When Will the Next Crisis Hit?


Whenever it wants!

The refrains are familiar: Government is slow. Change is hard. Bureaucracies cannot adapt quickly. Yet when crises arise, governments have demonstrated a tremendous capacity to respond. While we might (and probably should) attribute those response capabilities to the will of the human spirit, it’s easy to argue that government is at its best during a crisis.

Even so, government remains its own worst enemy. Antiquated technologies and processes can hinder those charged with being at their best during our worst times. Leaders know underlying problems exist and ignore them because they might not be pressing on a given day. Crises remain largely unpredictable. The recent Texas winter storms are just the latest example. How can we turn the conversation from “lessons learned” to “fix it now?”

Define Reality

A mentor of mine frequently says that the first job of any leader is to define reality. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, to get to where we want to go, we must first know where we are. At the onset of the COVID pandemic, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made headlines in the government world when he said in an April 4, 2020, press conference “Literally, we have systems that are 40-years-plus old, and there’ll be lots of post-mortems. And one of them on our list will be how did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers?”

New Jersey was not alone. Numerous states struggled with an influx of unemployment claims. Systems broke nationwide and the unemployed had yet another stressor added to a life suddenly turned upside down. But why? As long as I have been in government, states have talked about aging unemployment systems. Everyone knew how fragile they were. Yet the pandemic hit and the systems broke. Those on the front lines, as well as the customers they were trying to serve, were left carrying the load.

Defining reality can be humbling but it can be done without being critical. A facts-based approach that establishes priorities to fix long standing problems builds leaders’ credibility at any level. Fixing those problems builds credibility even more.

Rethink Government Solutions for Crisis Management

Technology is a cornerstone in rethinking government solutions, but how much have we really learned about technology since the pandemic started? We knew videoconferencing worked, and we knew governments ran major systems on outdated technology. We knew the marketplace has a bevy of offerings designed to improve government operations. What was preventing us from adopting and using new crisis management solutions long before the pandemic?

Rethinking digital government crisis management solutions can start with three questions:

  1. Do processes (i.e., procurement) impair or impede the adoption of new technologies and solutions?
  2. Do we understand the technology market, and does it understand us?
  3. How can we create our own marketplace behind the government procurement wall?

In defining reality, governments must acknowledge what they do well and what others can do better. With this understanding, governments can identify ways to apply core competencies from other sectors (such as the technology market) to speed up improvements to the customer experience.

Address the Crisis of Inaction

Crises reveal both the things we do well and the problems that we have ignored for a long time. What we see every time a crisis occurs is that the human capacity to respond to tough times is amazing. What if we could harness this responsiveness (or even a portion of it) every day? We can if we rethink how government develops solutions.

Digital Government and Crisis Management

Addressing the crisis of inaction requires leadership. And by leadership, I do not mean elected officials. I mean anyone who knows something needs to change and makes a case for improvements. Despite negative perceptions of government crisis management capabilities, we see so many success stories. If we distill from these stories a path to action, we can begin to develop a framework for addressing the crisis of inaction at any level:

  1. Seek fast implementations and minimal disruption. New technologies enable quick wins.  Find them and build credibility.
  2. Look for solutions designed with government use in mind.
  3. Tell a story that makes your stakeholders the heroes.

We will explore these points in a future post. For now let’s leave with the thought that government can turn the table from “never let a good crisis go to waste” to “never let planning for a good crisis go to waste.” We know what needs to be fixed. Let’s fix it! Let us help you start your journey to digital government with a demo.

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