The Algorithm for Innovation

by Stephanie Sullivan, Consultant

I attended the TechAmerican Vision Conference Civilian Day on October 17, 2012. The event provided a wealth of information around specific agency initiatives and programs, and a high level snapshot of what can be expected in FY13 and some budget trends for years to come. The last panel of the day discussed agency-specific examples of innovation from speakers including:

  • Mr. Paul Brubaker, President, Silver Lining
  • Col Mark Borkowski, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS
  • Mr. E. J. Holland, Jr., Assistant Secretary, HHS
  • Ms. Lena Trudeau, Associate Commissioner for Strategic Innovations, FAS, GSA

Lena Trudeau discussed  GSA’s e-Commerce initiative as an example of innovation that will help automate the acquisition process. And, HHS’ E.J. Holland discussed empowering his employees to nominate projects they’ve seen as a result of HHS innovation competitions.  Holland mentioned that 80 competitions were held in the last year alone. These conferences give vendors a chance to showcase their skills. Resulting vendor innovation could make their way into HHS’ IT purchases.

CBP’s Mark Borkowski highlighted the algorithm for innovation in whichfour main traits are needed: arts, sciences, crafts and skills. He mentioned that CBP’s innovation forum supports the idea of an innovation consortium where industry (small and large businesses and academia) can converge to brainstorm ideas and potentially develop prototypes. Borkowski’s goal is not for everything to be requirements-based, but to create a new market for innovation.

Panelists cited the need to empower both government and vendors to take risks and to seek out innovation while trying to dissolve existing structural barriers as important challenges to overcome. In order to do this, agencies will need to align people, money, technology, acquisition policy, procedures and sometimes real estate to create an environment for innovation.

How do you think industry can help government start and maintain innovative momentum?

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