrecognized in the limited time that the events take place.”
Moreover, in a highly regulatory environment, tools like hackathons often create a false sense of success, completely overlooking the legal, financial, technical aspect of a product. And that can have heavy consequences. For instance, every hackathon proclaims its winners and awards prizes. But what if none of the ideas are good enough? It doesn’t seem to matter. Thanks to sponsors – the top team still gets a check and the very fact that the organization hosted a hackathon ticks the innovation box.
In spite of these criticisms, there is no going back on the fact that hackathons are here to stay.
Despite the stumbling blocks, hackathons trigger blips of great energy in a world that is digital and more so disruptive. Hackathons are in fact logging greater numbers with many innovative IT companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Capgemini – who are recruiting through this method, as HackerEarth saw up to 40% of a company’s hires come from a hackathon challenge.
And it is not just tech companies. Several FMCG, retail and financial firms are also organizing hackathons to attract talent. Even public sector companies are joining the fray. Pune Smart City Development Corporation conducted a hackathon in April this year. Some of the solutions built, like the traffic light hacking, came across as robust and innovative and can be replicated in other Indian cities.
In many ways, hackathons complement traditional innovation methods. Through hackathons, companies harvest ideas and knowledge to take their technology to the next level. With the added advantage of crowd-driven ideation, companies can now move fast, reduce the time-to-market, and stay ahead of competition.
However, to sustain it in a way that creates real impact is the big challenge. In this context, Katie Johnson, Lead Design Strategist and Researcher at ConsenSys, argues, “Just like companies hire remote workers because it allows them to find the best talent, remote hackathons can also garner better hackers, mentors, and judges all of which combine to enhance the overall quality of the event for a fraction of the cost.”
Maybe the future will see more virtual hackathons or even more innovative models that will be open, global and scalable. It may produce even better projects and address unique problems from multinational and multicultural dimension – creating another bigger shift in the industry.
Trends in Zero Trust cybersecurity
Steven Hernandez, chief information security officer at the Department of Education and Darren Death, vice president of information security and CISO at ASRC Federal, detail their work researching the implementation of zero trust strategies in government, and measuring their impact.
Zero Trust cybersecurity strategies are quickly becoming a must for organizations looking to be as secure as possible. A new report from ACT-IAC goes into how government can utilize zero trust systems. Steven Hernandez, Chief Information Security Officer, Department of Education, says that the conversation around trust is changing.
“Zero trust is not a technology, it’s not a solution you go buy off a shelf. It’s really a lifestyle, in many ways for an agency. It is really a strategy in the agency,” Hernandez said. “We started looking at zero trust at the network perspective. And our network community of interest was absolutely foundational in helping us get our arms around that. But quickly we discovered to do this right, it has to be bigger, and we have to start talking about architecture.”
Darren Death, Vice President of Information Security and CISO, ASRC Federal, says that their work is seeing results.
“One of the things that was very happy for us was that we saw that the report was referenced in NIST’s work 800207. We can see that we got some usefulness out of that report. Really what that report was set up to do was be a 10,000 foot view of, ‘This is what the zero trust area looks like; what the space looks like,’” Death said. “We are in the process of planning through a phase two of that project, where we’ll dive deeper and actually work at what the industry looks like, what the vendors are looking like, how are they map against things…”
The OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation (MBRCGI) are excited to launch our fourth annual #CallforInnovations. Innovators from around the world are encouraged to submit innovative practices to fuel research on innovation trends and to inspire others to work in new and creative ways.
This call is open to government officials, civil society organisations, and the private sector, as long as the goals are to improve government and citizen lives, and the public sector is integrally involved in the work.
As in previous years, several of these innovations will be featured in a high-profile OECD report, and several of the teams will be invited to Dubai to present their work to the global audience at the World Government Summit and its interactive Edge of Government experience. These cases benefit from:
The deadline for submissions is Sunday,
Selected innovations will be recognised at an event in Dubai
As in previous years, a number of teams will be invited to Dubai to present their work at the World Government Summit, the largest annual gathering in the world focused on shaping the future of governments through innovation. Taking place 22-25 November 2020, the Summit features sessions with world leaders and heads of industry. For 2019, the event brought together over 4,000 government officials, thinkers, policy makers, and industry experts from over 150 countries to discuss ways to harness innovation to address the challenges and opportunities faced by the world.
As part of the Summit, our partners at the MBRCGI hold the Edge of Government experience, a series of interactive exhibits that bring innovation to life. The teams invited to Dubai will work closely with the MBRCGI team and professional designers to transform their innovative projects into interactive exhibits to be displayed at the Edge. You can read more about the experiences of one of the selected teams for the 2019 Edge experience here, and two of the 2018 teams here.
One of the innovations featured at the Edge exhibit will be selected to receive the prestigious Edge of Government Award, which is fully managed by the MBRCGI and judged by their Innovation Council. The 2019 award was to Carrot Rewards by the Prime Minister of the UAE and the Secretary-General of the UAE.
The OECD will feature selected innovations in a published report
The OECD OPSI will also feature several selected innovations as in-depth case studies in our annual series of reports, Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends. In these reports, we surface key trends in public sector innovation and illustrate how government innovators are making it happen in real-world examples. You can check out our 2017-2019 reports below to see how your innovation could be presented. The global attention received after being featured in the report has helped many innovators in building additional support for their project.
While only a handful of innovations will make it to the report as full case studies (and many others includes as examples of best practices), others will also be recognised as international best practices in our Innovations Platform. The OPSI team will review all submitted innovations and add innovative cases to the platform to promote excellence and to help replicate innovation and inspire new thinking.
GSA Announces new Presidential Innovation Fellows
Today the General Services Administration (GSA) announced its new Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) class – beginning its seventh cohort with 20 new fellows.
“Over the last seven years, fellows have worked to accelerate the adoption of novel technology within the federal government and save taxpayer dollars. Our new cohort of fellows will continue to build upon this work to help agencies create better products, services, and experiences for the American public,” Josh DiFrances, said in a release.
The new PIF class will collaborate with nine Federal agencies on 13 different projects while serving as entrepreneurs-in-residence. Among other agencies, the cohort will work on projects with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on modernization, AI, data capabilities, and other areas.
The new fellows are Irtaza Barlas, Devin Brande, Minh H. Chau, George Chewning, Dennis Chornenky, Christopher Corpuel, Ariele Faber, Angelo Frigo, Joshua Farrar, C.C. Gong, Michelle Holko, Ken Kato, Melissa Keene, Johnny Martin, Wanmei Ou, Likhitha Patha, Gina Valo, Nina Walia, Scott Weiss, and Kaeli Yuen.
Since 2012, PIF has recruited 159 fellows to work on projects in more than 35 agencies.
Federal agency CIOs and their staffs stepped up to receive several well-deserved awards. The teams included many American Council for Technology (ACT) leaders, including Maria Roat, SBA CIO and ACT President, and Dorothy Aronson, NSF CIO and ACT Vice President at Large. The category winners include:
Why this project...A strategic initiative of ACT-IAC’s Institute for Innovation is to engage with academic institutions to promote innovation in government. This spring, under the guidance of Institute chair, Judy Douglas, the Institute engaged with Syracuse University Maxwell School of Public Administration’s Dean, David VanSlyke, to explore a President’s Management Agenda Cross-Agency Priority Goal as a prospective student capstone project. Tim Cooke, who is leading the Institute’s initiative on Acquisition Innovation Supporting the PMA under the sponsorship of OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), proposed a capstone project on CAP Goal 7, Category Management. Dean VanSlyke accepted the proposal to engage students in learning the application of the commercial category management best practices and in developing recommendations for their application in the government and their own organizations.
What the Institute did ...Under Tim’s guidance and mentorship, four students teamed up and dug into the topic. The Army kicked off its Category Management initiative in February and initial Army-wide management roll out was in May, fortuitously just in time for the students’ capstone experience. The Institute facilitated a key meeting for the students with Ms. Lesley Field, leader of the government-wide Category Management program and her OFPP team. The students were introduced to “best practice” leaders in DoD Category Management from the US Air Force. Maj Gen Cameron Holt, champion of the well-regarded Air Force approach, had been directed by the highest level of OSD to assist the Army with its implementation of CM. Tim worked with the Air Force team and others to provide a reading list to the students and actively guided their research with Army, Air Force, OFPP and other experts.
The results are in .... Through the Institute’s sponsorship of this capstone project, select Army students gained insight into the possibilities from implementing Category Management, its roots in both the commercial sector and government, and crafted a research paper to satisfy the School’s requirements. The project - all in a little more than a month of dedicated effort - enabled them to recommend how the Army could tap into the resource efficiencies, cost savings, and mission performance improvements that may result from the Army’s implementation of the disruptive acquisition innovation of Category Management.
On May 23, 2018, NewWave received two awards at this year’s Igniting Innovation Conference for the development of the Blue Button 2.0 API, a technology that gives Medicare beneficiaries access to and control over their health data.
“This truly was a collective effort by the whole NewWave Team,” said Mark Scrimshire, NewWave’s Entrepreneur-In-Residence and CMS Blue Button Innovator. “We are honored to be recognized for what we feel is a game-changing technology.”
Developed in collaboration with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Blue Button 2.0 is an API that contains four years of Medicare Part A, B and D data for 53 million Medicare beneficiaries. This data reveals a variety of information about a beneficiary’s health, including type of Medicare coverage, drug prescriptions, primary care treatment and cost. Beneficiaries also have full control over how their data can be used and by whom, with identity and authorization controlled by MyMedicare.gov. Blue Button 2.0 uses the HL7 FHIR standard for beneficiary data and the OAuth 2.0 standard for beneficiary authorization.
ACT-IAC established the “Innovation in Healthcare” Award in 2019 in “recognition of the importance of healthcare innovation to the country, the large number of healthcare-related nominations received, and ACT-IAC’s strategic focus on the healthcare sector.” The “Impacter Award” recognizes the “innovation with the greatest magnitude of results and benefits.”
“From the outset,” says Scrimshire, “the vision was to build a developer-friendly, standards-based API that put beneficiaries in control of with whom they shared their claims information. In a healthcare world where so much data flows about us, without us, Blue Button 2.0 is about putting the patient at the center and letting them choose. This then makes trust and transparency job one for developers, services and researchers wanting to use the API. No data flows without the explicit authorization of the consumer.”
“Blue Button 2.0 represents best practice for innovation that is possible in a public-private partnership,” said Patrick Munis, NewWave’s CEO. “These awards recognize both an amazing innovative technology and model of supporting the federal government better serve America.”
Keeping off the Grass
There’s this concrete pathway on the joint installation where I work, built to serve as a route across the grass from a parking lot to a cluster of office buildings. I remember a time, maybe ten years ago, when setting foot off the edge of that sidewalk might trigger a sharp bark from an eagle-eyed Navy Chief. True to form for senior non-commissioned officers of any branch, many of them were deadly serious about that grass being not for walking on.
These days, that particular stretch of sidewalk is bordered by something far removed from the well-manicured grass that once denoted unflinching control over contained, singular samples of mother nature. Instead, for twenty feet or more, the sidewalk is flanked by footpaths thick with mud. The once pristine stretch of sidewalk is now broken and sunken concrete that sometimes collects pools of water, draining only when it hasn't rained for at least a week. In the fall and spring, the route is a semi-permanent water feature, with the gathered precipitation getting as much as four inches deep at times. The surrounding grass has lost soil structure after repeatedly being under water and walked over by those circumventing the natural hazard that now stands in the way.
The Chiefs, who would once have bellowed gleefully at a young airman like me to keep off the grass, are now right there alongside us picking out the less muddy trails that detour from the established route. At spots, we daintily make each step on our toes, trying not to get our boots or dress-shoes too wet or muddy. I often think back to earlier times in this very same place, and I marvel at the stark contrast in the culture of a singular space, precipitated by a prolonged losing battle with predictable geological forces.
THE EVER-SHIFTING SHAPE OF THINGS
The deterioration of systems and the environments in which they operate is a phenomenon so reliable that its basis in physics, entropy, was described by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli as the originating mechanism for the direction of time. It is inevitable that the straight paths we lay today will bend, as over time the earth beneath them flows like an impossibly slow liquid; and they will break if the paths we laid were too brittle.
IT IS INEVITABLE THAT THE STRAIGHT PATHS WE LAY TODAY WILL BEND, AS OVER TIME THE EARTH BENEATH THEM FLOWS LIKE AN IMPOSSIBLY SLOW LIQUID…
Similarly, the processes and systems organizations establish will succumb to the pull of a different type of gravity. They lose structure and integrity with the passage of time, as distance grows from the original context and intent. Even when well maintained, they lose their tailored fit as their environment invisibly morphs around them and unanticipated users and contexts emerge. As the substrate crawls like a liquid underneath, they can also break if their structure is too brittle.
Failing to take these principles into account doesn’t just result in our systems losing effectiveness. Their degraded status often becomes the new normal. Future stewards can lack the imagination to envision more functional systems. The prospect of repair or re-calibration seems increasingly unreasonable as repair cost approaches that of replacement. At a certain point, these aging, neglected systems will begin to cause damage to the surrounding environment. They can be the impetus for habituation of negative behaviors, and can ultimately undermine the value they were designed to create. The concrete path did not simply stop providing a dry walkway—it now does a stellar job of retaining a pool of water for those who stay on the path to walk through. Neglected, our creations will turn against us. This type of maturation into obstruction is part of the natural life-cycle of systems and structures designed and executed without consideration for the inevitable effects of time. It is as predictable as the fact that an aircraft without continuous lift will plummet to the earth.
These immutable laws of nature have implications for how organizations across the Department of Defense should plan, organize, and deploy the systems and structures we expect to rely on in the future. Just as the designers of an aircraft account for the fact that gravity is going to have influence over their vehicle staying in the air, we need to consider the effect the passage of time will have on the policies and processes we employ.
Throughout my career in the Air Force, I have seen many demonstrations of these destructive dynamics. I will focus on one example to illustrate.
POLICIES DON’T VALUE PEOPLE—PEOPLE DO
I have struggled with the Air Force's Exceptional Family Member Program for my entire career. One thing the program does is ensure families with special medical needs are assigned to installations where necessary services are available. Though I believe the program does significant good, there have been several times when Exceptional Family Member Program policies failed to protect my medically fragile daughter, and even threatened to cause my family greater hardship. Additionally, I have seen families suffer the hardship of separation because of the strictness of the program. In a few cases, my family's well-being was put in serious jeopardy. Senior leaders eventually intervened, because the program’s policies were doing quite the opposite of their intended purpose, not unlike a pathway holding water for pedestrians to wade through.
