Technology development works very differently from the way government programs are launched, managed — and ended. There are lessons for government in the way the gadgets we use are created.
Most of us expect increasing sophistication in our technology. And generally, over time, we’ve gotten it. We’ve gone from large mainframes to today’s smartphones, which carry more computing power than NASA used to send a man to the moon.
In getting to this point, we’ve abandoned outdated technologies. Music is a perfect example: We abandoned eight-tracks for cassettes and cassettes for CDs, and then left CDs behind for MP3s.
This sort of pruning comes naturally in free markets, through what economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” It helps technology evolve and provide the services and functions we expect.
But what if markets didn’t evolve in this way? Imagine a world in which a new smartphone is delayed because it has to integrate with a mainframe computer from 1980. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s essentially how government too often works.
Promoters of innovative models in government must battle antiquated regulations and bureaucratic inertia. Governments almost never do the pruning needed to make room for new growth.
What would happen if we applied the principles of technology development to government programs? How might government operate differently?
Plug and Play
Today, all too many programs outlive their usefulness. Dismantling or redesigning large government programs is a Herculean task — one that prevents an efficient response to rapid shifts in society, technology and the economy. What we need is a way to rapidly disassemble and rearrange elements of government programs that no longer make sense.
The software world calls this “modular development.” All the parts work together, but at the same time any piece can be added or removed without rendering the full system unusable. Salesforce. for example, is a customer-relationship-management software system that offers more than 3 million customers different product modules to help them boost sales. As the customers’ needs change, they can add and remove the different modules quickly and easily, without handicapping the other modules. Read more…