Emerging Technologies Will Disrupt Government. Here’s What to Do About It.

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Forward-thinking government leaders can follow these steps to stay ahead of the curve.

As new technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and blockchain disrupt every industry more quickly than ever before, forward-thinking government leaders know that it’s important for them to stay ahead of the curve.

But with limited resources, how can government leaders identify which new approaches are most relevant to their mission so that they can capitalize on opportunities and mitigate threats? How can they take a concept and figure out where and how to apply it across their enterprise in a meaningful way?

“Push innovation” is one approach. It refers to the process of starting with a new solution or technology and then identifying problems to which it can be applied, instead of taking the more traditional approach of starting with a pain point or challenge. “Push” techniques augment traditional innovation strategies, which government organizations can use to keep abreast of emerging approaches and technologies, but most importantly, diagnose where and how to apply them for maximum impact.

Here are seven key steps that can enable an organization to stay ahead of the curve, identify new disruptive technologies, and apply those technologies to its mission space.

  1. Horizon Scanning: A horizon scan is a digital, research or network-driven effort to identify emerging technologies or solutions by systematically analyzing information and trends. The United Kingdom’s Horizon Scanning Programme recommends seeking out future technologies, which includes a broad analysis of societal, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal and ethical areas. In the U.S., the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate provides technology scouting services to its programs. A program can submit a horizon scanning inquiry to “maintain constant awareness of the technology space to inform project managers of impactful breakthroughs or alternatives.”
  2. Use Case Identification: Once emerging solutions have been identified, it is equally important to determine how they might be applied to an organization’s mission. This requires an evaluation of where and how the technology/solution is being applied in other industries and sectors. Last year, the General Services Administration’s Emerging Citizen Technology Office launched the Emerging Citizen Technology Atlas, an open-source repository of Federal use-cases for emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
  3. Selection of Technology: Once a technology and potential use cases have been identified, scenario planning allows an organization to articulate what could result from the adoption—or the lack of adoption—of that technology. The National Intelligence Council regularly engages in scenario planning to produce quadrennial assessments of the forces and technologies driving changes across the globe.
  4. Scenario Planning: Scenario planning sets the stage for selecting which technology or technologies to focus innovation efforts around. Scenarios should be evaluated based on the overall level of benefit or threat they present, cost and return-on-investment estimates, timeframe, and likelihood of the scenario occurring. Each organization should make an independent assessment of potential technologies/approaches for incorporation into their broader innovation efforts, based on their unique organizational priorities.
  5. Business Case Development: The selection of a given technology/approach is not the same as selecting the specific ways in which the organization will use it for innovation. The “Business Case Development” phase of the push innovation process focuses on helping an organization make specific investment decisions around potential use cases for that technology.
  6. Use Case Selection: Based on results of the business cases for each application of the technology/solution, a sub-set of these applications should be selected for development as pilots. If funding exists for multiple pilots, a set of projects should be selected that can be managed as a portfolio that balances risk and return and can be integrated into a broader set of innovation efforts. This approach helps offset the risk and longer time horizons of more transformational projects with more immediate returns of less impactful but less risky (and more rapidly implemented) efforts.
  7. Deployment: Even good ideas often fail when they are tested or scaled ineffectively. The public sector organizations most effective at piloting, evaluating and scaling innovations combine a structured, data-driven methodology with technology tools. Pilots should be continuously re-evaluated for efficacy and to see if they are achieving desired impact, with go/no-go decisions made based on the evaluation criteria used to select the use cases for piloting.

With public sector organizations constantly under pressure to meet the demands of their missions with tight budgets and strong oversight, adopting emerging technology can be challenging. Push innovation presents an opportunity to instead act as a fast-follower, incorporating more cutting-edge, transformational innovation into a public sector organization’s broader innovation portfolio.

RJ Krawiec is a principal for Deloitte Consulting and its Government and Public Services practice’s Chief Marketing Officer for its customer experience offering and Alan Holden is an innovation specialist leader for Deloitte Consulting in its Government and Public Services practice.