No policy or process, regardless of how well designed or extensively amended, can avoid the challenge of unanticipated contexts and users, which inevitably emerge in waves of variance, increasing in frequency and amplitude with the passage of time. This requires interdiction, because systems left untended eventually violate their original intent. Our experience with the Exceptional Family Member Program is an example of what I call “the changing shape of things” in that our circumstances were simply the appearance of contextual variance that was increasingly likely to emerge with the passage of time. We were idiosyncratic pegs to the standardized holes of policy; and being forced through those rigid openings was bound to take off some flesh.
NO POLICY OR PROCESS, REGARDLESS OF HOW WELL DESIGNED OR EXTENSIVELY AMENDED, CAN AVOID THE CHALLENGE OF UNANTICIPATED CONTEXTS AND USERS…
When execution is overly-limited by design, a system will violate its founding values at some point. Frequently, as has been the case with Exceptional Family Member Program, severe design flaws are fixed only with the addition of policy language that addresses the new context. But, with time, unforeseen contexts emerge, and we should all know that policies themselves won’t ever be capable of distinguishing when they are humane and when they are harmful. Adding additional rigid guidance seems the default solution to this challenge. We make changes to what we execute, but seldom how we execute it.
INNOCULATING AGAINST THE RAVAGES OF TIME
Achieving lasting efficacy in the face of the natural forces and tendencies described here requires adherence to three conceptually simple principles radically difficult to implement.
Design from a basis of value
Modern design and development methods teach that good design starts with empathy for primary users, gaining clarity about what problem we are solving. Good design is about discovering the value we want to create. To find a solution without letting unvalidated assumptions dictate design, we eliminate solution-oriented language (e.g., "I need a car") and substitute problem-oriented language (e.g., "I need to be at work every day" or, even more simplified, "I need to accomplish work"). This is how we discover the value-basis for what we’re designing.
Employ and Execute on Behalf of Values
When we change the way we design, but not the way we execute what we've designed, the resultant systems might work well for all users and contexts initially anticipated, but it is simply not realistic to expect those to be the only conditions for our systems' employment. To account for this, execution itself must also be imbued with the values of the system, so every discrete employment is another test of the design of the system.
A good example of execution on behalf of values is the principle of non-maleficence in the medical professions, apocryphally attributed to the Hippocratic Oath as the precept to “first do no harm.” Medical professionals have simple, foundational guidance for how they should execute their practice, regardless of context or contingency. The value of non-maleficence draws a clear line that helps practitioners to navigate unfamiliar territory and avoid actions that might violate the ethical underpinning of their profession. Values-based guidance reduces uncertainty in unfamiliar contexts, because values drive execution.
A value like "first do no harm" could be appropriate in more contexts than just medicine. In our history of struggles with the Exceptional Family Member Program, there were times when policy as written could have been cruel and hurtful to the very people it was designed to protect. In these instances, a core value like "first do no harm" might have significant impact, giving the unempowered airmen at the Air Force Personnel Center a basis from which to interdict or cancel the assignment and help my family stay together. But it was rigid policy, untempered by contextual consideration, that all too often informed such decisions. It took someone at a higher level to feel empowered to consider values in execution and interdict. Acting in service of our Air Force values to take care of airmen and families, my unit and wing leadership ultimately intervened. They saw the design and execution of policy as conditional—in service of values. When policy failed to support those values as written, they knew interdiction was warranted. Because they prioritized and executed their tasks this way, they were able to identify the impending failure of this policy.
Execution on behalf of values makes every execution of a system another test, ensuring the design doesn't remain static after deployment. This consideration addresses inevitable points where other systems and structures often fail to stay functional. Those who execute blindly stop paying attention and asking questions; what follows is that norm-enforcement takes priority over sustaining values.
Interdict on Behalf of Values
The most crucial step in all this is ensuring we are capable of course-correction when we observe—through values-based execution—design failing to support our values. Values-based execution and interdiction is a way we can ensure the design process never stops, and it requires those at the level of execution be granted three things:
Purpose: Those executing or implementing policy or process need to know why they are doing what they are doing. They need to know and support the underlying values that processes and products are in service of. Without that, they have no basis to recognize when interdiction is required.
Relevance: Executors need to feel their perspective holds value; to know at the point of execution they are not just there to pull a lever, but rather to facilitate a value. All those at the point of execution are consequential, the last line of defense against design-context misalignment and value atrophy; and they must feel interdiction in service of values is worth the friction they will face from norm-enforcers. To speak truth to power, all airmen, sailors, soldiers, and marines need to feel they personally have a stake in the outcome of the policy or program they execute.
Empowerment: At the level of execution, individuals need to be capable of bringing processes to a halt and being heard, in the same way operators in the Toyota Production System are enabled to stop the production line when errors are detected. Hierarchy must flatten completely when it comes to the enforcement of values, because a leadership structure that prevents interdiction when values are being undermined is itself poorly designed. Solutions can emerge from any level of the organization, and the fresh observations of newcomers should be elevated, because their perspectives have not yet been shaped by prolonged exposure to dysfunctional systems.
Occasionally, when it hasn't rained for long enough and the pool of water has had a chance to dry up, the concrete pathway doesn't look that bad. It even passes for functional, and we have time to recover from the outrage we felt when we found our boots covered in mud sliding through the grass, or felt that unnerving twinge of water wicking into our socks. We in the military are a resilient bunch, perhaps to a fault, and we relish the chance to let our frustration subside as we push the memory of a problem that feels so irrelevant to us into the back of our minds. I occasionally pass by groundskeepers on other parts of campus and I choose to simply offer a greeting without mentioning the sidewalk.
At the end of the day, I cut across the dry grass on my way to my car.
2020 Institute for Innovation Activities
Jim Cook, Institute for Innovation Chair, announced new work to identify and share successes that accelerate progress and institutionalize innovation. The Institute will work with you to tell your story to others.
In addition in 2020 the Institute plans to take on a myriad of cross cutting projects to bring innovation to key government priorities and PMA implementation, including sharing of successes and institutionalization of innovation. Key priorities include broadening engagement around the innovation topic to involve new partners from academia and the accelerator communities.
Key 2020 Projects will Include:
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How to Establish Innovation Metrics
The right innovation metrics and indicators are often difficult to find and apply. Not many CEOs would be able to show innovation dashboards with 3-5 simple KPIs.
The past 20 or more years of research in innovation management has brought up of metrics. In practical terms most of them are either unspecific, superficial, not relevant enough for your business or simply not available.
Still, research plenty gives a hint what metrics are used frequently and how they are structured.
Looking at past research there is no shortage of metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) though. In a recent survey(1) over 200 metrics and indicators were mentioned in more than 400 instances of literature. They can be classified by the
Drawing up the last decades of academic articles and their interest in KPIs looks as follows:
It is interesting to observe that leading indicators are much more abundant than lagging indicators, which means measuring output and outcome. Leading metrics on their own typically measure strategy-related things, for example, how much is invested in R&D or certain new product lines. As resource allocation is crucial it often makes sense to track such metrics. Unfortunately, they disconnect at later stages.
Here, the combined metrics come to rescue, because they carry the strategic intent forward and allow to measure throughput as well as output and outcome. For instance, instead of measuring R&D spend, the allocation of overall investments from development to marketing segmented by strategic product groups is more helpful. It allows to track early investments as well as outcomes in the same categories. Instead of product groups we can also think of adoption cycles (percentage of new launches) or customer segments.
Innovation Metrics in Detail
Let us also look at which metrics are most popular in academia:
Those top-10 KPI covered by more than 5 peer-reviewed research articles show a good mix across classifications, however, they should also be assessed whether they provide a good baseline for continuous measurements (e.g. alongside an innovation board portfolio, such as innovation portfolio and balance).
Many of them also support the idea of continuous KPIs. While patents are very specific and certainly do not reflect overall innovation, the metric supports many stages from ideation to commercialisation. For an R&I-oriented (Research & Innovation) organization this could be a good fit.
Important top-30 metrics include further measures such as:
Recommendations for Using Innovation Metrics: Throughput Matters
In practice, measuring all kinds of leading parameters with only a superficial measurement is creating more confusion than clarity.
We recommend using only a few simple metrics but use them across the stages of the process. For example, if you go for patent value then you should look at the conversions of that value over time. This could be patents submitted in ideation, patents filed, granted and finally used in products (or licensed out). The latter stage is well suited if you prefer value over numbers.
Here’s an example table to give you some inspiration on how to get started:
Remember to think of metrics that connect the investment to the outcome. Or start at the end and find your way back to the source of the impact and outcome. Also spend some time to assess which metrics are captured along the product life cycle.
The typical process to work on this is a structured collection and workshop with a resulting metrics “cloud” that can be assessed in a 2×2-matrix of relevance and effort.
If you struggle to focus you should pick higher-level metrics and just go for throughput. Throughput of ideas converting into a paid service gives an ideal value metric. If it is not a paid for product another measure of consumption is needed such as click-through, usage time or selection preference.
Second, the maturity of an innovation organisation should be assessed first to see which drivers are most important. For instance, a “beginner” organisation having just introduced an innovation process might want to add learning metrics (e.g. trainings performed as input and methods applied in projects as throughput metric). A more mature organisation may shift focus on steering, setting challenges and incentives on the input side while diving deeper in outcome metrics such as sales of certain product and service categories.
Finally, some metrics are typical marketing or R&D KPI (e.g. budget/actuals of projects and time to market) that can be easily enriched with innovation metrics.
Right now, we're in a storm of digital disruption, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or any of the other trendy monikers coined in recent years. The truth is that the speed of innovation today makes long-term planning incredibly difficult.
Like everyone, government organizations are struggling to chart paths forward in the face of a fast-moving and increasingly ambiguous future. According to a 2018 report from the Congressional Research Service, federal government IT budgets are growing, but so are the costs of maintaining older systems.
The only way government agencies -- or any organization -- will continue to thrive amid continual, innovative disruptions will be to fundamentally rethink how they operate.
First and foremost, that means questioning the principles that drive those organizations, which are still optimized for industrial-era economies. These organizations tend to favor hierarchical structures as a means of driving large-scale efficiencies. For them, planning is a rather simple and straightforward matter of identifying a strategic position in a market or a capability that needs development, formulating plans to achieve those ends, dictating the steps required to get there and ensuring everyone in the organization complies with those decisions.
Doing more of this -- just somehow better and faster -- isn't the way forward. The hierarchies and bureaucracies so common today were effective for their time, but now the context has shifted.
Today, we should be organizing for innovation. More often, this means starting in a small, defined way, perhaps on a project-level basis, questioning received wisdom and tradition.
The organizations best able to weather disruption are open organizations, those that embrace principles like transparency, collaboration and meritocracy as foundational values. These organizations can act with greater agility, learn from passionate global communities, benefit from more engaged employees and stakeholders, and innovate more frequently because they're built on values more conducive to adapting to the future rather than controlling it.
However, the cultures of our government organizations won't change until their leaders change. They'll need to recognize that culture is an output of the behaviors they champion and model, not an input they can drive across an organizational chart. Leaders must get comfortable creating places where constructive conflict is the norm, where people question even the most long-standing traditions, where bottom-up decisions carry real weight and where failure that produces useful knowledge is a cause for praise, not punishment.
Most significantly, however, leaders must come to grips with letting go. They'll need to leave behind their impressions of the leader as an all-knowing coordinator who architects a brilliant plan and masterminds its execution. Instead, they'll need to function as catalysts for constant change and become agitators who bring the right people together at the right moments to solve the right problems. In other words, they must be open to changing themselves before they begin changing their organizations.
Open principles guide how an organization operates, even if only internally. Efforts to open up organizations don't need to be focused on the product shipped but on changing how those products are delivered with greater speed, responsiveness to constantly changing environments, and care and attentiveness to customers.
Government agencies face many of the same challenges and pressures private-sector companies do -- including maintaining the kind of agile, responsive and digitally enabled organizations people have come to expect in their everyday lives. But agencies already benefit from a mandate for transparency and an abundance of civic-minded, community-focused enthusiasm, so they, too, could open themselves to a more inclusive future.
Take this example: the city of San Rafael, located in Marin County, Calif., recently undertook some major culture-renovation initiatives aimed at helping the city government "learn how to make government work better by sharing what we make, learn and improve," as the city's director of digital service and open government said in a recent presentation. The city has relaunched its intranet -- something previously available only to internal employees -- as a public-facing utility anyone can access and review. This has not only increased transparency and accountability but also aided recruitment. That is just one way that governments could (as the U.S. Digital Service puts it and as we like to say at Red Hat) "default to open."
Incremental advancements toward openness go a long way to fostering an environment where people aren't afraid to voice their opinions and instead feel empowered to be creative and suggest new ideas. "Going open" isn't an all-or-nothing gambit, and it never works by fiat or decree. It's about identifying the areas where open attitudes and behaviors can make the most significant impacts in particular agencies and empowering decision-makers to implement open policies where they see fit.
Operating openly is an option available to any organization. But in a world where opening up seems to be the only way to avoid disruption, it's a choice that's becoming harder not to make.
EIGHT REASONS WHY INNOVATION BEATS EFFICIENCY
If you are running an organization of any kind then making it more efficient is a key priority. It is important to speed up processes, eliminate waste, improve quality, reduce costs and generally please customers. And if you work hard at it you can do all of these things. But it is also important to prioritise innovation – finding new products and services and new ways to do things. The trouble is that if you focus too hard on efficiency then you can easily neglect innovation.
Sorting out today’s operational wrinkles has an immediate payback but experimenting with new products and methods takes time and effort. It has an uncertain future payback. So we tend to spend most of our time solving today’s efficiency issues. The temptation is always to work on improving current products and systems rather than finding new ones. After all, we know that the current process works so if we can make it work better we will get better outcomes. We can have no similar certainty about the results of innovation efforts. Also innovation involves trying things that don’t work. That looks wasteful – and we all hate waste.
So here are eight reasons why you should prioritise innovation over efficiency.
On August 8, 2016, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget released the Federal Source Code policy, a forward-thinking plan designed to improve access to open-source code developed by or for the federal government.
The policy, created under the purview of former U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, was intended in part to curb the more than $6 billion spent by federal agencies on software per year with the help of each of the largest 24 federal agencies (as designated by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990).
To help eliminate purchases of significantly similar code — which translate to taxpayer dollars — the policy tasked the General Services Administration with building Code.gov, a resource for discovering custom-developed federal source code.
