Last updated: August 8, 2019

Champions of Innovation in Local Government – Change in the Public Sector

Contrary to popular belief, there are software solutions that make it easy for local governments to get quick wins and transform how people experience local government.
Posted by GovOS Team


A lack of innovation in local government causes agencies to get a bad wrap of being big and slow. In a previous post, I discussed the challenges of software procurement in the public sector. Processes are complex and thorough, generally for a reason. The security and compliance of government transactions is paramount.

This meticulous approach to procurement means multiple layers of review and oversight, which, for some, makes it easy for some to succumb to the doldrums of government work. It can be easier to simply submit to the red tape of long term projects, committee processes, and other well-intentioned speed bumps rather than look for ways to improve and streamline long accepted routines.

But for the select few trailblazers who choose to rise above.

We see it every day here at GovOS. As our team interacts with employees from all levels of Government across the U.S. — from Public Information Officers down to Town Clerks—we’ve noticed a ‘champion’ archetype that emerges from the hundreds of employees we speak with everyday.

Internally we call these government innovators  “Governators” for short . [Sure, this is also a term famously personified by the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger because he was at one time “The Terminator” and then became the Governor.] In our case, identifying these government innovators means that we as a team have a chance to level up our own knowledge and deepen our mission in every conversation with these captains of government administration.

So what defines a government innovator? These are some of the traits we’ve identified.

Patience – Innovation in Local Government Takes Time

In government, procuring software is a lengthy, arduous process that challenges the spirit of many would-be trailblazers — and vendors. For procuring software in business, 90–115 days is the typical benchmark, and longer is considered a slow (and hard-to-justify for a business) sales cycle. This is precisely why many innovative tech companies don’t even TRY to sell to government agencies.

A true Governator — such as our partner Sarah Elkins of Helena, MT — wrote in her anniversary post about GovOS that it took more than 1 year to convince her staff that it made sense to take their forms online. That’s greater than 3x the typical time it takes a business to decide.

“It was over a year before I convinced our team that this product would improve our relationship with our community and be relatively inexpensive and simple to implement.”

Compare that to the typical early adopting, “champion” buyer in the commercial world and you can understand why most vendors may reconsider Sarah’s place in their “call back” list.

Despite all of that, Sarah stayed the course and helped champion GovOS internally.

A government IT tech team gathers for training on government form automation software from SeamlessDocs.

Long-Term Thinking – Balancing Quick Wins and Strategy

When investigating new tools and platforms, people often talk about securing “quick wins”. No matter the scale of a solution, most buyers are very keen on what kind of “quick wins” they can obtain post-purchase, typically within the 1st quarter. This kind of thinking simply does not occur in government. In government, yearly budgets often bleed into the 2nd or even 3rd year budget, with many costs fixed rather than variable.

For government, for better and worse, the ramifications of updating software — or worse — scrapping it and starting over, is constantly top-of-mind. Because of this, government customers consider multi-year feasibility when procuring solutions regardless of the length of the contract.

Government uses systems for such long periods of time that they are often stuck with having to keep updating these systems despite them outliving their effectiveness. Digital agency 18F founder, Dan Tangherlini was featured recently discussing how billions of dollars of investments in federal IT (75% of total spend) goes to maintaining legacy systems rather than upgrading them.

Admittedly this long-term thinking can be the kiss of death — or the stamp of approval. Once a government determines your organization worthy of working with for the foreseeable future, they can be the most involved and responsive partner you have — while simultaneously being the most demanding and inquisitive. My team has signed multiple municipalities to 5 year deals — a contract length hard-fought in business.

Despite the many flaws of planning so far ahead in an unpredictable world, government innovators have a vision for maintaining excellence in the long term — and have the passion to execute on it.

Organizational Awareness – Understanding the Decision Making Process

In government, the “lone wolf” champion simply does not exist. Every government member that has procured solutions from us has mentioned, brought in, or co-purchased with a colleague.

In government, these innovators understand that inter-departmental synergy and seamless workflow is not a nice-to-have but a necessity. Department heads need to know what each other are using, how it’s going, and what the stopgaps are in case anything goes awry. Once more, this can be an ace in the hole or a hole in the boat. On the positive end, if one department is excited about making a change in their processes and a parallel department is keen to do the same, magic can happen.

It’s no surprise that some of our quickest closes to date come from internal introductions, or from neighboring municipalities that want to share wisdom and innovation with others.

In short, while all government innovators are obsessively cognizant of the consequences and benefits of a technology change internally, they are simultaneously emboldened to ensure that the decision they ultimately make has positive reverberations throughout their municipality.

PatienceLong-Term Thinking, and Organizational Awareness are just a few of the distinct attributes that separate these Governators from both typical commercial buyers and their own more passive colleagues within government administration. As we continue to work with these diligent and impressive professionals, we hope you strive to extract some of their strengths and turn them into your own.

Education & Inspiration

Resources for Local Government Officials