Like any true technology cultist, President Obama mentions technology, inefficiency, but never the people who make up government as the source of government “problems.” Nor does he appear to realize that technology cannot fix the people who make up government.
Those out-dated information systems he alludes to were built and are maintained under contract with vendors. Systems that are used by users who are accustomed to those systems and will resist changing to others. Still other systems rely upon those systems being as they are in terms of work flow. And so on. At its very core, the problem of government isn’t technology.
It’s the twin requirement that it be composed of and supplied by people, all of who have a vested interest and comfort level with the technology they use and, don’t forget, government has to operate 24/7, 365 days out of the year.
There is no time to take down part of the government to develop new technology, train users in its use and at the same time, run all the current systems which are, to some degree, meeting current requirements.
As an antidote to the technology cultism that infects President Obama and his administration, consider reading Geek Heresy, the description of which reads:
In 2004, Kentaro Toyama, an award-winning computer scientist, moved to India to start a new research group for Microsoft. Its mission: to explore novel technological solutions to the world’s persistent social problems. Together with his team, he invented electronic devices for under-resourced urban schools and developed digital platforms for remote agrarian communities. But after a decade of designing technologies for humanitarian causes, Toyama concluded that no technology, however dazzling, could cause social change on its own.
Technologists and policy-makers love to boast about modern innovation, and in their excitement, they exuberantly tout technology’s boon to society. But what have our gadgets actually accomplished? Over the last four decades, America saw an explosion of new technologies – from the Internet to the iPhone, from Google to Facebook – but in that same period, the rate of poverty stagnated at a stubborn 13%, only to rise in the recent recession. So, a golden age of innovation in the world’s most advanced country did nothing for our most prominent social ill.
Toyama’s warning resounds: Don’t believe the hype! Technology is never the main driver of social progress. Geek Heresy inoculates us against the glib rhetoric of tech utopians by revealing that technology is only an amplifier of human conditions. By telling the moving stories of extraordinary people like Patrick Awuah, a Microsoft millionaire who left his lucrative engineering job to open Ghana’s first liberal arts university, and Tara Sreenivasa, a graduate of a remarkable South Indian school that takes children from dollar-a-day families into the high-tech offices of Goldman Sachs and Mercedes-Benz, Toyama shows that even in a world steeped in technology, social challenges are best met with deeply social solutions.
Government is a social problem and to reach for a technology fix first, is a guarantee of yet another government failure.