Code.gov launched in August 2016, about 90 days after the Federal Source Code Policy was issued. “We’ve come a long way in three years,” Code.gov Director Joe Castle said. “Code.gov initially launched with a handful of agency-provided codebases. Now it features over 6,000 codebases.”
Castle said Code.gov includes the 24 major federal agencies plus two additional agencies that are not required to follow the policy but do so because they recognize its value. Today, three years since its launch, the site continues to facilitate an open-source culture within the government through the public access and reuse of its code.
Open-source software has enjoyed increased adoption in both the public and private sectors over the past decade. Common misconceptions around the technology have been debunked, and today, open-source software is largely embraced for its security, quality, customizability, support, cost, and freedom from vendor lock-in. Worldwide, the revenue of open-source services is projected to be worth nearly $33 billion by 2022.
“Open-source code is no longer seen as ‘not secure’ from an IT security perspective,” Joe said. “In fact, the code has more eyes on it and receives more positive contributions, increasing security. For Code.gov, having too many cooks in the kitchen is a good thing — leading to better quality and higher functioning code from a broad group of contributors.”
Today, the biggest contributors to open source code work at established, well-known corporations. These companies support the time their developers spend making these contributions and recognize the value that engagement in these collaborative projects brings.
“There are so many benefits to open-source, such as reducing vendor lock-in, but the number one benefit is the cost savings associated with code reuse,” Joe said. “Code.gov was established to make federal government source code more discoverable and encourage reuse and collaboration across agencies.”
Joe said Code.gov also breaks down barriers between the public and private sectors since the code is open to all who wish to explore, learn from, and improve it. For example, a private sector developer can use the government’s open-source code to start or grow a business.
“When you think about the time it takes for a developer to code one line, and you multiply that by the cost of that time, open-source code presents huge economic value to a business owner,” Joe said.
Code.gov’s formal mission is “to help agency partners and developers save money and increase quality by promoting code reuse and educating and connecting the open-source community.” In achieving that mission, Joe said Code.gov’s greatest challenge has been cultivating the open-source culture within government.
“For starters, federal agencies must include open-source in their procurement language,” he said. “The government should demand that coding be done in the open, with the government (not the contractor) owning the code. Once code is out in the open, you need to build a community that helps improve your code.”
Opening the effort to the brightest tech minds inside and outside of the government enables the public and private sectors to work together in ensuring that open-source code is furthering national objectives. Joe said that agencies are working to foster such a collaborative environment — despite the fact that the chief information officer’s office at a typical federal agency is not built and staffed to accommodate such an effort.
Finally, Joe said documentation is critical. “The community will not help improve code that looks dated, and others will not reuse code if its purpose is not clear,” he said.
Code.gov provides a transparent view of each agency’s level of compliance with the Federal Source Code policy using three metrics: full compliance (green), partial compliance (yellow), and noncompliance (red). As of August 2019, the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, General Services Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration have achieved full compliance.
The governmental effort is already helping agencies cut costs and reduce development time. For example, Joe said the open-source code powering analytics.usa.gov has been reused 30 times by city, county, state, and federal agencies. The code allows other government entities to develop their own dashboards for web pages, forms, and documents.
“We heard a story that a federal agency was about to bid out a contract to build a web analytics dashboard,” Joe said. “But when they found out the analytics.usa.gov code was open-source, they were able to quickly build the dashboard using existing federal staff and contractors. This resulted in huge cost and time savings.”
In addition, Joe said 150 federal, state, and local agencies have reused code snippets from the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS). In fact, Code.gov itself leveraged the open-source code in its recent redesign.
“We use innovative tools developed in our own office by 18F and other Technology Transformation Services staff,” Joe said. “For example, the front end of Code.gov is supported by the USWDS and Federalist, and we use Cloud.gov to host our website. We want developers to explore the open tasks from GSA and other agencies at Code.gov, and having people contribute to our own website is a great place to start.”
Code.gov also leveraged data from various test audiences to inform the redesign. “These interviews told us that users wanted to see plain language, more information above the fold, and links to join listservs and connect in other ways.”
Joe told us that the Federal Source Code Policy will be renewed in August, just in time to celebrate its third anniversary. In addition, Code.gov will be represented at the Linux Foundation’s Open Source Summit on August 21 – 23, 2019, in San Diego.
Moving forward, Joe said Code.gov is continuing to engage the federal agencies it works with, including the liaison at each department.
“We recently reached out to several other communities of practice in our office to let them know about the Code.gov listserv,” he said. “That increased the size of our list from about 100 people to about 700 people in just a few days. This proves there are people passionate about open-source all over the government.”
Joe anticipates that Code.gov will become part of a greater emerging technology movement in the government. “Federal agencies may soon be required to include artificial intelligence (AI) models in their source code inventories,” he said.
Enriching the Soil for Data Innovation-
Recently, Jason Miller of Federal News Network moderated a panel discussion at the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation conference and awards event, Igniting Innovation. He counseled innovators against using empty words in their remarks. Rightly, Jason noted that “culture” is among several terms often used without enough specificity to convey insight. We also have heard Chief Data Officers speak at a high level about the importance of culture from the podium and in the press. With Jason’s counsel in mind, we wanted to understand the criticality of culture beyond the empty words and explore the impact of practices, processes, goals, and behaviors on Chief Data Officers’ transformative work.
In the interests of “knocking the dirt off” of culture’s impact on data innovation, we sought out the real experiences of several Federal data executives. We found that culture had concrete meaning and impact for them which translated into specific actions addressing cultural challenges that have real mission consequences. Unanimously, they agreed a real, actionable understanding of culture is key to the work of the Chief Data Officer. They noted that culture is a reflection of past practices and priorities. It defines the current state – a context-specific initiating point from which an organization can innovate and transform data usage in order to ensure solutions are fit-for-purpose. The existing behaviors and practices that make up the current data culture are the “soil” in which new behaviors “seeds” can be planted and thrive.
One of the longest serving federal CDOs, NOAA’s Ed Kearns, noted that culture exists for good reasons. If understood and respected, it can help accelerate improvements. NOAA has a long-standing data culture and many external organizations rely on NOAA for the provision of timely, accurate data. Despite deep commitment to its mission, NOAA’s systems, practices, and processes couldn’t keep up. Traditional practices dictated that NOAA’s data scientists and stewards owned both quality and delivery of data. Demand for NOAA’s data out-paced the capacity to deliver. They launched a big data project- a four year experiment, to deliver NOAA data through a consortium of commercial partners at almost no incremental cost to the government. The external partners offered industry expertise, scalable and tested platforms, and value-added services.
This new way to deliver data served more customers, overcame capacity limitations, and enabled NOAA data scientists to focus principally on quality. Concerns about this approach evaporated when stakeholders were given the opportunity to learn about the new tools and systems, and opened new possibilities for data use. The results of the “experiment” had a direct impact on fostering the culture of information sharing. Leveraging external, commercial partners provided the opportunity to serve the public and gain more value from the data, at a lower cost. Experimentation with new tools, platforms, and learning drove improvement.
At DoD, CDO Michael Conlin finds that culture and talent are his two biggest challenges. His CDO strategy is to be a central “force multiplier”. By providing useful capabilities, it is easier for people to comply and do what is needed. At DoD he observed that their current behaviors and tools presented special challenges to data sharing. Analysis is often constrained by dependence on 30-year old technology. People bring the results of their own data analysis to decision-making rather than the source data. Data sources, quality and analysis are held closely and therefore, are different from organization to organization. As a result, this discouraged shared accountability for results across organizations. The accepted decision-making processes pressed for consensus and “perfect data” which slowed decision-making.
So where does he apply effort that will change unproductive behavior and yield results? CDO-led meetings now require visible, authoritative data sources... and no slide presentations. This allows people to make decisions based on live data and persuasive discussion.
Similar to the NOAA experimentation above, centrally available training in new practices, data sharing, and tools improves data delivery and quality. Useful, speedy results without the need for procurement is quite an incentive for adoption of new behaviors and practices. This kind of centralized support also untethers data talent from organization-specific practices, limited tools, data, and perspectives. A central utility opens up data sharing to new, diverse disciplines that may provide great insight to solving problems.
Like NOAA, DoD needs people to be able to experiment, and sometimes fail, in order to get better results. So, Mr. Conlin urges celebrating both the outcome and the learning along the way to grow engagement and foster a “data-driven, test-and-learn culture” that “lets the data speak to the situation”. Encouraging openness and experimentation is doubtless new to many government organizations. To drive change, experiment with new tools and processes, support tools and training to encourage adoption, measure results, and implement what works. Mr. Conlin shares a wealth of perspective on the key aspects to attend to in elevating an organization’s culture. To dive deeper, please enjoy his recent LinkedIn article, Data Science 101-A CDO’s Viewpoint.
SHARED DATA EXPERIENCES
From her government-wide vantage point as the Chief Statistician of the US, Nancy Potok sees multiple opportunities for improving the information available to make decisions, inform policy, and support mission success across government, and she plans to facilitate changes in data culture to advance these activities. The Federal Data Strategy and Annual Action Plan seed the development of a data-driven and learning culture by launching cross-agency collaboration as a “force multiplier”. The first year of the Action Plan “establishes a firm basis of tools, processes, and capacities to leverage data as a strategic asset and align existing efforts”.
The plan calls for creation and sharing of “government-wide resources related to ethical data management and workforce training, and specific agencies will improve the use of specific data asset portfolios…. Agencies will also begin collaborating across silos to optimize the use of data to support Federal missions”. Dr. Potok advocates OMB’s catalyst role in formalizing standards setting and in collaborative governance that focuses on answering high priority questions and problem solving. Not surprisingly, then, the first item in the Action Plan is OMB’s coordination “across statutory offices on information policy development/implementation activities. OMB also will provide guidance on government-wide data standards/improvements required by statute”.
She believes that shared experiences and successes in using data will help organizations improve. But how best to encourage and institutionalize the experimentation behavior that underpins these possibilities, especially in risk-averse organizations? Dr. Potok emphasizes the need to incentivize and reward behaviors that encourage research, experimentation, testing, risk management, and even failure. With the Federal Data Strategy as a roadmap, strong, visionary leaders can achieve some early successes, sow the seeds of a stronger data culture, and influence the organization while the formal structures catch up.
Judy Douglas, Client Industry Executive, Perspecta;
Dan Gilbert, Strategist, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
David Park, Director, Digital Services, Perspecta
Diana Zavala, Director, Analytics and Data Services, Perspecta;
The concept of innovation often brings to mind visionary leaders or companies whose creativity and experimentation may seem out of reach. But associations can fuel innovation in their field by bringing together creative thinkers among their staff and members.
Recently, I analyzed the most transformative innovations of the last three decades—the big projects that significantly changed society, such as the internet, email, MRI scans, and DNA sequencing. I found, contrary to common belief, that innovations like these were not developed by entrepreneurs but rather employees, and they weren’t started by individual companies, but rather an industry.
Take wind energy, for example. Amid the 1973 oil crisis, a Danish carpenter named Christian Riisager grew interested in developing a large windmill that could generate enough power to be commercially viable. He designed one that could produce 22 to 55 kilowatts of power. He built and sold a few of these, but he never launched a company to refine his design so it could be mass-produced.
Instead, a group of innovators from Tvind, a Danish school, collaborated to build the world's largest electricity-producing wind turbine based on Riisager’s original design. Their work was backed by other technology firms, including Vestas, Nordtank, Bonus, and, later, Siemens.
This kind of industry-wide community development is common in medical innovation (examples include magnetic resonance imaging, antiretroviral treatment for AIDS, and stents) and in many other technological innovations like email, media file compression, and open-source software. Innovation more often comes from the collaboration of corporate and institutional employees than from small teams of mavericks.
This presents an enticing opportunity for associations and their leaders to be the catalyst of innovation for their industries. Who else has the power to inspire and coordinate the kind of activity across a sector, in pursuit of a common goal, that can lead to humankind’s most important innovations?
Steps in the Journey
No matter where they happen, innovation journeys have characteristics in common, including seven steps from the conception of an idea to its realization. If you understand them and put in place the right kind of influence to move the process forward, you can unlock a new era of positive change.
Step 1: Intent. The journey begins by activating intent in leaders and employees who have demonstrated an innovative spirit in your industry or field. To do this, try using a carrot-and-stick approach: Lay out a compelling vision for the future (“land a man on the moon”) while simultaneously creating a case for change (“the Soviet Union may beat us to the moon”).
Step 2: Needs. Once you have activated intent, the next challenge is to identify the needs and critical stakeholders of the innovation project. Ask: What compelling need or needs will rally your industry into action? Creating a broad, industry-wide vision for change can help guide partners in a common direction.
Step 3: Options. Encourage people to explore numerous options for meeting the need you’ve identified. An initial innovation may spur others. Indeed, research shows that when an industry experiences a surge in influential patents (patents that are then built upon by other patents), they initiate a period of increased productivity. There are many routes to innovation. This is the time to explore different approaches to meeting your defined need.
Step 4: Value blockers. Every innovation will create secondary innovation challenges as the industry adopts the new approach. These “value blockers” can impede an innovation’s ability to realize its full value. Some people will use these as excuses—reasons to give up trying. But if you can reframe them instead as additional problems to solve, you can motivate people to persevere. Be alert for any value blockers to innovation in your industry and look for ways to reframe them as new challenges to solve.
Step 5: Actions. Most industry-wide innovations were not born out of careful or rigorous analysis but rather from bold thinking and action—specifically, small, inexpensive tests. The software industry was the first to take this practice of experimentation seriously, introducing an approach to product development that we now call “lean” or “agile.” This approach has expanded and taken hold across numerous sectors, from manufacturing to financial services, and it’s a key factor in teams that drive innovation. Consider what your association can do to encourage agility and experimentation in your industry.
Step 6: Team. Thirty years ago, innovations were developed primarily through large, formal research and development teams. But as the pace of change accelerates across nearly every sector, such large-group innovation is struggling to keep up. Instead, we see innovation work transitioning to small cross-functional teams that can more quickly test and develop an idea. In pharmaceuticals, for example, a team composed of drug manufacturers, payors, distributors, and pharmacies have rallied around creating a blockchain-based system that can better ensure drug safety.
Step 7: Environment. Keep in mind that all of these steps can take place only in an industry environment that encourages innovation. My study points to four levers your industry can pull to liberate innovators:
Follow these seven steps and your association can engineer a new era of innovation in your industry that creates new jobs, energy, and value.
September 10, 2019
Three groups received $300,000 each for innovative solutions to government challenges outlined in the President’s Management Agenda
WASHINGTON — The U.S. General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget today announced three grand prize winners of the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center challenge. Each winner received an award of $300,000 each. Five honorable mentions were also selected from the pool of highly competitive applicants.
