How open innovation can transform the government technology playing field
“Open” tournaments in sports — such as the U.S. Open in tennis or golf — bring together the best players in the world, and the public sees high performance achieved as the field narrows. But a key feature of open competitions is the possibility of new entrants who bring innovative play to qualifying tournaments that precede the main event. These new entrants can develop approaches that allow them to raise the level of play for all players based on creative strategies and strong execution.
While not a perfect analogy, a similar spirit is enabling open innovation in the development of new technologies by players in the government IT market. The past decade has seen a rapid shift to open government and open data as key principles for agencies, starting with the advent of the Open Government policies of the Obama Administration in 2009. These policies have been supported through the recent passage of legislation, including the OPEN Government Data Act of 2018 and the highly visible expansion of the Federal Data Strategy in the President’s Management Agenda. The implementation of these efforts has brought new entrants to the development of new applications that add value to government data.
Government is now at the cusp of a similar leap forward through the advancement of open digital platforms that drive new technologies, which allow agencies to achieve better and more efficient results in serving the public.
Open IT transformation rests on three pillars, expanded on below:
- An interoperable infrastructure allows agencies to access and integrate across multiple, secure cloud-based systems.
- Cloud-based platforms, in turn, speed the secure development of new technology applications, including robotics process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI).
- Advanced technologies like these set up the next wave of innovation and massive expansion of accessible data that will arise with the advance of 5G wireless networks and even quantum computing.
The government’s use of cloud computing has evolved considerably since this term became associated with the ability of agencies to access their IT through providers that were not housed within their internal networks. It was 10 years ago this month that the IBM Center published one of the first studies on government use of cloud computing, which described early applications, challenges, and opportunities from this emerging paradigm. The report noted that a key challenge to effective implementation was “the need for open standards and interoperability.”
In 2011, the Office of Management and Budget issued a Federal Cloud Strategy that included the “Cloud First” policy. This policy provided guidance to agencies to leverage the cloud-based approaches of infrastructure, software, and platform as a service as first preferences for new IT investments. OMB noted that migration to the cloud would enable agencies to “tap into private sector innovation” and encourage an “entrepreneurial culture” — both of which are also benefits of open networks.
Cloud First remained in place until OMB updated the policy as “Cloud Smart” in September. 2018. Cloud Smart focused on expanded agency capacity to bolster security in the cloud, procure effective and leading-edge commercial solutions, and enhance the skills of IT workers in cloud-based applications. The update also called on agencies to “conduct regular evaluations of customer experience and user needs” and to “track their growth in areas where decisions about technology intersect other disciplines.” Both of these actions are optimized only if done as part of an open ecosystem promoting feedback and engagement.
The technology behind cloud platforms now available to government has advanced to the point where secure, effective operations can be achieved over multi-cloud networks that rely on open standards to achieve interoperability and improve portability of workloads and data between clouds. This trend applies regardless of whether agencies rely on “public” commercially available systems, “private” systems that reside inside agency computing environments, or “hybrid” systems that link the two across an agency enterprise. Importantly, multi-cloud approaches enable development of new innovation that does not rely on a single network, expanding the scope of application development resources across open networks.
This is a key success factor behind IT modernization for agencies often still dependent on legacy systems. As noted in the IBM Center’s March 2018 report, A Roadmap for IT Modernization in Government, federal agencies can learn from the experience of commercial and state government CIOs who embraced open innovation strategies to modernize outdated infrastructure in a phased “two-speed” approach. Such an approach enables modernization toward the cloud to proceed in phases of rapid change followed by stabilization of that change
Government has made recent and significant progress in building networks of practitioners interested in collaborating across a broad suite of emerging technologies. Within the government, new communities of practice have advanced around RPA and AI. In addition, government-industry collaborative associations have seen a surge of interest in groups like the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) Emerging Technology Community of Interest.
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