John O'Leary is a former GOVERNING contributor. He is co-author of "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government."E-mail: email@example.com
After a technology is developed, it generally takes years if not decades for management to learn how to leverage that technology to create efficiencies. Which means that the recent explosion of technology tools represents a huge untapped opportunity.
A case in point: my new Droid smartphone. I have just begun to tap into the incredible stuff it can do. For example, have you ever been listening to the radio and said, 'Oh, I love this song. I wish I knew who sings it'? Well, now you can download an app for it. Your phone will listen to the song, identify it, tell you all about it and even let you buy it on the spot.
The proliferation of apps is dizzying. My phone can do far more than I know how to ask it to do, and that is a good thing. Over time, I'll learn how to make more and more use of the information processing power I now hold in the palm of my hand.
Innovation potential exists when technologies outstrip management's ability to put them to good use. Right now, there appears to be a massive gap between what information technology can do and what government is asking it to do.
Happily, a whole slew of smart folks in government are working to change that.
The folks at The American Council for Technology -- Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) recently honored seven government IT initiatives for promoting public-sector excellence through technology. As is often the case, the breakthrough benefit comes not from some new technology, but from applying an existing technology to an old process. For example, the U.S. Forest Service was receiving 17,000 paper applications for whitewater rafting annually in Idaho's Four Rivers Recreation Area. A simple online application process reduced paper submissions by 60 percent the first year.
Another award-winning technical application involved the use of substituting plastic for paper, enabling recipients of benefits who are outside the normal banking world to get benefits on a debit card, eliminating the need for paper checks. According to the award, this creates "a safer, more convenient way to receive their federal benefit payments than paper checks. With over a billion payments made to more than 100 million people annually, converting from paper to electronics, could result in a potential costs savings of 93 cents for each transaction."
Given the recent explosion of technology, you can be sure that virtually every existing process has within it a potential to squeeze costs by introducing proven IT solutions. The technology is there. It is our understanding of how to use it that is the limiting factor.