“The GEAR Center was conceived as a way to promote innovation in support of the President‘s Management Agenda,” said OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert. “GEAR Center Challenge submissions are promising examples of how innovative public-private partnerships can transform government mission delivery, service to citizens and stewardship. The GEAR Center is already creating incentives for cross-sector collaborations that will better serve the American people.”
“The GEAR Center challenge is a creative approach that engages the U.S. research and development system to help government adapt and improve in a rapidly changing world,” said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy. “It also helped form new partnerships between different industries. These impressive winners will bring innovation led by our world class universities and enterprises to influence how the federal government performs.”
The GEAR Center competition challenges problem solvers from the public, academia, and industry to build cross-sector, multidisciplinary teams to demonstrate the potential of the GEAR Center. These teams will describe how this model would tackle one or more of the major challenges facing government outlined in the President's 2019 Management Agenda. The goal is to test the feasibility of the model before further investment and will inform how the GEAR Center could work to deliver these solutions.
GEAR Center Challenge Grand-Prize Winners
Cybersecurity Workforce Collaboration - George Mason University, Mercyhurst University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, Drexel University, SAP, Specialisterne, DXC Dandelion Program, and the MITRE Corporation
Today’s profound shortage of cybersecurity (cyber) talent puts our nation at risk. Neurodiverse individuals, which include those with autism, are a potential, untapped source of talent to fill federal cyber positions, and can be more likely to be retained by federal agencies given their strong fit with cyber work. This project will leverage leading practices, methodologies, and tools that have been used successfully in the private sector and non-U.S. government agencies. This team aims to create a Federal Neurodiversity Cyber Workforce program leveraging the guidance of its advisory collaborators, and then pilot this with a U.S. federal agency. The pilot will focus on training a participating federal agency to identify, hire, onboard, train, support, and retain neurodiverse individuals for cyber positions.
Data for Impact - A collaboration to improve government use of administrative data to measure impact between SkillSource Group and Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc.
Currently, data on federally funded workforce, education, and human services programs are too often held in siloes that prevent local, state, and federal agencies from assessing the true impact of their joint service delivery. This team will collaborate to pilot an approach to integrate currently disparate data that builds on existing state data integration efforts. The team will leverage multiple administrative data sources to measure the impact of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services for Virginia Opportunity Youth with past involvement with the child welfare and/or criminal justice systems.
Data and Evidence for Government and Academic Impact - A collaboration focused on improving the use of evidence and data by the public sector workforce between the Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact, the Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University Initiative, and the Mid-America Regional Council
When trying to smartly deploy scarce government resources, using data to drive decision-making is imperative. It is critical that federal practitioners improve how they use data for decision-making and accountability, including for policy development, innovation, oversight, and learning. Better use of data is the key to help them solve problems and achieve mission goals. This project, a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact, the Volcker Alliance, and the Mid-America Regional Council, aims to help 250 federal practitioners in Kansas City by customizing an existing training curriculum and developing recommendations on how to replicate and scale it in other regions.
Unlocking the Value of Government Data - Deloitte, Google, University of Maryland and Datawheel collaborate to create “pop-up” data marketplaces
This team envisioned creating AI-driven ‘pop-up’ data marketplaces for topics of national interest. Focusing each marketplace on a single topic shifts the paradigm from pushing bulk federal data via static portals to the general public, to establishing vibrant online communities of users. A pilot marketplace was proposed to assess how access to relevant curated data, advanced analytic tools, and mechanisms for collaborating and sharing data-driven insights, could attract and retain active users from public, private, and academic sectors.
Delivering the Workforce of the 21st Century - An initiative to reskill individuals for high-needs jobs by Launchcode
This team proposes integrating a nationally-recognized hybrid learning model into the federal government’s current reskilling efforts. LaunchCode’s model identifies individuals with the capacity to build hard skills in software development regardless of education or background and rapidly trains them to be able to perform in-demand tech roles within an organization.
Secure, Modern, and Mission Capable Credentialing - A collaboration aiming to improve the customer experience and efficiency of the credentialing process between the Institute for Defense Analyses, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, West Virginia National Guard, WVReady, University of Maryland-Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, and Marshall University College of Information Technology and Engineering.
The team proposes developing an innovative, secure, modern, mission-capable information technology solution hosted by the United States Postal Service to improve the customer experience of navigating the “background check” process and utilizing post offices as local, readily accessible fingerprinting and credentialing service hubs.
Using Data to Put People at the Center and Improve Outcomes - A collaboration hoping to enable the real-time use of administrative data between New America Public Interest Technology and Community Solutions
The team proposes developing and piloting a Homelessness Data hub to collect critical data from communities in the U.S. to benchmark and improve on efforts to end homelessness. The hub would advance the work of dozens of communities working with data to improve the tools of ending homelessness.
Improving Grants Management Using Blockchain Technology - The MITRE Corporation
Approximately $700 billion is invested annually through more than 1,800 diverse federal grant programs. However, grant managers—including those that administer funds from inside the federal government and those from external organizations that receive federal funds—report spending 40% of their time using antiquated processes to monitor compliance instead of data and analytics to monitor results. This team proposes demonstrating the benefits and challenges of a proposed grants management business operating model and blockchain-based Distributed Grants Ledger that addresses this problem using the joint efforts of private sector technology vendors, state government agencies, universities, and community-based service organizations.
Calling All Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators: Apply to the Million Lives Clu
The National Institute of Standards and Technology published the final version of its “green paper” on maximizing the return on investment of federal research and development funds Wednesday.
The document, titled “Unleashing American Innovation,” details “options for enhancing how federally funded inventions move from the laboratory to the marketplace.” These options include streamlining federal regulations, encouraging public-private partnerships, engaging with private-sector investors, building a more entrepreneurial workforce and more.
“The accelerating pace of technology innovation and intense competition in the global marketplace demand new solutions,” NIST Director Walter G. Copan said in a statement. “Removing roadblocks, enabling entrepreneurs, attracting private investment and getting inventions from the laboratory into the marketplace faster are essential to unleash American innovation and to strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.”
The green paper does not prescribe policy, but it does offer suggestions for how future policy might be crafted.
For example, a number of NIST’s findings in the paper focus on the lack of clarity that stakeholders feel surrounds government tech transfer policies like licensing, royalties and more. Improving the consistency and clarity of these policies would help the government attract partners and investors, the report suggests.
The paper is in line with NIST’s responsibilities under cross-agency priority (CAP) goal number 14 of the President’s Management Agenda, which seeks to “improve the transfer of technology from federally funded research and development to the private sector to promote U.S. economic growth and national security.” The government, NIST notes, invests about $150 billion annually across 300 federal laboratories as well as U.S. universities and private sector R&D institutions. The Lab-to-Market CAP goal aims to get more of the innovations created out of federal funding into the hands of private companies where they can see commercial success — both for the sake of the private sector and for the needs of the government.
NIST and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are in charge of leading this initiative.
The report was created through consultation with agency working groups, private sector comment and collaboration with OSTP. In April 2018, NIST held a summit on “unleashing American innovation” at which both agency and White House officials spoke. In May 2018, NIST posted a request for information pertaining to the coming green paper in the federal registry.
“The U.S. must continue to lead the world in technology, and that means maximizing both the taxpayers’ investment into American R&D and the potential of our nation’s brightest minds across academia, industry and government,” Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy Michael Kratsios said in a statement.
Is Your Compute Environment Holding You Back? A DIB Guide for the Acquisition Community
● Your programmers are using tools that are less effective than what they used in school
Getting It Right
Chinese Cash That Powered Silicon Valley Is Suddenly Toxic
Silicon Valley startup Pilot AI Labs Inc. signed a Chinese-backed venturecapital ﬁrm as its ﬁrst big investor in 2015. By last summer, Pilot AI wanted it gone.
The U.S. startup hoped to sell more of its artiﬁcial-intelligence software to the U.S. government after working with the Pentagon, according to people familiar with its operations, and worried its eﬀort could be hurt by the investor’s ties to China’s government. The chairman of the Chinese-backed investor, Digital Horizon Capital, was asked to sell back its stake, said one of the people. He angrily refused.
Chinese investors were once embraced in Silicon Valley both for their pocketbooks and their access to one of the world’s largest and trickiest markets. Today, they are suddenly less welcome.
Digital Horizon, formerly called Danhua Capital, is backed by multiple Chinese investors, among them the investment arm of state-owned Zhongguancun Development Group.
The FBI oﬃce has conducted hundreds of brieﬁngs for companies on cybersecurity threats and economic espionage. It discourages people from using their regular smartphones and laptops when traveling in China and warns male U.S. executives to avoid “honeypot” espionage attempts by attractive women. “If you’re not a 10 in the U.S., you’re not a 10 in China,” oﬃcials say they’ve told the executives.
Sinovation was also mentioned in the report and complained to DIU last June. A person familiar with the report said that after the complaint, DIU consulted with researchers that found additional ties between Sinovation and the Chinese government. This person said ﬁrms named in the report weren’t contacted ahead of time.
OMB’s New ID Policy Will Help Consumers Protect Their Identities Online
Opening new accounts. Updating records. Paying your bills. As Americans do more and more online, our digital identities are becoming increasingly important.
Unfortunately, our current systems for verifying and protecting those identities are outdated. Adversaries have caught up with the first-generation systems that businesses and government have used for digital identity proofing and verification, leading to millions of fraud victims and billions of dollars in losses.
With a focus on changing these trends, more than 15 companies banded together last year to launch the Better Identity Coalition. Last July, the Coalition released Better Identity in America: A Blueprint for Policymakers, with a core recommendation that the best way to address digital identity challenges is not by creating new identity systems. Instead, America should modernize our existing paper-based identification systems—think Social Security cards and driver’s licenses—around a privacy-protecting, consumer-centric digital model that allows consumers to ask the agency that issued a credential to stand behind it in the online world.
Against that backdrop, we were encouraged to see the White House Office of Management and Budget release a new identity policy memo echoing that recommendation, calling for agencies to offer improved digital identity solutions.
Per that memo: "Agencies that are authoritative sources for attributes (e.g., SSN) utilized in identity proofing events, as selected by OMB and permissible by law, shall establish privacy-enhanced data validation APIs for public and private sector identity proofing services to consume, providing a mechanism to improve the assurance of digital identity verification transactions based on consumer consent.”
onsumer consent and privacy are essential here: the idea is that consumers can ask an agency that issued them a paper credential to vouch for them online. It’s the start of shifting the predominant model for identity verification from one based on entities aggregating personal data without opt-in consent to one where consumers proactively request that their data be validated for the sole purpose of verifying identity.
This new directive from the White House is a critical step, and it lays the policy foundation for a new array of more secure, privacy-enhanced digital identity solutions to help consumers better protect their identities and more easily do business online. But the work does not stop here. It will be important for OMB and agencies to take concrete steps to operationalize this policy, including creating strong standards to ensure that government can deliver these services in a way that is secure, designed around the needs of consumers, and protects privacy.
One way to get started: Use digital identity work already underway at the Social Security Administration as a template for other agency offerings. SSA just last week released detailson their plans to establish a new Electronic Consent Based Social Security Number Verification, or eCBSV, service, with launch set for June 2020.
Under this new system, SSA will provide a “yes/no” answer as to whether a given name, SSN and date of birth provided by a consumer to a bank at account opening matches what SSA has in its systems—if consumers authorize SSA to provide this answer. It’s a model that could be replicated at other agencies looking to support the new OMB policy.
Better identity solutions are on the horizon. OMB’s new policy has laid the groundwork for a new array of digital identity solutions that will enable Americans to enjoy the convenience of doing everyday tasks online without compromising privacy and security.
Syracuse University Accepts ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation Capstone Project
Syracuse University's Department of Defense Comptroller Program accepted a project proposal from ACT-IAC’s Institute for Innovation. The project, one of several in the university’s masters-level program, is entitled “Application of Commercial Category Management to Enhance Mission Effectiveness in the Department of the Army and Other Government Agencies”.
The Army spends billions of dollars buying common goods and services within its operations and maintenance budget. If the Army could adapt the proven practices of commercial category management, it could unlock efficiencies from that spending. Billions of dollars could be redirected to higher priorities while realizing improved performance. ACT‐IAC’s Institute for Innovation is interested in engaging students in learning the application of the commercial category management best practices and in developing recommendations for their application in the government and their own organizations. The deliverable will be an applied policy/implementation paper showing how the Army could implement category management and achieve the desired outcomes. The project will begin in April and finish in June.
Diana Zavala a member of the Innovators Circle, Appointed to the National Technical Information Service Advisory Board
Diana Zavala, Perspecta Analytics and Data Services leader, and a member of the Institute for Innovation Innovators Circle, was appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) Advisory Board. Diana leads an analytics team and assists in defining and delivering on unique solutions to support mission and business objectives for U.S. Government clients, providing actionable information for better decision making.
The NTIS advisory board will offer guidance for improving NTIS programs, operations and general policies to support their mission to advance federal data priorities, promote economic growth and enable operational excellence by providing innovative data services to federal agencies through joint venture partnerships with the private sector. Congratulations Diana on this prestigious accomplishment!
James Cook is vice president for Strategic Engagement and Partnerships at The MITRE Corporation. In this role, he leads strategic corporate partnership interactions with the executive agencies and Congress and promotes development of new strategic partnerships with the private sector, academia, and other non-profit, associations and foundations to address public interest challenges at the federal, state, and municipal levels.
Previously, Cook was vice president and director of the Center for Enterprise Modernization (CEM). CEM is the federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Department of the Treasury and co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). In that capacity, Cook led MITRE's support of modernization efforts for civilian government agencies. He has established and actively contributed to partnerships with government and private sector organizations focused on Innovation; government effectiveness; and the Presidential Transition. He also serves on the Innovators Circle of the Institute for Innovation at ACT-IAC.
With MITRE since 2004, Cook served for four years as CEM’s executive director for public sector revenue and finance. He partnered with the IRS to develop a strategy to modernize IT and business functions and applied those lessons to other federal agencies.
As an advocate for better government, he has spent much of his career helping to advance improvements in civilian agency performance and acquisition reform. He was previously a partner and executive with IBM Business Consulting and a consulting partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he provided thought leadership through the PwC Endowment for the Business of Government. In 1997, Cook became one of a handful of people from industry to receive the IRS Commissioner's Award for his leadership in helping modernize the agency’s tax administration business processes and systems.
