The three legs of government modernization

Microsoft was among the many companies asked to participate in the President’s Forum on Modernizing Government earlier this month, and last week CivSource spoke to two Microsoft executives about what modernization means for state and local government and how collaboration, technology and change management can enable more effective government.

On January 14, President Barack Obama invited 50 of the country’s top chief executives to discuss how the federal government can streamline business processes and improve service delivery from a private sector viewpoint. According to Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients, some of the key takeaways from the Forum on Modernizing Government was to measure customer satisfaction and improve customer service; manage long-term business transformation and IT projects; and prioritizing technology investments and the overall technology budget to deliver results.

Microsoft was among the many companies asked to participate in the Forum, and last week CivSource spoke to two Microsoft executives about what modernization means for state and local government and how collaboration can be combined with technology to enable more effective government.

“There’s a great appetite in government,” Gail Thomas-Flynn, vice president of state and local government at Microsoft said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity in state and local [government] regarding the impact of technology as a transformative solution.”

Thomas says the economic crisis is impacting budgets in such profound ways, from decreased sales and personal income tax to a greater reliance on benefits like unemployment and food stamps, that government’s problems are being looked at more pragmatically.

“The perfect storm emerging [with state bugets] illuminates some of the challenges in government, relative to the silos that exist.”

Some areas of government that stand to realize the greatest returns on modernization are in security and health and human services – two of the largest chunks of any state and local budget. According to Ms. Thomas, Microsoft is working with several states and cities to help develop interoperable solutions for case management and law enforcement systems.

The Illinois State Police Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health both utilize a host of Microsoft technologies that help front-line workers manage data, facilitate information-sharing and “connect the dots” to reveal a single view of their clients’ needs or allow them to view the entire intelligence cycle, from threat assessment to analysis.

“We’ve seen a lot of advances in the last decade to connect systems,” Thomas said. “Again with the crisis and the health agenda getting attention, there’s a need to connect a lot of the silos.”

But according to Microsoft’s director of Collaboration Solutions, Dean Iacovelli, modernization is equally dependent on people as it is on technology.

“The modernization of government is a bear of a topic,” Iacovelli says, “but a common thread is leveraging your investments. People are probably the most valuable and expensive investments any company or agency has.”

Iacovelli spoke of “missed connections” and “human latencies” and he says a prime example is the missed phone call. “67 percent of phone calls go to voice mail. Phone tag is a great example of human latency; it delays the end result because many times someone can’t move forward with the task at hand.”

When you use technology to breakdown barriers, you can help people in government deliver better people-driven outcomes, Iacovelli says.

But perhaps the most critical part of any modernization strategy, the two argued, is effective change management. “There’s a growing discomfort in ‘Hoover Dam’ projects,” Iacovelli added. “One of the things Microsoft spends a lot of time and thought on is user experience.”

“It’s really a three legged stool – people, technology, and business processes – technology can be a huge enabler, but the more challenging areas are people and business processes,” Thomas said. “You can’t just throw technology on top.”