How To Innovate For The Public Good

How can the public sector innovate as efficiently as the private?


Over the last decade, tech companies have been continuously proving that innovation is worth the investment and that it's often capable of improving people's quality of life and tackling some of the world’s most pressing social issues. However, even though technology has come a long way, the public sector often struggles with delivering innovations and making them fully accessible to those who need them.

One of the trends rapidly transforming enterprises is digitization, which allows for considerably lower operational costs, efficiency, and increases productivity levels. Many public organizations are already providing online access to their services, with governments worldwide also concentrating on their digital accessibility, but it is still some way behind private companies. Considering that access to information, educational materials, health and community services, and other tools, is in high demand, especially among disadvantaged and minority groups, the problem of poor digital access must be tackled sooner rather than later. So how can we ensure digital innovations are implemented in the right way?

When it comes to the public sector, governments and non-profit organizations often introduce innovation proposals and allocate their budget accordingly, but sometimes, at the delivery stage, some fall short of their promises.

Amongst the reasons may be an unwillingness to replace outdated systems, long approval times, misunderstanding prioritization, and public organizations may simply lack the knowledge and skills of the innovation sector. So, to fully benefit from new tech trends, it can be useful to collaborate with private companies and learn from their experience and resources.

According to McKinsey, full government digitization could free up to $1 trillion annually in economic value worldwide. This shows that the transformation is not simply for the sake of progress, but also sustainability. Additionally, the mutual study by McKinsey and Oxford University found that public IT sectors requiring a digital transformation were six times more likely to experience cost overruns and 20% more likely to run over the schedule than similar projects in the private sector, which again, stresses the need for strategic partnerships with tech companies.

Citigroup in collaboration with strategic allies, including IBM, Microsoft, Mastercard, PwC, and public service entities recently expressed their vision of how to promote transparency, integrity, and new tech solutions for the public good in the form of The Citi Tech for Integrity Challenge (T4I). The main idea is to help public entities to get access to and communicate with tech leaders, where the latter can come up with solutions for infrastructure development and ways to improve public services. The Challenge comes in the form of open innovation platforms, where participants of any size and experience can submit their solution, and after several selection stages, companies then enter a virtual accelerator, where they have the opportunity to present their innovations at one of the specially designed demo days. The open innovation format of the program allows for a diverse collaboration, making it easier for public entities to find answers to their questions and resolve their struggle with innovation.

The T4I challenge is only one of many initiatives and ideas available, but public organizations should also be willing to learn how to be creative and self-sufficient in innovation themselves. This can be done through thorough processes when hiring talent, as well as a continuous search for new trends and partnerships. Also, it's better to 'under promise' and 'over deliver' when it comes to implementation of brand new products and services, so they need to take time where necessary, and fully test and experiment with new ideas.

Private companies, non-profit organizations, and governments may have different operational models and purposes, but together, they can do a lot for the public good.

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