In 2007, he received Federal Computer Week’s FED 100 award, given to the top 100 executives in government IT, for his leadership role assisting the IRS in setting a new IT direction. He also received FED 100 awards in 2014 and 2019 for his efforts to harness innovation to help federal agencies transform their missions. He received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Maryland.
Federal CIO Suzette Kent emphasized in an address today to tech-sector officials the importance of scaling, sustaining, and “industrializing” technology advancements notched by the Federal government including those featured in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) issued one year ago.
Speaking at GDIT Emerge in Washington, Kent recalled several aims of the PMA including updating Federal policy to promote IT modernization generally, but specifically employing commercial technologies in that effort, reducing regulatory burdens, and easing the path for the Federal workforce to take on higher-value tasks.
“Innovation is not always easy,” she observed, but when it happens on a smaller scale it needs to be sustained and industrialized so that the value of innovation is lasting. “We have opportunities to make leaps and bounds” in Federal IT innovation, but “the heavy lifting is sustaining that spark,” she said.
Promoting innovation necessarily involves change, and that road is not always an easy one, she said.
“You are asking people to do things differently, and it sometimes feels like a full-contact sport,” she said. But “the joy” of the process, she said, comes from turning complicated processes into “a couple of clicks . . . That’s what fun looks like.”
When innovation is accomplished at scale, and improved processes are industrialized, “there is a good greater than the whole,” Kent said.
On the specific policy front, Kent discussed the Federal government’s nascent program to reskill non-IT professionals in cybersecurity. She said that a second cohort in that program was being announced today, and added, “we have more that are following.”
On the government-wide push to cloud service adoption, she said that most agencies have moved to cloud-based email services, and that her office is working with the “final agencies” in that effort. The strategy to promote an email-first approach for agency cloud adoption marks a “start” for many in what is intended to be a longer-term journey to cloud-based services. “Now that we have the first piece, what is the second,” she said.
In addition to moving to cloud-based email systems, Kent said that about 30 percent of Federal agencies had accomplished some form of application rationalization, and said it was “now time to do more.”
In the automation realm, Kent said that approximately 35 agencies were undertaking use of robotic process automation (RPA) technologies as an early step in the path to more fully embracing advanced technologies. But she called that RPA usage by agencies a “teeny, tiny drop in the bucket.”
“There’s lots more room for automation” technologies, she said, adding, “those are the muscles we have to build across agencies.”
“Just get started,” she advised agencies in their moves to advanced technologies. “It may be something small, but just get started.”
Kent also previewed a couple of near-term events on her office’s calendar including a high-performance computing forum that will include people from the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The May 15 event is for Federal personnel only.
The other event is a Federal technology day event set for May 16, focused on advanced technologies including artificial intelligence and robotic process automation and including a series of live demonstrations.
Exclusive: TTS Director Wants GSA’s Innovation Shop To Punch Above Its Weight
Anil Cheriyan, a former bank chief information officer and chair of the Technology Business Management Council, has been director of the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service, or TTS, for a little more than 100 days. In that time, he’s been listening and observing and says he believes the relatively small teams at GSA’s innovation hub can punch above their weight class if given the opportunity.
In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with Nextgov, Cheriyan talks about his experience moving from the private to public sector, what it will take to ensure TTS has a broad impact across government, whether it should exist as an independent business line or be tied to acquisition, the significant evolution for the future of the Centers of Excellence and how to improve longstanding programs like 18F and FedRAMP.
Nextgov: Did you ever think you would be a federal employee?
Cheriyan: No, I didn’t. I had retired from SunTrust back in early 2018 and I was just spending my time on boards and doing some advisory work. Sometime toward the latter part of last year I got a phone call from someone in the White House saying, “Hey, do you want to do this thing called TTS?” At which point I said, “I have no idea what TTS is and I’ve never worked in the federal government and it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to do it.” And the individual said, “No, no. You should think about it and consider it.” I said, “Send me some material,” which they did. I started reading about it and talked to a few people and slowly got more and more interested in the mission and what it was all about and I felt the mission of TTS is really something that’s as big as you want to make it. It’s a huge opportunity. What I call “big canvas” that we can create.
So, I got hooked. And if you think about it, I spent 35 to 40 years in the private sector and a lot of that in this country and this was an opportunity to give back and do something.
I’m not naïve. I don’t think I can come in here and change the world in a few years. It’s more helping the journey move forward. Helping the things move ahead. And if I move things forward a little bit, the good thing about doing it in the federal space is it’s a large canvass, so you can move things for 360 million people and move it for 3.5 million federal employees. So, a little change is worth a lot.
That’s what I’m hoping for: Get some momentum going in that direction.
What’s your impression 100 days into being a federal employee? How does the experience differ from in the private sector?
There are a lot of similarities, in the sense that you’re doing things with a fair degree of change. What I wasn’t aware of is the level of intensity of focus on change from the administration and, not just the administration, but everyone in the government in terms of IT modernization. The case for change seems to be reasonably well-made, and I didn’t believe that would be the case, having not done anything in government. That was an exciting, good thing to hear and see.
The organization TTS, as well, is full of high-energy, capable individuals. Some are term employees, coming here and spending time with a sense of mission, doing something for government. I didn’t think I would find that. The traditional view when you’re outside of government is everyone moves slowly and no one’s interested in changing. So, when I found that I was pretty excited because there’s a team that’s really driving toward making things happen.
There are perceptions out there about the people who make up the government, but there are also perceptions about the system being resistant to change. You manage a shop focused on innovation and say you have people who want to make change happen. What kind of barriers are you running into from the system itself?
Even in private industry, when I ran technology and operations for the bank—at SunTrust—there were a lot of barriers to change. There’s cultural barriers: individuals who really don’t want to make the change happen. There are individuals who, even at the bank, who say, “This too shall pass. We will watch another person come in and want to make the change." That’s human nature and it’s there. So, there are those cultural barriers that I’ve found working at Sun Trust over the years.
here’s a lot of opportunity to say, “This is what the law says we have to do,” and, "This is legislated this way and we can only operate in this manner." So, there are those types of barriers that exists that, frankly, have not been challenged. I’d say the same thing if you’d interviewed me at SunTrust. There are lot of people who’d say, “Well, audit wants us to do this,” and, “Legal wants us to do that,” and “You know we can’t make these changes.”
So, there are those barriers that people put up. Not that there’re all fictional. There are some of them that are true and need to be dealt with.
I think the ability to drive the transformation is not to come in and say, “I have a smarter way to do things and I will therefore teach you how to make the change.” I think that’s a no-win situation. The approach that I’m taking is more a: Let me listen, let me learn, let me bring the right ideas, let me bring the right team and put the right people together. And I have a firm belief that if you do that, you’re going to drive the change.
And it’s driven by more of a fact-based approach; it’s driven by more of a buy-in from individuals, who then really buy in to you, as well. Coming in with the right approach, I think you can get over most barriers.
Now, there’s always things that are bigger than you and things that are bigger than, frankly, GSA, and things that are bigger that need to be addressed. And hopefully those are all things people are working toward. This is not a sprint; this is a multiyear journey that will take time.
If you try to tilt yourself against the biggest and hardest thing, you’ll never get anything done. But if you start making the right decisions, start making the right changes, start building momentum, before you know it you have that flywheel effect of really driving change and some of the bigger [barriers] will start coming down at that point.
Does TTS have all the resources it needs? Do you need more people, more funding, more top-cover?
Resources are not a real obstacle. There’s always a battle for talent. That would be the case across the board: Whether you’re at TTS or anywhere, there’s always a need for talent. I think that we have done a reasonably good job at TTS so far in using innovative approaches to bring the right people. Whether that’s the right mix and so on is something that we can address.
I think the funding issue: We’re very much cost-recoverable in the main; very much a cost-recoverable group. Agencies will pay for value and if you deliver value and you demonstrate that value, I don’t think there’s a real funding issue from that standpoint.
What issues have you found? What have you learned and are there any immediate changes that need to take place?
Let’s talk about the good. The good is a really innovative team, a really high-energy team, a real culture for wanting to do the right thing from a mission standpoint. So, a really good base to work from. And a good momentum: A lot of the CoE work being done, there’s a fair degree of momentum there; the 18F team has really driven a lot of change and now are more cost-recoverable and driving real value.
But there are areas that need to be addressed. I believe that while we have good, strong subbrands like 18F and the PIFs [Presidential Innovation Fellows] and the CoE brand, we are not punching above our weight, really delivering impact at a level at which I believe we can. There’s a lot of good work. But is it really being done with the impact that is meaningful when you think about the overall mission of what TTS is and what they’re trying to do?
What level of program or impact do you think would be reaching for the stars but still within reach?
Take the CoE approach. We have an approach which is more top-down, transformational, agencywide.
Take the USDA transformation that’s going on. It’s a close partnership with [Agriculture Secretary] Sonny Purdue; with Steve Censky, the deputy secretary; with Gary Washington, the CIO. Really top-down driving changes that are connected to what the secretary of USDA wants to have happen: Consolidating to one call center, really driving the client experience, building the dashboards.
So, that’s the kind of a top-down approach that is working, where you can really say, “Here’s the impact. This is the real value and here are the millions of dollars we’re going to be saving on data centers,” for example.
Whereas, when you’re doing a lot of smaller projects that are at the individual program level, showing that impact is harder. Especially if it’s deep down in the bowels of an agency with an individual who might be three levels down from the CIO.
Not that they’re not important. They’re good projects. But translating them into real impact—what is the real outcome, what does it mean for our citizens, what does it mean for our federal employees—those are things that we need to punch above our weight, as it were, to really show that impact.
It doesn’t have to be big programs. It can be smaller, targeted projects. Small doesn’t have to mean small impact. You can do small projects that really have a significant impact.
From an impact standpoint, you just have to bring the right things together. If you bring in the CoE team and 18F team and the PIF team and maybe even leveraged some of OPP, you’d probably have a significant impact with one or two members of each of those teams actively participating together with a joint outcome in mind.
Which leads me to the second point. The groups have been put together over the years and it’s evolved over time—from OPP and 18F and the PIFS and more recently the CoEs—and they still operate in their siloes. There’s an opportunity to look across. And we’re actively doing things like that.
Take cloud, for example. OPP has a lot of cloud impact with FedRAMP and all of the—some of which actually come out of 18F—Cloud.gov. 18F does a lot of cloud work and cloud acquisition work. The CoEs have a lot of cloud playbooks. And, frankly, if you take that one step further, the rest of FAS has a lot of cloud schedules: ITC [the Information Technology Category] within FAS has got a pretty large cloud portfolio. There’s an opportunity to bring all those together and bring all of them to bear for an agency, rather than the individual siloes.
And the agency would benefit. They’d say, “Well, this is pretty good. You’re bringing the whole thing,” from solutioning to definition to migration through acquisition. There’s a whole game here that we can be playing that’s a lot bigger than the individual parts.
What is the future of TTS? Briefly, before this administration took office, TTS was raised up as a third line of business at GSA, beside FAS and the Public Buildings Service. Then, it was relegated back under FAS. Can or should TTS be its own delivery line or is technological transformation intrinsically linked to acquisition?
It’s funny. We were in a FAS leadership council meeting and—I don’t want to get into the historic reasons as to why they were not as integrated as they should have been. But the more and more I sit down in FAS conversations, the more and more I think of them as a machine that’s very large and very effective in doing acquisitions, especially in the space of technology. For the TTS organization to not leverage that, you’re not really driving the full value. You can make transformation happen at a small scale and you’ll never really be at the impact that you want to be unless you pull in the broad machine of FAS.
Now, is that the only channel for transformation: acquisitions? No. You can do transformation, and acquisition is a piece of it. You also could be partnering better with industry partners. You could be bringing in industry further ahead in the game—I think the CoE teams do that to some extent.
But I think there’s an opportunity to leverage industry a lot more—both the services as well as on the software side. There are a lot of players out there, especially new, innovative players that, frankly, government can benefit from spending a lot more effort on.
FAS is a major channel for TTS to be effective and drive change. But so is having industry partners on the services side and on the software side.
Organizationally should it belong or not? I don’t want to get into it. That really doesn’t matter. It’s really how you operate that’s more important.
Being separate and not being connected to FAS is wrong. Being part of FAS and still not being connected is not right either.
Technology and acquisition certainly seem to be linked. There have been a number of large IT contract vehicles being planned by agencies that are now moving through GSA. We’re seeing this a lot more with tech than buying other things, like air conditioners. What is it about buying technology that is pushing agencies in this direction and why are they coming to GSA?
I think it’s a combination of things. And I would say that GSA does a really good job of buying fleet and should be doing more, as well as in the buildings area, it does a really phenomenal job. Those are two areas where GSA is doing really well.
The evolution of technology, now, from being one where you buy widgets—you buy a server or you buy a network or you buy a piece of hardware—all of that is changing very quickly. Everything is now software-defined and becoming software-defined. If you’re familiar with the Wall Street Journal article “Why Software Is Eating the World” back in 2011. That’s pretty much what’s going on.
If you look at the telecom industry—why EIS [Enterprise Infrastructure Services] at GSA going to become such a big success, especially with 5G, is because it’s software defined. It makes it much more easily controlled and there’s a convergence of software and hardware that’s going on.
What is a cloud? It’s a software-defined infrastructure.
Everything is going toward that, where people are not going to buy individual components but they’re going to buy solutions. And there’re going to buy combined solutions. It’s going to be harder and harder for CIOs in each of the organizations to become familiar with all of those areas. And I think the solutioning around that, either they’re doing that on their own or they’re using GSA or they’re using third parties—integrators.
That’s one piece of it. Technology is changing so much that it makes the buy more complex and you need the assistance to do that.
That’s where the TTS role can become even more. We do some assisted acquisition but I think there’s a significant amount of work in really driving—what I call “moving left” in an organization—driving the change to be more business focused, outcome focused, solution focused, rather than, “I need 23 widgets and 44 servers”—that’s the extreme right of the acquisition.
Sounds a lot like the principles in the Technology Business Management framework, which is now a mandate for agencies to incorporate. Before coming to TTS, you chaired the TBM Council, which created a taxonomy for linking IT investments to specific business outcomes. But TBM is not the only framework out there. What makes it special? Why should this one framework be mandated across government?
I’m kind of biased. Having run the TBM Council—which I don’t anymore, having joined the government. But when I was looking at this as a problem to be solved in my prior career, I did a lot of research into all the different frameworks that are out there and, frankly, found nothing that really translated—from a taxonomy perspective—these component parts to a business solution. That’s fundamentally what TBM does, it pulls it all together in a taxonomy that’s clear, that’s manageable and needs a fair amount of work to do that translation.
