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FCW : June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014 FCW.COM 17 The rst point is demonstrably true. The second, however, is far too facile. After all, some of those "traditional" contractors were quite successful on a number of individ- ual state health insurance exchange initiatives. Even CGI Federal --- the company most often vili ed as "fail- ing" on HealthCare.gov --- achieved great success on Recovery.gov, the highly visible initiative that support- ed the economic stimulus program. And many of the actual " xes" to the HealthCare.gov system were made by the very individuals who were involved in the original, troubled launch. In other words, the problems iden- ti ed in the HealthCare.gov asco are more complex and nuanced than some would lead us to believe. To better understand those prob- lems and the ways in which they can be overcome, one needs to take a closer look at what was common to the successes and the failures, and vice versa. Although the qual- ity and capabilities of all involved in the process remain crucial, of equal if not greater primacy were clearly de ned requirements, process dis- cipline, management capacity and other factors largely unrelated to who was doing the work. Technical skills are essential, but driving success in complex circum- stances also requires deep environ- mental awareness and strong man- agement and leadership. Members of the trauma team clearly brought critical levels of the latter, but with- out experience and environmental awareness, they, too, would likely have failed. Nonetheless, a lack of experience and awareness is becoming increas- ingly common across government. And it is creating a troubling discon- nect that threatens to undermine the government s performance and its credibility with taxpayers. The keys to sustainable change That disconnect is not unique to government. Indeed, it formed the core of Yiren Lu s thoughtful March 16 New York Times Magazine story "Silicon Valley s Youth Problem." Lu is a 28-year-old graduate student in computer science at Columbia Uni- versity who has spent considerable time in Silicon Valley. Her perception is that her peers are motivated by the chance to disrupt existing paradigms and practices, and top coders and developers do so with uncommon creativity and brilliance. But Lu also observes that most of the major technological advances still emanate from "old guard" com- panies, including Apple, Cisco and IBM, which her peers tend to view with varying degrees of disdain and for which few of them want to work. Thus, the "youth problem" she describes is a study in irony: a com- munity that is extraordinarily adept at nding new and exciting applications for technologies that are, in large part, made possible by the very entities its members tend to hold in low regard. But it is more than irony at the heart of Lu s article. She reminds us that in technology as elsewhere, there are critical bridges that are central to innovation and that real innova- tion typically results from a combi- nation of forces. It requires technol- ogy, highly creative applications of that technology, and a depth of sys- temic understanding and awareness that provides the requisite insight for scaling the rst two elements to make a meaningful difference. It is often the latter element that ultimately deter- mines whether a project succeeds or fails. As Tom Agan, founder of innova- tion and brand consulting rm Rivia, reported in 2013, research has shown that the average age of the most impactful innovators is much higher than most people realize. Although the impetus for change and the most creative thinking often come from younger, less constrained minds, the ability to implement and scale in ways that drive sustainable change requires time and experience. After all, how can you disrupt and create sustain- able change if you don t know what s there and how to navigate around it? Thus, it should come as no surprise that the most impactful innovators are far more likely to be individuals like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Nick Woodman than Mark Zuckerberg. This brings us back to the Time article and to the role of the discon- nect in government. Recognizing the value of disruptive capabilities, the government is experimenting with a variety of ways to access and capital- ize on them: procurement contests, crowdsourcing, NASA s Internation- al Space Apps Challenge, the U.S. Agency for International Develop- ment s Global Development Lab, and the innovation funds now resident in agencies such as the departments of Education, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. Each of those initiatives seeks to identify and access creative, scalable ideas. Each also recognizes the sometimes- restrictive nature of the federal acqui- sition process and is based on a desire to open the government s aperture. Yet each also recognizes the impor- tance of competition and is conduct- ed in a manner that is open to all relevant, quali ed parties, including current participants and new entrants into the government marketplace. The projects leaders don t presume that any one segment or community has N
June 30, 2014
July 15, 2014