Using technology for innovation in government

Monday - 11/21/2011, 7:09pm EST

Jim Beaupre and Mary Davie of ACT-IAC

Download mp3

By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

Leaders from industry and government agencies face many of the same challenges. Where those two groups intersect is in the arena of governance. One organization that has helped to bring industry and government leaders together to improve governance through innovation is the American Council for Technology (ACT) & Industry Advisory Council (IAC)

Jim Beaupre, chairman of ACT & IAC and Mary Davie, ACT president and assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services at the General Services Administration, joined In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss driving innovation for government. They brought highlights and lessons learned from this year's Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

According to Davie, ACT & IAC was created to engage government and industry in improving the effectiveness and use of IT in government.

"The challenge for industry, of course, is how to bring innovative technology, how to get agencies to accept them and we look at ACT-IAC as that sandbox, if you will, that allows industry and government to get together and not promote any single company, but talk about collaborative efforts to come up with innovations and also to be able to have an opportunity to present innovations," Beaupre said.

Jim Beaupre, chairman of ACT & IAC (ACTgov.org)

The recent Executive Leadership Conference was an opportunity for industry and government leaders to share their ideas on innovation.

"Given the environment we're in, people really are looking to connect and learn from each other and there's a lot of ongoing initiatives right now in government that are supporting agencies to collaborate and to talk more about shared services, shared services, things like that. We in ACT-IAC provide a lot of forums for that dialogue and have for years," Davie said. "What we want to do is to pick up on some of those themes and things that people really wanted to learn from and make sure that those discussions continue to happen through the shared interests groups and the training programs that we have and the other events we are having throughout this year and that's what we'll be working toward."

Addressing industry frustration

"Industry is frustrated," Beaupre said. "We have innovations and we'd like to bring them to agencies. We bring them to government, but there are challenges. Some of it is the acquisition rules the prevent them from bringing innovations forward."

One of ACT-IAC's functions is to bring together companies to generate a solution that is not prejudiced toward one company over another. Beaupre described how the Office of Management and Budget came to ACT-IAC to look at how the agency could move its legacy systems to more current systems. ACT-IAC assembled 25 companies to work on the problem. They produced an answer that was non-partisan and that OMB was satisfied with.

The challenge in a situation like that is to ensure that the participants are working toward the solution and not their own gains. "You have to have them leave their corporate hat at the door and really work on the problem," Beaupre said.

Davie has seen this process work in her own agency. "We didn't even think of it as 'What company are you from?'" she said. "It's 'Do you have an interest in this? Do you have a passion for it? Do you know something about it? And what can we do to improve the government buying process? To improve requirements development? To reach a broader audience?'"

"I have seen it and worked with it personally, and I would certainly encourage other agencies to raise their hand and ask for help," she said.

Its mission is innovation

To facilitate the process of industry and government coming together, ACT-IAC recently launched the Institute for Innovation.

"We wanted to make sure that the resources we were putting on these strategic programs were really the right ones," Davie said. "We wanted to make sure we had a way in which we vetted those projects and made sure that we're putting the right folks on it and really getting the biggest 'bang for the buck' in government, so we decided to formalize it and created the Institute for Innovation."

Under this new construct, a committee of industry executives reviews potential projects and then presents recommendations to ACT-IAC's executive committee. Among the first projects under consideration will be the Quadrennial Government Technology Review. "It's a set of advisories to go between each election," Beaupre said. The review will address issues such as budget, mobility and cybersecurity and present a report to the incoming administration.

Mary Davie, ACT president and assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services at the General Services Administration (GSA)

In the wake of the Executive Leadership Conference, ACT-IAC began to receive ideas from government and industry leaders on how to use technology to save budget dollars. "There's been quite a number of ideas that have been vetted different ways," Beaupre said. "That's the nice thing about ACT-IAC, we're there to receive any way you want to talk to us."

GSA recently implemented Google Mail, Davie said, and they have been sharing their experiences with other agencies. "We're sharing our statement of work," she said. "We're giving them all the what went right as well as what we could have done differently." She's seeing more and more agencies coming together to share their experiences.

Less talk, more action

Beupre would like to see more practical application of IT rather than talk about the potential savings it might bring. "The real savings is using IT and applications that aren't being automated today," he said. "Farmers out in the field using mobility, we've got to move IT from just talking about how we can save money in IT and using IT to save money. It's a different issue all together."

What needs to happen is agencies have to consider how IT departments can positively impact an agency's overall mission rather than just being the keepers of the technology. "It's not about managing the IT budget, it's about using that budget to save money across the agencies," he said.

Recently, ACT-IAC met with congressional staffers and industry leaders to discuss innovation and how Congress views the issues. "Their challenge is 'Hey, all we hear about is these projects that spend a lot of money, we need to see a return on investment before we go allocate dollars to these large IT projects.' That is part of the challenge. We need to educate them what really goes on."

ACT-IAC is always looking for new agency and industry leaders to share their knowledge of creating innovative solutions. "There's lots of areas to join and get involved," Beaupre said. "People are willing to volunteer, you just have to tell them what to volunteer for." He added that ACT-IAC's shared interest group, which has eight areas of interest, is good place to start.

"Our conferences have themes that allow people to help on the planning committees and shape how the dialogue is going to take place," Beaupre said. "There's lots of entry points into the organization. People need to just step up and say 'I'd like to be involved.'"

ACT-IAC's conferences are different in that they gather input from both industry leaders and government agencies to set the agendas. "We collaborate. That's what makes us different," Beaupre said. "Our planning committees are always half government volunteers and half industry volunteers, so the issues are what both sides are talking about.

Upcoming ACT-IAC events include the Acquisition Excellence Conference on March 29, 2012, in Washington, D.C.; the Small Business Conference, April 19, in Washington, D.C.; and the Management of Change Conference, June 3-5, in Cambridge, Md.

Check out more interviews and coverage from the 2011 Executive Leadership Conference