But it really didn’t exist anywhere. And TBM was one—I was one of the founding members of the TBM Council back in 2011—to really drive that. There were six or seven of us as CIOs and now it’s grown to 7,500 members and it’s international and everybody’s following it, etc., etc.
There’s no one that’s really caught up with that real framework. There are lots of players that get involved with it. But they’re catching little pieces of it. That’s not to say that others won’t catch up. But I think at this stage, I would recommend it at any point in time.
But, frankly, I’m not involved in those discussions. I was on the other side of the equation when the government said, “Hey, we want to go, by 2020, have all budgets go to OMB using the TBM taxonomy.”
There might come a point in time that we build that competence as a CoE. But there are lots of other interesting things for us to do. But I think it’s a worthwhile thing to do that transformation.
Back, for a minute, to the consolidation of contracts at GSA. Based on your experience in the private sector, is there a tipping point where that becomes problematic?
I don’t know enough, frankly. This is one of those where it would probably be wrong for me to comment about it. I’m not that steeped in the acquisition process as perhaps I should be. A little more than three months in and I’m learning it.
Should 100 percent of all contracts across government come through GSA? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a point where you get to value and then there’s a point you don’t want to go beyond. But I’m just guessing.
I ran acquisitions for the bank. But that’s a different story than running an acquisition arm of the government.
Getting into the programs, let’s start with the Centers of Excellence. There are plans to open two more centers—for seven total—and maybe in the future, you just mentioned, a TBM center. What will this program evolve into?
Let me back up a little bit and say that the term “CoE” is being used in two different ways right now. One is “center of competency,” of which there are five right now: client experience, call center, IT modernization, cloud and analytics. Those are centers of competency.
However, the term is also used as the approach being taken, coming top-down, agencywide transformation.
Agencywide transformation coming top-down, working with the secretary or deputy secretary on down is a good thing. We should continue to do that.
The competencies that we bring right now are five. We’ve got two agencywide transformations running: USDA and HUD [Housing and Urban Development]. And we’re pushing for another three this year. Will they all show up immediately? There’s a whole process I’m going through for determining where and how. And it’s not just me—it’s [GSA Administrator] Emily [Murphy], as well as OAI [the Office of American Innovation] and [Federal CIO] Suzette [Kent] and [White House Deputy] Chris Liddell—we’re all actively looking at evaluations of what the next agency should be.
Are you ready to break news on the third one?
No, not yet. You’ll hear about it when it happens. I’m hoping in April, but these things take time.
But going back to those five centers. We are actively looking at rationalizing those five and thinking about what additional ones we should be adding to it. Shortly, we should have a list of what those competency areas are. Client experience is clearly one; call centers kind of falls within client experience. Cloud and IT modernization are very tied together.
And we’re actively looking at new ones. RPA [robotic process automation] is one. We’re looking at identity security. Really, we’re looking at what do agencies in the government need. I think those are ones we’re familiar with—for security and identity we have Login.gov, a lot of security work gets done at FedRAMP.
When you say rationalizing, you mean looking at whether they should exist on their own or combining some?
Think of taking the word CoE and using it to define solution areas. The approach that’s being used for agencywide innovation is really the right approach. Do we need to bring all of these solution areas, some of these solution areas, one of these solution areas to an agency to drive transformation from the top down?
One major change from the first two rounds: Phase I contractors couldn’t compete in Phase II. That’s changing going forward. Is that safeguard no longer necessary?
It’s still there. What we’ve done is to say that if you’re in Phase I in one domain area, you still can’t do Phase II in that same domain area. But there’s no reason you can’t do Phase II in another domain.
If you’re doing Phase I call center, you won’t be doing it for Phase II. But you could still do Phase II cloud, or something else.
Fundamentally, what we’re saying is don’t give the full henhouse to the fox—or however you want to call it.
Let’s go to 18F, which was part of the genesis of TTS becoming its own thing. There have been a number of GAO and inspector general reports on that team in the past. What issues have you found in the first 100 days and how are they being addressed?
Frankly, the team has done a really good job before my joining to fix a lot of the IG and GAO issues. I think it’s commendable their taking that and really driving that. Their leader, Angela Colter, has done a really good job of making that happen.
18F is doing really well and thriving. It’s doing its thing—path analysis work and user-centered design—and doing it for probably about 18—it’s in the teens—agencies that they’re actively engaged with. One of the issues was if they’re cost-recoverable and are their consultants busy enough—fully utilized. That’s what’s really changed. We’ve really got that up and running in a real way. All of that is really now cleaned up in a significant way, in partnership with our general counsel and their team, there’s been a lot of good work in fixing that.
Where I want to take it moving forward is really that impact conversation that we had earlier. How do we drive bigger impact, pick and choose the right projects, connect it to the rest of the family—bring in PIF when we need them or the centers of competency when we need them—build platforms, if appropriate, which is really what 18F has done with Login.gov and Cloud.gov—there could be lots of other platforms we could be looking at.
There are many more programs, too: PIF, FedRAMP and some of the other groups under the umbrella of TTS. Can you talk about the rest of the family?
The PIFs: We just had another 19 or 20 PIFs join in January. They’re working at 15 or 16 agencies. We’re actively recruiting, looking for the new wave. April 22 is the timeframe for when we need all the applications in. We’re looking at late summer to have another wave of PIFs come in.
There’s a high demand for them. All the agencies love the PIFs and they work with them, particularly on the CTO [chief technology officer] side of the conversation, there’s a lot of good connectivity there. So, that’s going to continue to grow.
Where does the demand for PIFs come from? At 18F the demand comes from tackling a specific problem. For the CoEs, agencies come to you. When people come to you and say, “We need a PIF,” what are they asking for?
They’re typically looking for assistance in a technology area that’s very specific. For example, we’re doing a fair amount of work with the Marine Corps. Their CTO [Jennifer Edgin] really wanted some technology assistance in what they were trying to get done. VA [Veterans Affairs] is another one, where, actually, the CTO [Charles Worthington] used to be a PIF. So, he knows our capabilities and he’s already laid out some critical areas.
They could be in artificial intelligence, machine learning. They could be in use of visual recognition tools. There’s a whole list of specific needs they come to us with.
On the CoE side, I do want to say that they don’t all come to us. We work with several individuals to jointly define where the opportunity is.
On the OPP side, which is the Office of Platforms and Products, FedRAMP is probably the most well-known. I’m getting a lot of good input from lots of players on the good, bad and the ugly on FedRAMP. If I were to say, “Here are the opportunities,” on FedRAMP, people want it to be faster, cheaper and more reused across government. That’s at the heart of the complaints.
The team’s done a phenomenal job of getting it done faster. They’ve certainly improved on the cycle times. We have an opportunity to get the voice of the customer better into FedRAMP.
FedRAMP has been dealing with these same issues since its inception. When you say getting more of the “voice of the customer,” is that a novel idea? What can be done to get over those hurdles?
Some of the noise that I hear right now is very anecdotal. What I’d like it to be is much more compliant driven and much more curated, as it were, so that we have a forum and an approach.
The FedRAMP team does do a lot of clientsat [client satisfaction reviews] and actually their clientsat is very high. But I want to get the broader picture and we have to figure out how best to do that.
We can continue to speed it up, leverage technologies available out there. It’s fundamentally a risk management framework—there are lots of players who do those things. The scoring mechanism to make that happen, in terms of what level you have—there are lots of opportunities to automate those further. And then, work very closely with [Federal CIO] Suzette [Kent] and the CIOs to drive adoption.
There are three issues: the cost, the time and the reusability—the portability of security accreditations from one agency to another. Sounds like you’re working on the first two, but what can TTS and FedRAMP do about the third?
There’s a lot of outreach that we could be doing. There’s a lot of communication leveraging the CIO-wide network [the Federal CIO Council] that already exists that Suzette runs. We don’t need to recreate a lot of these. I think this is more of a drive by influence.
Making it a law is probably not the easiest thing to do. But making it a needed activity with the right buy-in from everyone. ATOs [authorities to operate] are done often by the CISO [chief information security officers] in the organization, getting them to buy in—getting them to have a say, getting to understand what their issues are—I think that’s part of that whole change that needs to occur.
What is the future of TTS? What new programs need to be launched? What areas of technology transformation does TTS not cover now but should?
Let me put it another way. We’re actively looking at how do we do three things: one is build momentum. Building momentum is really about how do you get more agencies to leverage TTS and build it in such a way that we are doing what they need us to do. If they want us to do blockchain in the next year, maybe that’s a competency we need to build. I’m not sure that’s real. But meeting the demand and understanding the demand and building the momentum to drive that is one area that we are really focused on.
That means having the different players at TTS play together in an integrated fashion and really playing above our weight and having more impact.
The second piece is about establishing a sustainability. It’s a very small organization. I don’t think it should be a humongous organization. But I do think it should be a sustainable organization, in the sense that, when you have competencies, is there reusability, is there a community of partnership there, are you leveraging the right external sources, do have a method by which you are doing something sustainable—even the demand process has to be sustainable.
Building momentum, establishing sustainability, and the third piece is really driving for excellence. I think there’s an opportunity here to not make money but to be excellent in what we do, and be financially independent—or cost-recoverable—which I believe if you do the right things in the right places we will get to.
Those are the three things we’re looking at. And if it generates new opportunities—RPA is one that is a good opportunity, maybe that’s one where we spend more time and effort building. All of that will come based on those three main strategic goals.
Part of that sustainability, by the way, is leveraging GSA more, leveraging the FAS organization, leveraging our partners more. There’s a lot to be done. But I think we can be the tip of the spear on a lot of transformation that’s going to take place.
Federal IT found its groove in 2018, and Margie Graves was in the middle of it.
There were still challenges, of course. Many agencies' Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions plans were slow in coming, some cloud migrations saw foot-dragging, and budget stalemates complicated almost everything. But there was a plan for IT management and modernization, and both the guidance and execution support from the Office of Management and Budget came with unusual clarity and coherence.
Graves, deputy federal CIO, won't take credit herself, but agency and industry leaders alike said she has been essential to keeping the many pieces in alignment.
"Margie has the technical expertise to go deep," one Federal 100 judge said, "but she doesn't lose sight of the bigger picture, and she keeps others focused on that as well."
Maintaining that focus was no small task in a year when that big picture included the Technology Modernization Fund, a shift to "cloud smart," continued adoption of the Technology Business Management framework and a President's Management Agenda that has IT at its core. But Graves, who came to government in 2003 to help organize and integrate the many agencies that now make up the Department of Homeland Security, has spent her entire career honing the required skills.
In the private sector, she specialized in systems engineering and post-merger integration. At the Transportation Security Administration and then as deputy CIO at DHS, she went deep into the weeds of agency IT operations. Thrust unexpectedly into the acting CIO role at DHS in 2013, she navigated a politically charged environment to lead for nearly a year.
In 2016, Graves came to OMB as a temporary replacement for then-Deputy CIO Lisa Schlosser, who shifted to the Office of Personnel Management in the wake of that agency's disastrous data breach. (Graves told FCW at the time how much she enjoyed pivoting to policy and how her DHS experience helped ground that governmentwide work.) She was named to the deputy job on a permanent basis several months later and served as acting federal CIO for the first year of the Trump administration.
When U.S. CIO Suzette Kent was appointed, Graves provided critical continuity and institutional knowledge, and she redoubled her focus on implementation. As she noted during a recent panel discussion, "Every agency is going to have to march down this pathway in a prioritized manner." And Graves is making sure that both the path and priorities are clear.
Looking back at many of the government IT systems developed over the last 50 years reveals some of the leading innovations of that era. The Social Security and Medicare systems that helped millions of Americans determine eligibility and receive benefits were the among most complex and leading-edge IT systems of the times. Yet while these solutions performed well in the past, maintenance and updates have been deferred for too long and many systems now urgently need modernization.
While private-sector companies have leapt ahead in innovation by adopting agile models to smaller scoped sprints and modules, public sector organizations are often using legacy software systems that no longer serve their constituents effectively. Additionally, government is still trying to do "big bang" large-scale IT projects. Among these massive projects, failure is very common and often is a source of hesitation for agencies considering an IT investment. In a recent CHAOS Report, the Standish Group noted that many larger-scale projects never return value to an organization. Only 6% of such projects were successful, compared to 61% of small projects.
A number of pressures are converging to bring the issue of modernization to the forefront.
Government simply must become more efficient. Leveraging modern technology and innovation is the most effective way to get there and will ensure government systems can drive efficiencies to meet the needs of the people they serve. Public-sector leaders can accelerate their innovation initiatives by adopting the following four strategies:
1. Design systems from the outside facing in. Modernize based on the way citizens engage with government, rather than how changes have always been made. For example, someone starting a new business may need to deal with multiple agencies: one for federal tax purposes, another for state taxes, a different agency to register a business name and another agency to apply for permits. Instead of simply updating the technology around this cumbersome process and expecting citizens to figure it out, reimagine the system to make it easier and faster for business owners. Of course, this means agencies must coordinate with each other better.
2. Engage citizens the way they want to be engaged. Americans are accustomed to shopping online, banking via secure mobile apps and enjoying retail experiences personalized by machine learning. We should be applying the same expectations to government services.
3. Innovate the procurement and budget models to accommodate agile. Large-scale IT projects should be broken down into much smaller phases incorporating concepts like minimal viable product. This approach will deliver more immediate business value as agencies build toward the bigger systems. Find ways to leverage agile in a fixed-budget model in which agencies must live. In the triple constraints of project management (budget, schedule and scope), flex on scope.
4. Adopt market solutions instead of custom solutions. Where possible, agencies should adopt enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, financial and HR solutions from the market leaders instead of reinventing the wheel. This approach frees agencies from the trap of maintaining costly custom solutions or dealing with potential interoperability issues.
Agencies should start with an overall assessment of their systems based on the constituents they serve. Modernization not as just a replacement initiative, but an opportunity to transform an agency to enhance the service it provides to constituents. With that vision in mind, they should deliver solutions in smaller increments and continuously improve to add value, taking advantage of innovations and practices from the private sector. That approach will ensure they are developing the solutions and processes to serve constituents effectively.
Innovation leaders weigh in on what government has borrowed from Silicon Valley
In government IT modernization circles, leaders talk continuously about adopting “best practices” from “industry,” including the innovative startups that we tend to associate with California’s Silicon Valley.
But what are the actual tools, or approaches, that government has welcomed? Representatives from three innovation-focused offices across government — the General Services Administration’s 18F, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of the CTO — considered this question at an event Thursday morning.
