Last spring, Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed Bryan Sivak as Maryland's first chief innovation officer. Sivak brought to the post his experience as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia and an entrepreneurial background as founder of a software company.
Sivak spoke with StateTech Managing Editor Amy Schurr about his goals for the state of Maryland and what he hopes to accomplish.
STATETECH: What is your role, and how does it pertain to technology?
SIVAK: I'm responsible for helping folks find new and better ways of achieving the governor's major policy goals and objectives and also their specific missions. You can boil that down to asking, "Why?" a lot.
In government, people have tended to do things in the same way for a long time primarily because there are no incentives to do otherwise. My role is to help people find those incentives or to create incentives for them to try new and different things.
Technology is obviously an aspect of trying to do things differently. But in many cases, it's secondary. Putting new technology on a bad process only gets you a faster bad process. That's a mistake that a lot of technologists make, myself included. First look at culture and
process, and work on changing those things before applying technology.
STATETECH: How do you define innovation?
SIVAK: The word is used in many different contexts these days. You hear politicians and people in government talking about innovation. They're usually referring to the innovation economy — people or organizations creating jobs in new industries or using new processes or new technologies to build or grow an economy. I think of that as big "I" innovation.
Little "i" innovation encompasses incremental developments that help accelerate existing processes or achieve outcomes faster in a linear way.
Both kinds of innovation are necessary to move the ball forward. You need incremental changes that build the foundation for the big changes to happen.
An example of big 'I' innovation would be the StateStat program the governor created for Maryland. It brings performance management techniques to government and uses them to fundamentally change the way government works by focusing on data, numbers and outcomes.
STATETECH: What are your goals for the state of Maryland?
SIVAK: If you don't set a high bar, you never achieve great things. My goal is to bake the philosophy of experimentation and challenge to the status quo into the fundamental DNA of the entire organization. Provide a mechanism for people who are career civil servants to do new and different things, be experimental and really push the envelope.
STATETECH: So if they're going to fail, fail quickly and cheaply?
SIVAK: Yes, but more important than cheap and quick failure is validated failure. Make sure that anything you do, you learn something from. If you fail fast and cheap and don't learn anything, then it's just a waste of time and money. Learn something from your failure.
STATETECH: How do you plan to instill acceptance of risk in civil servants?
SIVAK: There aren't many political organizations that really tolerate risk. But the Maryland government is very tolerant of taking chances and doing new things. That's what gives me the ability to do the things that I do.
What I want to communicate to career civil servants is that these things are possible, at least from the perspective of the governor's office. The way to do that is to build a process or a methodology that people can follow. See how some of the successes and failures can be validated and then baked into the next set of experiments.
STATETECH: Can you cite some examples of how the state harnesses technology to improve efficiencies?
SIVAK: A good example is e-mail. We currently have 57 different e-mail platforms across the state of Maryland. We've got everything from Exchange to GroupWise to iMail. We bought Google for the entire state and have begun migrating every agency onto this cloud-based platform. There was no central directory, no way for people to collaborate on documents or centralized telecom strategy. The migration to the Google platform solved a lot of these problems.
We're starting to consolidate a lot of technology functions — things that should have been consolidated long ago: networks, telecom, data centers, web, GIS and so forth. We're starting relatively small this year with the idea and next year we can move quickly on some of the bigger consolidation efforts.
STATETECH: How is Maryland experimenting with crowdsourcing?
SIVAK: The public is a hugely valuable source of information. During Hurricane Irene, we experimented with gathering citizen input. We discovered that we have a lot of work to do to really embed this channel of information into our daily processes and procedures to get this hyper—local information to the right people.
The governor has a fantastic communications and new media manager, Zoe Pagonis, who built the governor's Facebook profile and Twitter account. She really gets the governor to engage in public dialogue. She recently held the first "tweetup" Maryland has ever hosted.
There are people or organizations out there that are interested in or experts on any one of the state's 15 major policy goals. If we can leverage those resources to help solve those problems in new and different ways, then everybody wins. And more important, we have to figure out the right way to help people plug into the organization and participate in a robust way.
Near and Far
A few other government bodies have chief innovation officers, though the role varies by jurisdiction: