Let’s Convert Lessons Observed into Lessons Learned

There’s a strong desire in the Federal Government to not only find innovative technologies – but to find innovative technology companies not presently doing business with the Federal Government.

The Administration signaled the desire to find them and agencies, everywhere, are on the hunt. DC echoes with conversations about how to conduct market research to find them, and lower their “barriers to entry” into the Federal market. Conference sessions are planned on the topic.

While government should and will partner with technology companies, a misplaced optimism has sprung up around this search. There’s a holy grail, pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow yearning that is risky.

Problem 1: Too many people equate innovation and technology. Innovation involves changes to technology and the business model – how an agency is structured and functions to meet its mission. Technology change can lead to business model change, or vice versa. The best innovation plans both in an integrated way. The point is that innovating to solve a problem – doing something different to get a better result for the customer – isn’t a pure technology play.

Problem 2: I sense some magical thinking as part of this hunt for unfound technology companies. There’s a hopefulness in the search, almost a fervor, that solutions exist. Not just technologies. Solutions! People are sure companies exist that must have already figured out what the government needs to know. The challenge is to just find them, to meet in a Technology Match.com and get their solutions deployed.

How many times must we relearn the lesson that the big challenge isn’t deciding what to buy. It’s in knowing what to do with what you buy.

Problem 3: The government must understand that some technology companies have made business decisions to not do business with government. They’re not looking for lower barriers to entry into the government market. So what will be the ROI of a lot of government time and effort spent courting them?

Problem 4: Why does a government agency want to be an early adopter of a cutting-edge technology? There’s a technology adoption curve for a reason. Major commercial companies have been enormously successful as fast followers into markets with a new technology. They timed adoption after bugs were worked out and fit the technology to their business model – or changed their business model to use the technology wisely.

Most CIOs – not all, but most – want to follow a little later in the adoption curve for very good reasons. And let’s be honest. A new generation of technology will exist by the time an agency deploys its next one. Government need not concern itself with early adoption. Smart adoption would be a good thing for government’s customers.

So What’s The Problem?

I don’t see government finding what it’s looking for in this search. I see it spending time and money learning what it already knows. The innovation government needs is in its business model, reassessing how it’s structured and functions to meet missions, especially new mission requirements.

Unthinking what agencies believe they know about customers and rethinking how to deliver value to them will enable the strategic, cost-effective use of technology. Put the technology cart before the business horse, and…well, we all know what that accident looks like.

Let’s convert lessons observed into lessons learned, and not chase rainbows.

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