The event series, which began in February 2018 under the agency’s last CTO Bruce Greenstein, is characterized by a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session where chosen companies pitch their products to HHS tech leadership. The initiative, which has since traveled across the country, “has led to deeper understanding and awareness” between HHS and small tech companies, Koyani said.
Angela Colter, executive director at 18F, acknowledged that the internal government consulting group perhaps isn’t the part of GSA that is most inspired by Silicon Valley. Still, she said, the team shares its singular focus on the needs of the user, whether that be a citizen or an internal government user, with many tech startups including those on the West Coast.
Finally, Nadia Carlsten, the director of commercialization at DHS S&T, said her team has picked up a few things from the venture capital playbook. When DHS S&T looks to transfer government-funded technologies out of the lab and into the market, they look, to borrow the parlance of a VC, “at the jockey, not just the horse.”
“We want to make sure that, just like an investor would do, we look at not only the technology aspect but also everything else that might make the technology successful,” Carlsten explained. This means considering “our ability to put the technology in touch with people who might be able to assemble a really strong team to take that technology to market, as well as looking at the market itself.”
Much like a Silicon Valley startup doing market research would seek to ascertain, DHS S&T likes to “[make] sure that there is an actual need for the technology,” Carlsten said.
5 Paradoxes of an Innovation Culture
A recent trend has been to set up an innovation office to serve as a catalyst for new ideas. These offices can be helpful starting points and an inspiration to employees across an organization. However, most leaders want to create a culture of innovation across their entire workforce, not just in an elite subset of employees.
Harvard professor Gary Pisano has studied what it takes to create an innovation culture in dozens of companies across the world and in a recent Harvard Business Review article he observes that “innovative cultures are seen as desirable . . . [but] are hard to create and sustain.” He says five characteristics exemplify an “innovation culture” in organizations:
Perhaps surprisingly, he found that creating a successful innovation culture actually requires embracing some seemingly paradoxical behaviors. “Unless the tensions created by this paradox are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail,” he writes. Leaders must embrace the paradoxes inherent in each of the five characteristics he identified, he writes:
Paradox 1: Allow tolerance for failure, but no tolerance for incompetence. Pisano cautions that “tolerance for failure requires having extremely competent people.” Failures provide valuable lessons for going forward: “But failure can also result from poorly thought-out designs, flawed analyses, lack of transparency, and bad management. Google encourages risk taking and failure because it can be confident that most Google employees are very competent.” He says that leaders need to clearly articulate “the difference between productive and unproductive failures . . . we should be celebrating learning, not failure.”
Paradox 2: Be willing to experiment, but be highly disciplined about it. Pisano says that it is important to try many new things but equally critical to “establish clear criteria at the outset for deciding whether to move forward with, modify, or kill an idea.” He points to Flagship Pioneering, a Massachusetts company that creates science-based new ventures, which runs experiments to expose an idea’s flaws, not to validate initial ideas. He says that for Flagship employees, “continuing to pursue a failed program means forgoing the opportunity join a winning one.” But he cautions that “demanding data to confirm or kill a hypothesis too quickly can squash the intellectual play that is necessary for creativity.”
Paradox 3: Create psychological safety, but be brutally candid. Traditional management texts point to the importance of creating a space where employees feel safe in proposing new ideas or challenging existing processes. But “psychological safety is a two-way street,” he notes. Each side must be safe to criticize the other using unvarnished candor. In effective innovation cultures, “people are expected to be able to defend their proposals with data or logic.” He also notes: “When it comes to innovation, the candid organization will outperform the nice one every time. The later confuses politeness and niceness with respect . . . Accepting a devastating critique of your idea is possible only if you respect the opinion of the person providing the feedback.”
Paradox 4: Foster collaboration, but demand individual accountability. “Too often, collaboration gets confused with consensus. And consensus is poison for rapid decision making and navigating the complex problems associated with transformational innovation,” he writes. Leaders encourage accountability by publicly holding themselves accountable. For example, he points to Johnson & Johnson executive Paul Stoffels, who told his employees: “You take the risk; I will take the blame.”
Paradox 5: Be flat, but provide strong leadership. Flat organizations have few layers, but cultural flatness is “how people behave and interact regardless of official position.” Pisano says:
“Deference is granted on the basis of competence, not title.” He notes that flat organizations require stronger leadership than hierarchical ones: “Flat organizations often devolve into chaos when leadership fails to set clear strategic priorities and directions.”
In concluding, Pisano say that building and sustaining an innovation culture that embraces these five paradoxes is hard because they require a combination of seemingly contradictory behaviors, which risks creating confusion. Staff will find that certain behaviors are easier to embrace than others, and some individuals will not be able to adapt at all. The hardest part may be that “innovation cultures are systems of interdependent behaviors, they cannot be implemented in a piecemeal fashion.”
The Boldline Accelerator: Fostering Collaboration and Innovation to Create Solutions
Can there be multiple solutions to one issue? What happens when those solutions are combined and given the resources and environment to flourish? The answer is the genesis behind the U.S. Department of State’s Boldline Accelerator, a three-day program that brings together groups from various backgrounds and sectors, and helps develop their ideas through design thinking, rapid ideation, and innovative partnership solutions. In December 2018, the Department's Office of Global Partnerships held their third Boldline accelerator, in collaboration with the Department’s Global Engagement Center, to find technological solutions to combat disinformation and propaganda campaigns.
Throughout the event, a resounding sense of unity pervaded. Instead of competing against each other, nine private sector companies combined ideas to create tangible ways to combat propaganda. To encourage collaboration among the cohort, the Office of Global Partnerships implemented a comprehensive program for participants that included: panel discussions led by subject matter experts, one-on-one speed mentoring with industry experts, and Mastermind sessions, a rapid ideation process that enables groups to wholly capture the issues they are trying to solve and hear immediate feedback.. On the last day, Boldline participants synthesized the new skills and connections made by presenting hybrid technology solutions for combatting disinformation campaigns. The nine groups worked together to propose two solutions that utilized the technology and ideas of each individual participant.
Opportunities like Boldline are at the forefront of innovation and development. They help generate solutions to current challenges, like combatting disinformation campaigns that produce sustainable results. Jim Thompson, the Office of Global Partnerships’ Director for Private Sector Engagement noted “Creating opportunities for the private and public sectors to combine their efforts towards a singular goal is an endeavor that will foster this collaboration and innovation, and is the continuing mission of the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships.” While the world continues to search for solutions to today's biggest challenges, the Department of State, through Boldline, is hard at work to cultivate a hub to accelerate results.
Follow #Boldline and @GpatState on Twitter or learn more about the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Partnerships, at: https://www.state.gov/s/partnerships/
Government Innovation. What to Do When You Know the Question, but Not the Answer
Innovation is a topic that continues to draw attention in public sector. How can innovation be effective in organizations that, by design and tradition, have low tolerance for both risk and change? The proposed Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center (GEAR) is conceived to stimulate technology upgrade pilot programs for agencies. The end goal is to accelerate IT modernization, increase the skills of the government workforce and accelerate innovation. This also stimulates consideration of the question, “How does government best drive innovation?”
Some approaches subscribe to the need to separate business operations from innovation. Gartner’s notion of “Bimodal IT” is the practice of managing two different work styles: One is focused on what is well known, with predictable results. The other is aimed toward exploration. Gartner’s point is that bimodal IT is necessary to allow innovation to flourish in a fast-changing environment, while also adeptly managing the current operations. As with any organizational concept, it involves people, process and technology to be able to collaborate across the business, increase agility and drive innovation.
Government has been evolving the approach to innovation to include this concept of separation of styles of work. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently announced a program to fund a multi-year $2B investment of the next generation artificial intelligence called “AI Next”. This program has two facets. One focuses on automating critical DoD business processes, such as security clearance vetting or accrediting software systems for operational deployment; improving the robustness and reliability of AI systems. The other facet focuses on funding a series of innovative investments, the Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program. The AIE establishes a series of high-risk, high payoff projects where researchers will work to establish the feasibility of new AI concepts within 18 months of award. This program is bolstered by streamlined contracting procedures and rapid funding mechanisms to move research from proposal to project inception within three months of an opportunity announcement. This is an example of the bimodal approach in practice.
Under what circumstances does this separation model make sense for government? We were inspired by the elements of Uncertainty and Directedness in a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) article, “Innovation is a Many Splendored Thing” to consider the answer. (See diagram below.)
The DARPA approach reflects the type of lightly directed innovation with uncertain results. This can complement the tightly directed, requirements-driven certainty in most government programs. The more open approach suggests the notion that at least one type of public sector innovation thrives when unleashed from the low risk tolerance of most government organizations, and when offered safe cover to experiment, and even fail. Think of this as moving along the continuum toward “Uncertainty” where the element of “Directedness” is more about guiding than forcing. Outside-in direction is about providing that safe corral and accelerated processes, not necessarily about dictating, the methods and outcomes. In fact, in these examples, less directed experimentation may win the day by nurturing less fettered creativity and quick insights. The idea of setting innovation capabilities outside the operational organization has been adopted by a number of organizations and has some lineage of success to recommend it.
Not every innovation needs to be a moonshot, nor should it be. Not every innovation project is high-risk, resource intensive, mission critical, nor delivers immediate ROI. If your organization knows the question, but doesn’t know the answer, consider a bimodal approach by planting innovation initiatives outside the operational organization…and see what blooms.
Michael Donovan, Chief Technologist, Manufacturing, DXC Technology
Judy Douglas, Client Industry Executive, Perspecta
Dan Gilbert, Strategist, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
David Park, Director, Digital Services, Perspecta
Diana Zavala, Director, Analytics and Data Services, Perspecta
USAF Holding Innovation Development Challenge for Airmen
From Executive Gov
The U.S. Air Force invites airmen to take part in a competition seeking innovative concepts addressing the military's multi-domain challenges. The Vice Chief’s Challenge, announced at an Air Force Association convention, will provide specific topic areas for which participants develop new applications allowing users to clearly visualize the operational environment, USAF said Tuesday.
“We want to harness the human-machine teaming technology found in the myriad of apps on portable devices and deliver a similar situational awareness capability for the Joint Force,” said Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff.
The competition will task participants to design an app, an algorithm or a different approach to integrate and display data for use in multi-domain operations.
Aspiring participants must submit applications by Feb. 28. The competition will run through September with a culmination ceremony at AFA's next Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
Few Agencies Made Awards to Small Businesses Majority-Owned by Multiple Venture Capital Operating Companies, Hedge Funds, or Private Equity Firms
GAO-19-205R: Published: Dec 21, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 2018.
Among the 11 agencies participating in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, from fiscal years 2015 through 2018, 3 agencies awarded contracts and grants to small businesses majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms (investment companies and funds). Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and the Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences made a total of 62 awards and obligated $43.6 million to such businesses during this period. This amount constituted between 0.1 percent and 2.7 percent of these agencies' obligations for the SBIR program each year.
NIH is the only agency that made awards to small businesses majority-owned by multiple investment companies and funds in all 4 fiscal years in GAO's review. Also during this period, the Department of Defense submitted a written determination to the Small Business Administration and certain Congressional committees as is required prior to making SBIR awards to such companies, but it did not make any such awards. The other seven agencies elected not to use the authority for various reasons. Officials from most of the agencies that elected not to use the authority told GAO they believe that opening their programs to small businesses with majority ownership by multiple investment companies and funds would not substantially contribute to the agencies' missions.
Why GAO Did This Study
To stimulate technological innovation, the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982 amended the Small Business Act to, among other things, call for the establishment of the SBIR program. Federal agencies with obligations of $100 million or more for extramural research or research and development--which is generally conducted by nonfederal employees outside of federal facilities--are required to establish an SBIR program. In fiscal year 2017, the 11 federal agencies that participate in the program awarded about 4,800 federal contracts and grants totaling nearly $2.3 billion to small businesses. The SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 amended the Small Business Act to authorize agencies to allow participation in their SBIR programs by small businesses that are owned in majority part by multiple investment companies and funds. Upon providing a written determination to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)--the agency that oversees the SBIR program--and congressional committees specified in the act, agencies may make SBIR awards to such small businesses.
The Reauthorization Act also included a provision for GAO to conduct a study of the impact of requirements relating to involvement in the SBIR program by investment companies or funds and submit a report to Congress regarding the study every 3 years. This report updates GAO's previous work on this subject by examining, for fiscal years 2015 through 2018, agencies' use of the authority. GAO reviewed agencies' data on their use of the authority and found it reliable for its purposes. GAO also reviewed information in the SBIR program policy directive and conducted semi-structured interviews with program managers from the 11 participating agencies and SBA.
Why We Need More Women In Innovation
From: Business Innovation Brief
Every once in a while I get a comment from an audience member after a keynote speech or from someone who read my book, Mapping Innovation, about why so few women are included. Embarrassed, I try to explain that, as in many male dominated fields, women are woefully underrepresented in science and technology.
This has nothing to do with innate ability. In fact, you don’t have to look far to find women at the very apex of innovation, such as Jennifer Doudna, who pioneered CRISPR or Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who recently received the Breakthrough Prize for her discovery of pulsars. In earlier days, women like Grace Hopper and Marie Curie made outsized impacts.
The preponderance of evidence shows that women can vastly improve innovation efforts, but are often shunted aside. In fact, throughout history, men have taken credit for discoveries that were actually achieved by women. So, while giving women a larger role in innovation would be just and fair, even more importantly it would improve performance.
The Power Of Diversity
Over the past few decades there have been many efforts to increase diversity in organizations. Unfortunately, all too often these are seen more as a matter of political correctness than serious management initiatives. After all, so the thinking goes, why not just pick the best man for the job?
The truth is that there is abundant scientific evidence that diversity improves performance. For example, researchers at the University of Michigan found that diverse groups can solve problems better than a more homogenous team of greater objective ability. Another study that simulated markets showed that ethnic diversity deflated asset bubbles.
While the studies noted above merely simulate diversity in a controlled setting there is also evidence from the real world that diversity produces better outcomes. A McKinsey report that covered 366 public companies in a variety of countries and industries found that those which were more ethnically and gender diverse performed significantly better than others.
The problem is that when you narrow the backgrounds, experiences and outlooks of the people on your team, you are limiting the number of solution spaces that can be explored. At best, you will come up with fewer ideas and at worst, you run the risk of creating an echo chamber where inherent biases are normalized and groupthink sets in.
How Women Improve Performance
While increasing diversity in general increases performance, there is also evidence that women specifically have a major impact. In fact, in one wide ranging study, in which researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon sought to identify a general intelligence score for teams, they not only found that teams that included women got better results, but that the higher the proportion of women was, the better the teams did.
At first, the finding seems peculiar, but when you dig deeper it begins to make more sense. The study also found that in the high performing teams members rated well on a test of social sensitivity and took turns when speaking. Perhaps not surprisingly, women do better on these parameters than men do.
Social sensitivity tests ask respondents to infer someone’s emotional state by looking at a picture (you can try one here) and women tend score higher than men. As for taking turns in conversation, there’s a reason why we call it “mansplaining” and not “womansplaining.” Women usually are better listeners.
The findings of the study are consistent with something I’ve noticed in my innovation research. The best innovators are nothing like the mercurial, aggressive stereotype, but tend to be quiet geniuses. Often they aren’t the kinds of people that are immediately impressive, but those who listen to others and generously share insights.
Changing The Social Dynamic
One of the reasons that women often get overlooked, besides good old fashioned sexism, is that that there are vast misconceptions about what makes someone a good innovator. All too often, we imagine the best innovators to be like Steve Jobs—brash, aggressive and domineering—when actually just the opposite is true.
Make no mistake, great innovators are great collaborators. That’s why the research finds that successful teams score high in social sensitivity, take turns talking and listening to each other rather, rather than competing to dominate the conversation. It is never any one idea that solves a difficult problem, but how ideas are combined to arrive at an optimal solution.
So while it is true that these skills are more common in women, men have the capacity to develop them as well. In fact, probably the best way for men to learn them is to have more exposure to women in the workplace. Being exposed to a more collaborative working style can only help.
So besides the moral and just aspects of getting more women into innovation related fields and giving them better access to good, high paying jobs, there is also a practical element as well. Women make teams more productive.
Building The Next Generation
Social researchers have found evidence that that the main reason that women are less likely to go into STEM fields has more to do with cultural biases than it does with any innate ability. For example, boys are more encouraged to play with building toys during childhood and develop spatial skills early on, while girls can build the same skills with the same training.
Cultural bias also plays a role in the amount of encouragement young students get. STEM subjects can be challenging, and studies have found that boys often receive more support than girls because of educators’ belief in their innate talent. That’s probably why even girls who have high aptitude for math and science are less likely to choose a STEM major than boys of even lesser ability.
Yet cultural biases can evolve over time and there are a number of programs designed to change attitudes about women and innovation. For example Girls Who Code provides training and encouragement for young women and UNESCO’s TeachHer initiative is designed to provide better educational opportunities.
Perhaps most of all, initiatives like these can create role models and peer support. When young women see people like the Jennifer Doudna, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the star physicist Lisa Randall achieve great things in STEM fields, they’ll be more likely to choose a similar path. With more women innovating, we’ll all be better off.
An earlier version of this article first appeared on Inc.com
DEVELOPING AN INNOVATION MINDSET IN GOVERNMENT
From: Booz Allen Hamilton
Today’s agency leaders are challenged to be faster, more efficient, and more sophisticated—potentially with fewer resources. With the recent release of the Administration’s overarching plan for government reform, the pressure continues to grow.
While this environment can be a source of frustration, it’s actually one ripe for innovation because with pressure comes possibility. It’s precisely in this moment of reorganization that leaders should seek opportunities to embed innovation into the employee culture.
Before we review our advice for how leaders can do this, let’s be clear about what innovation isn’t, because many people get stuck right there. Innovation is not:
Looking at our most successful clients, it’s clear that innovation is a cultural mindset—an embedded tolerance to push boundaries, experience setbacks, and apply lessons for the next uphill climb.
So if innovation is a fundamental willingness to evolve, where do you start?
Apply Advice from Top Government Innovators
This summer, we teamed with the Partnership for Public Service to host a roundtable session where 23 senior government executives unpacked this thorny concept of innovation. Participants representing 12 different departments and agencies engaged in dynamic problem-solving exercises on topics such as incentivizing innovation, piloting ideas, collaborating across government, and sustaining success.
Attendees sat in on a panel with government leaders who shared their own personal experiences when pushing for innovation, and who offered the following advice for others in the same situation:
We know that risk taking does not come naturally to the Federal Government. But to drive meaningful change, agency leaders must make it clear that innovation at all levels—and even a healthy amount of failure—is strongly encouraged to better achieve the mission of serving citizens.
Allow Space for Controlled Failure
At Booz Allen, we've addressed similar challenges. A few years ago, we knew we needed to hire new and different skill sets, and take more risks to meet our mission. At the most basic level we developed our Innovation Center, a “safe” collaboration space designed to make day-to-day operations much different for employees tasked with some of our most forward-thinking projects.
As a reminder that failure is part of the journey to success, our first chief innovation officer gave out “get out of jail free” cards, encouraging employees to embrace mistakes during their time at the Innovation Center. This increased tolerance for trial and error helped transform our culture.
There’s no question that government employees want to innovate: 91 percent of employees who took the Federal Viewpoint Survey reported “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better.” The trick is helping leaders recognize great ideas and find ways to act on the best ones. If you don’t experience failures as a government leader, it likely means you’re not taking the risks necessary to advance the mission that brought you here.
For more on this topic, watch Ben, Nyla Beth, and Meroe Park from the Partnership for Public Service, discuss innovation in government.
Modernization Innovation can come in Small (IT Portfolio) Packages
In our previous blog, Innovate IT or Lose IT, we recommended a “Think Big, Act Small” approach to successful IT Modernization. We see that Government Accountability Office (GAO) is like-minded when they noted that agencies using the “big bang” approach-broad scope, delivered over years, reported poor results. So, it’s no surprise that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires agencies to use incremental development to deliver functionality every 6 months. Unlike the broad-scoped “big bang” implementations of yore, there is another, better “big bang” enabled by the combination of Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) and the Management of Government Technology Act (MGT Act). That is the focus on a single enterprise view. That’s the Think Big enterprise-wide context that allows for more impactful, lower risk, incremental implementation. Think Big; Act Small.
It’s a good sign that not only the policies, but also the practices and reporting requirements for FITARA 7.0 and MGT are converging. That means we are looking at the measures that matter; the measures that give us insight to transform effectively. After only a short time in execution, the MGT Act has given agencies new options to “jump start” their incremental modernization initiatives with multiple funding strategies, such as investment from the Technology Modernization Fund and creation of Working Capital Funds for IT Modernization. FITARA continues to enable IT modernization initiatives. For example, FITARA’s PortfolioStat measures support agency portfolio rationalization. This helps agencies focus on a “big picture” strategic plan to modernize and consolidate applications and data, and as importantly, what systems to “turn off”. [See the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council Legacy Modernization Report]
We are seeing the call for CXO-level insight into the current and proposed mission value associated with investment in technology. Agencies’ IT portfolios can be optimized for the good of the enterprise and positioned for Modernization. At agency level, portfolios overlap business applications-some old, some new, some tightly coupled and some loosely coupled- and all vary widely in terms of existing documentation and software maintainability, and varying degrees of security maturity. The question is how to prioritize the available sustainment dollars when updating the applications portfolio: Rationalize first? Modernize first? Add new mission functionality first?
The critical first step is to conduct a top-down, bottom-up analysis of the existing portfolio from multiple perspectives: financial, business, functional and technical. Map the application portfolio components to the tactical and strategic business objectives and produce a roadmap for incremental modernization. The roadmap can illuminate and confirm priorities among multiple stakeholders with modernization dispositions – to decommission/retire, remediate re-platform, consolidate, or enhance applications. “Modernization is now the mission” for agencies as “mature legacy applications” consume over 85% the IT Budget. Effective IT Modernization support the mission through significant savings from reduction in operations costs, through improved time to mission value, a through reduced development costs and through streamlined, more agile portfolio size.
The rationalized, right-sized IT portfolio is critical to unlock needed enterprise agility –unlocking funds and innovative approaches for better mission delivery. It is an essential tool to “think big” about the mission context for IT, and “act small” with surgical strike investments that drive needed modernization.
Stu Hammer, ACT-IAC IT Management & Modernization Community of Interest Industry Chair, and Senior Director, Applications Offering & Advisory Services, Perspecta
Innovation in the News: Accelerating IT Modernization through Acquisition Innovation
Lesley Field, Deputy Administrator in OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and Tim Cooke, President and CEO of ASI Government, leader of this Institute for Innovation Initiative, took the stage at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation ELC 2018 last month. They shared the collaboration of leading acquisition and IT professionals with their mission partners to accelerate the PMA IT modernization goal.
Lesley stressed the need for acquisition professionals to work closely with their mission partners, take advantage of all of the tools available to them, and share their knowledge to improve acquisition results. Tim, who is leading the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation’s “Accelerating IT Modernization Through Acquisition Innovation” initiative, described four workstreams focused on problems, processes, authorities, and successful buying organizations, that will provide federal agencies and the companies that support them with tools and best practices to aid their acquisition efforts. Those products are planned to be made widely available as they are completed in the coming months. In the meantime, you can stay abreast of acquisition innovation events and activities by following the “Acquisition Innovators Daily” newsletter
Cognitive Object Detection Assistant (CODA) - IBM Corporation
IBM won ACT-IAC’s “Transformer” award, at the Igniting Innovation 2018 Conference, for the innovation that uses existing technology to transform or extend existing capabilities resulting in new or broadened applicability and use.
IBM developed the Cognitive Object Detection Assistant (CODA) as a proof of concept. CODA proves early machine learning successes for X-ray baggage screening in the airport checkpoint environment and demonstrates the ability to extend and improve threat object detection performance in comparison to traditional detection methods. CODA augments the presented x-ray image for the operator by highlighting threat and prohibited items, identifying threat type, and providing a confidence score. CODA technology demonstrated a 99 percent detection rate for a handgun threat.
Checkpoint scanners are vital components to threat detection. Checkpoint scanners, built with an operator interface, present X-ray images of each bag to checkpoint operators. These operators have mere seconds to analyze any threats identified by a computer within the scanner and conduct a visual inspection of the bag for any prohibited items. This creates significant cognitive load on the operators as they visually search for nearly 100 prohibited items from gel candles to strike anywhere matches, while also resolving any computer-identified threats before the bag is declared safe to return to the passenger.
CODA provides an innovative approach at tackling two main deficiencies of the X-ray search process. Leveraging IBM Watson’s machine vision approached, CODA employs advanced machine learning techniques to rapidly identify threat. These techniques use models that are trained using supervised learning using tagged image data. At run time, CODA receives an image and compares it to all the threat object models. Selecting the best match, CODA tags the image with the object's name and confidence score. This resulting output is presented in an augmented view to the operator’s conducting the inspection.
Presently, operators must to visually inspect each bag regardless of the level of likelihood that a threat is contained. With further development, CODA could be used to pre-screen bags and only send bags with detected threats downstream for additional physical screening without the need to visually inspect bags through an intermediate process.
CODA provides a consistent and objective aid to facilitate standardized and improved operations by detecting and presenting objects of concern to the operator conducting checkpoint screening. CODA is able to tackle these challenges and potentially reduce the time required for operator analysis. CODA aids in operator threat detection in the checkpoint vetting process. In quantitative terms, CODA demonstrated early successes in detection of 99 percent of bags that had included handgun threat image projections. When trained, CODA can be used to detect any variety of objects. Qualitatively, CODA leads to better trust in checkpoint scanner results through high detection and low false alarm rates.
This team - Alexis Bonnell, Director of Global Innovation, USAID; Arianne Miller, Director of the OPM Lab; Nagesh Rao, Director, Business Technology Solutions, SBA; and James Thompson, Director of Innovation, State Dept Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships - supports the Institute for Innovation "Government Innovation Community" building initiative. Their spirit of “collaboration in action” is demonstrated by their contributions to the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation programs, activities, and in sharing their innovation experiences, programs, and knowledge broadly with the government/industry ecosystem.
Each of the advisors are recognized innovators in their own right. They execute their missions through engagement with diverse communities, including across government and agencies, industry, academia, and non-profits. Together and as individual public servants, they make a difference in the federal community through collaboration, while driving new methods and approaches and creating a more effective, innovative and responsive government.
Together, we have been building a “network of networks”, made up of their communities and stakeholders, along with those of ACT-IAC. As a team, and as individuals, they have taken on responsibilities and actions well beyond our hopes. Below are just some examples of their contributions.
Alexis Bonnell, Director of Global Innovation, USAID, served as Government Co-chair of Igniting Innovation 2018. She worked with her industry chair and the planning team to expand the showcase and awards program to a full-blown conference. With the benefit of the “network of networks”, attendance surpassed previous numbers by over 50%. (It is also worth noting that Alexis and Her team were award winners in the prior year).
Arianne Miller, Director of the OPM Lab, initiated the idea of a government-wide Innovation Inventory. She and members of her team worked with volunteers to confirm the use case, identify data sources, select a taxonomy, and conceptualize search and visualization needs. She also worked with the Innovators Circle and facilitators in a collaborative Innovation Zone that was delivered at ELC and at Acquisition Excellence conferences, as well as the Partner-Voyager Joint Training Day (Alexis led this, too), to educate participants on how to innovate using Human-centered Design methods.
Nagesh Rao, Director, Business Technology Solutions, SBA (Former Chief Technologist, Office of Investment and Innovation, SBIR/STTR). Nagesh established an electronic and social media community to support the SBIR/STTG program. It was so successful it began attracting innovation-interested people beyond this stakeholder community. When Nagesh joined us as an advisor, he quickly saw the possibilities of leveraging the work he had done into something even more impactful. He proposed merging his LinkedIn Group community of over 2,000 people with the newly launched one associated with the Institute for Innovation. Nagesh was hands-on in working with the ACT-IAC and SBA teams, and in communicating with his group members to assure a seamless transition to the new LinkedIn Group, ”Innovation Ecosystems Community-Powered by ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation”.
James Thompson, Director of Innovation, State Dept Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships. Jim is recognized for his leadership in developing public-private partnerships, and has developed many methods to assure critical communications supporting Foreign Service Officers all over the world. He and his team are guiding the ACT-IAC team in use of technology to reach a far-flung audience. He is providing technical and tools experience to aid in Government Innovation webinars, videos, and other outreach that will accelerate the pace and breadth of uptake for innovations. The next initiative will leverage Igniting Innovation finalists whose innovations could support aspects of the President’s Management Agenda and Cross-agency goals in areas such as IT Modernization. A series of webinars and YouTube-posted videos will help spread the learning and experience more readily. This will benefit not only State Dept employees, world-wide, but also government, industry and academic colleagues through ACT-IAC.
See some highlights of their activity in Institute for Innovation's InnOvation Newsletters: https://www.actiac.org/innovation-newsletter-0