Author: Aleta Jeffress, Chief Information Officer, City of Aurora
Most people hear the word “government” and think “slow to change.” Since I have spent a large portion of my career in government, I can understand the sentiment. What most people don’t understand is government, and other large, “slower-moving” corporations and even small startups have a lot to gain from creating an innovation framework. The challenge is building a change management structure first, which then supports an on-going cycle of innovation.
The First Step is Auditing the Process
In late 2011, the Department of Revenue for Indiana had a couple of challenges. They misplaced funding which, naturally, led to a lot of inquiry and trickle down. I went into the state as a consultant the following summer to do a risk assessment. I and another individual uncovered at a high-level the department’s processes of doing business to find out what had transpired so we could help determine where the money went, which we ultimately found.
After going through the high-level exercise, we helped bring in Deloitte who did a six-month deep dive to uncover the core issues within the department. Because of my work there, the department asked me to come in as CIO and “fix” what I found was wrong with IT. As result of the process review and then Deloitte’s full blown audit, in addition to the IRS conducting a bi-annual audit and the annual state office audit, we realized we had to be diligent in what we needed to change, and how to go about it.
Change Management is Hard, But Worth It
Walking into that environment, I was faced with a lot of chaos from people who had been there a long time using legacy business processes. From an IT perspective, it was ripe for an overhaul. From a change management perspective, it was important to lay it all out on the table: here is what we have and here are the challenges. But the issue with change management is usually legacy individuals who have been in a position for a long time and who think, “we have always done it this way; why change?”
For the Department of Revenue, it was up to the IT Project Management Office to create the governance structure around change. We had new executives to educate so we created a process for all division executives to meet weekly – this was unheard of in the department. We took everything we learned from those audits, along with suggestions from our new Strategic Transformation Initiatives Leader whose job it was to “stir the pot,” to identify the things we needed to improve. Every week we would evaluate what was on the table and aligned it to the departments’ vision statement in addition to what the Governor’s office was trying to accomplish. We also set up an algorithm for evaluating projects. This process was very structured, but it left a lot of flexibility since we knew what was best for the organization and could easily change course at any point in a project simply because we checked in each week.
Again, this governance process was never done before as it required executive staff to spend 90 minutes every week, and it was painful at first to explain the process to everyone. However, after two years of managing projects this way, the project list became very clean and clear. The big takeaway was more important – that the division heads could see that collective decision-making has a huge impact in how each division can meet their goals. This set up the department for overall success.
How Change Management Leads to the Innovation Framework
One of the things I’ve discovered since being at the City of Aurora is that there is a lot of established process. Uncovering those processes and figuring out how to improve those takes a lot of time, and it takes work to build relationships with other directors. You should have productive conversations to ensure other departments that IT is here to support them. My goal is to make each department successful by enabling the best technology. I don’t succeed if my customers don’t.
There are also employees who have cool ideas but IT isn’t able to support them yet because they aren’t considered official projects. We saw those ideas and realized we should create a mechanism to support people and create innovation. Aurora is in a position where we want to accomplish big enterprise projects, but also, we need to figure out how to get those smaller projects initiated and completed successfully.
Not only does IT vet those projects but we must ensure that the business side has the opportunity to provide input as well. The goal is to have a conversation such as, “Here is what Department A needs and here is what Department B needs and what are their dependencies? What is the priority? IT and governance processes must be in place so when people innovate, we give them a mechanism to implement and to support that culture of innovation going forward.
When I put the framework into place at the Department of Revenue it was a bit simpler because it was all contained into one department. Now I am at a city where there are twice as many directors, some with their own budgets, which requires a higher level of collaboration and intentional conversation to get things done. As you develop an innovation framework, you should consider your stakeholders, their processes, and the organizational culture around innovation and change. This will help drive a solution that is sustainable and effective.
An innovation framework is a worthy endeavor because once you get it in place, it enables you to support and implement the free thinking ideas people bring to the table. This can lead to leapfrog innovation, where instead of taking just the next step you are positioned to make the jump to what’s cutting edge or even disruptive for your organization. Innovation takes practice, and an established process allows people to become more comfortable with it over time. It also alleviates the challenge of trying to introduce a new process AND technology simultaneously. Tech changes so quickly, and to be able to leverage even a small idea can make a huge impact. Start clearing the way for your people to innovate by implementing a framework as soon as possible.