GSA’s Innovation Recipe

Posted by Ed O’Hare
on October 26, 2010

I’ve heard the message from the people loud and clear: They want government to be more effective and to do more with fewer resources.

As Assistant Commissioner of GSA’s Integrated Technology Services — a service provider for the federal government — I am always looking for ways to do more with less.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, innovation is what makes it possible to meet increasing demands with the same — or fewer — resources.

Following the Innovation Recipe

Every business guru has a recipe. From my own experience in industry and government, here’s my old family recipe — what I know works:

  • 1 part Trust
  • 1 part Resources
  • 2 parts Risk

But the recipe’s for creating innovation from scratch. It’s not a box mix.

Supervisors and employees need to trust each other. It’s not a given part of employment; it’s a process. At GSA, we get to know our coworkers as well as our government customers. Creating a culture of innovation is a top-down as well as bottom-up process.  Not only must we empower our employees to seek innovation, we must provide the leadership and courage necessary to enable these environments to exist.

Supervisors must identify and make it possible for trusted employees to innovate by providing the appropriate resources — time, space, money, and technology.

Because our mix of resources and risk may vary, the result may be unpredictable. But sometimes that’s what we need. Administrator Johnson has said, “The trick is to fail fast and learn from it.” I’d add that we should also look for unintended innovation.

Innovation is often a product of failure, rather than success.  The technology behind GSAdvantage! came out of  an earlier initiative that was never implemented.

We took a risk and the project failed — but the result was an innovative solution to a different challenge — the question we didn’t even know needed answering.

Risk: Creating a Culture of Innovation

To nurture an innovative culture is to create a culture of risk-taking.  My recipe requires two parts risk because I recognize the need to balance the desire to encourage risk-taking with the need to protect against it.

GSA has embarked on a number of innovative initiatives under the direction of Administrator Johnson, who says, “We need the courage and leadership to face down risk.”

Risk and Reward: Cloud Computing

GSA has awarded contracts for providing Infrastructure-as-a-Services (IaaS) cloud computing services. We’ve embarked on new business and service-delivery models. We are also asking our customers to change how they approach the acquisition of IT hardware. Even yet, contract awardees must complete the appropriate security certifications to be able to provide IaaS offerings. It has been a process fraught with challenges and risks.

However, we are confident that this and future offerings will drive technological innovation, efficiency, and cost savings across government.

For example, since moving its own portal, USA.gov, to a cloud-based host, GSA has been able to reduce site upgrade time from nine months to one day; decrease monthly downtime from two hours to 99.9% availability, and realize a savings of $1.7 million in hosting costs.

That’s not just innovation. That’s great government through technology.

3 Replies to “GSA’s Innovation Recipe”

  1. What really places GSA in a leadership role is how it has adopted innovation for its own processes and how it provides access to best-in-category solutions to all other government agencies.

  2. This might interest you… When I worked at the National Geographic Society (NGS), I was constantly reminded of risk takers. My coworkers and I would ride the elevators with people like Sir Edmund Hillary, Jane Goodall, and Bob Ballard. When the economy turned downward after 9/11/01, the NGS President reminded the staff that a time of economic recession is a great time to take risks.

  3. Thanks for your message, Anne, and thanks for taking time to read the blog. I hope you’ll continue checking in as I post new entries. I’d be very excited to hear your ideas on how we can help GSA to be the proving ground for developing innovative solutions to federal government agencies’ current and future challenges.

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