Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I’m a buzzword...

...And I couldn't be happier about it. Buzzwords are how movements begin. And the state knows we need to move.. There’s a problem we need to tackle, and that is my job.

Digital transformation officer.

It’s definitely a hot title right now, but what does it really mean? I can’t tell you what it means to all of the other folks throwing out similar buzzword titles (my fellow transformation-innovation-inspiration-thought-ambassadors), but I can share my experience and goals. And what I am doing at the State of Colorado.

We Are Not Unique Snowflakes


All these titles are really geared toward a challenge that exists in many organizations. This challenge is the growing need for traditional, public-utility-type IT shops to morph into academic-like, consulting shops looking over the horizon, identifying and proliferating new technologies and figuring out how to adopt an increasingly digitized workforce that has undermined the traditional gravity centers of technology knowledge and experience.

In gov today, good ideas die everyday before they get socialized. IT shops, more comfortable in traditional legacy systems, stick their heads in the sand and act as if third party, web-based productivity apps don’t exist or aren’t their responsibility and fail to respond or adequately research alternatives to tools already in-hand, or -- worse yet -- dismiss new ideas behind poorly crafted and indefensible security posturing.

Innovation + Tools CRUSH Bureaucratic Inertia


Anyone can take an existing bad process and make it a bad cloud-based process. The challenge is to engage, understand, lead and assist to make processes that are more user-friendly and bring that to the external-facing and internal processes of government. We need to break the cycle of building apps based on horsepower, failing to take the features into account that actually make a car worth driving -- driveability, color, feel, likeability, etc. Art is the capitalist driver as to why you buy and do many of the things you do… and it should play a role at work. User experience is something government has overlooked for far too long.

There are a lot of factors working against innovation in government. Leaders resist change from legacy systems out of fear of becoming obsolete. Job rotation and networking -- something not traditionally embedded in government organization culture -- is essential. And of course, innovation is easy to preach if you don’t actually have to make it happen.

The key is more a communications issue than a technology one. It involves training senior leaders, illuminating that everyone has a role to play in innovation, and capitalizing on the fact that most innovation is spurred by wanting to break things that need breaking.

The Ground Has Shifted: Users Are Tech Savvy


In this effort, one singular truth surfaced…innovation is driven not by technology, but by people who care about what they do and are searching for ways to do it better. The explosion of user-available technology, combined with a growing population of technically-savvy users, has presented a new era for IT shops to provide more solutions and manage this digital Wild Wild West. IT needs to lead, assist and become intimate with the people and challenges.

IT Has Expanded


Over the past several years I have been lucky enough to gather smiles and scars on the bleeding edge of government culture change as the Director of Google Operations for the State of Colorado. We took a collaboration-loving platform with 78 applications traditionally not available to program staff and unleashed it on the bureaucracy of government. Starting from a myopic focus on email consolidation of our 30 thousand users, today we continue to exponentially expand apps to include email and calendar, for sure, but also 13.5 million docs in drive, 715 sites, and an ever-growing number of applications moving from legacy systems to find a new, cloud home in Google Cloud Platform.

All that effort being done, the sad truth is that most of it was still done in a silo, on a Google Team, largely unconnected and uncoordinated with other services we as an office offer. Our business analysts, program managers and solution engineers continued to operate under decision-making protocols largely dictated by familiarity with systems closest to them or to fill license obligations, not necessarily based on the right tool for the task. In this new role, our aim is to bridge this knowledge void.

So….What To Do?


Well, the first step was recognizing the problem and committing to do something about it. Ergo, Digital Transformation Officer. Second is to generate a system to make change.

In the near term, we have two main goals:
  1. Accelerate innovation
  2. Focus on user experience
Awesome. More buzzwords. What do they mean?


To accelerate innovation, we will aggressively highlight and promote innovation efforts, train staff on new technologies, create an environment where teams learn through hands-on lessons, and establish a bimodal partnership with emerging program-side leaders. Together we will guide the trajectory of technology efforts for improving citizen touch points while aligning with our customers’ business strategies.

Additionally, our focus on user experience has been an afterthought in state technology, where emphasis on platform functionality outweighed customer desired outcomes. This results in overly complex interactions with state data systems, reducing data utility and access. This must stop. Given increasing user demand for streamlined, personalized experience via mobile devices, online and text-based interactions, user experience is now the starting point in ensuring data entered and returned in a system is good. It’s like a long-term relationship. You have to make the first date count. It’s that good first impression that grows into love with more information, adjustments, and understanding. To be successful in accommodating user experience, we must develop interfaces that people like -- or at least don't hate -- and then build more complex tools and relationships as time goes on.

To focus on user experience, we are going to assess official Colorado and semi-official websites and recommend improvement based on user experience, visibility and utility. We will also create user experience standards, policies and practices.

In short, we’re going to break stuff that needs breaking and build stuff that needs building. As a gov-lifer myself there is no where I would rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing. I hope you want to pitch in, too! Can’t change it if we aren’t part of it, right? Might even have some fun along the way :)

Brandon Williams
Digital Transformation Officer, State of Colorado
On Twitter at @bwwilliams

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