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'Innovation' Without a Business Case Is A Waste of Time, Says FCC Official

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Federal agencies shouldn't focus too much on "innovation," however buzzworthy, if it doesn't actually advance their mission, according to one tech executive.

The Federal Communications Commission has a set of "intrapreneurs" embedded across the organization, and they try to work very closely with the operating units.

"If I can't tell our customers why I'm making their lives better, or I'm making us more secure ... then, we're just wasting our time," John Skudlarek, FCC's deputy chief information officer, said during a panel in Washington hosted Tuesday by the incubator DCode42.

Rolling out Office 365 across the group, for instance, showed that IT teams weren't always aware of employees' daily workflow, he said.

For employees, "[I]t was like, 'I was perfectly happy with my old Microsoft Office,'" Skudlarek said. "When you have folks that have a regular, daily interaction [with technology], it helps a lot to ensure that the right priorities are being accounted for."

Innovation-related projects are more likely to succeed, and attract support from leadership and customers, if they solve a specific business problem, he said.  

Skudlarek said the commission has debuted three new cloud applications this week: a new electronic comment filing tool, a repository for online public inspections, and an emergency alert protocol test reporting system. The first two are built using Amazon Web Services; the third is supported by Appian.

The day before the emergency alert application launched, stakeholders informed FCC there were several changes that needed to be made, Skudlarek said.

In past years, "to have to rip the app back open, re-code it, recompile it and put it out ... could be days, if not weeks, and a huge expense," he explained.

A more agile, piecemeal approach to the development of that system meant most of those problems could be fixed within a single day, and it went live shortly thereafter, Skudlarek said.

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