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Where Government Leaders Get Started with Commercial Tech

July 17, 2020 / marybeth.fiedler

Tech innovation in the government is tough.

The federal government gets a perhaps unfair share of heat when it comes to tech acquisitions. We’ve heard it all: long timelines, complicated compliance regulations, dated processes, a culture of risk aversion, and dreaded IP disputes that can topple contracts.

The government is used to buying everything from airplanes to artificial intelligence in the same way: by spec. This draws out the timeline and gives an advantage to incumbent contractors who play by the same rules.

The difficulties around innovation don’t stop there. Even those making a good faith effort to push forward have become additional complications, rather than solving the root of the problem. Innovation hubs and tech outposts mean well, but often muddy the process, rather than giving emerging tech a boost.

The good news is that we hear all the time from government leaders who want to move forward with tech innovation, but many just don’t have an easy, central place to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Through our experience working with emerging tech companies as well as government leaders and industry partners, we hear a lot of similar questions from government leaders working on similar challenges. Here are some of the questions we get asked the most:

I’ve been told to innovate, where do I start?

Government leaders in Dcode training often realize they’re working on the similar problems or initiatives. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Innovation requires teamwork, and connecting with other agencies can help everyone move forward.

Finding a community to connect with emerging tech and VCs can also provide an outside perspective that will help you think through innovation challenges and how to best tackle them at your agency. Connect with others and start learning as your first steps in leading government innovation, and that’s what we see government leaders taking advantage of in our accelerator and training events (even virtually).

How do I conduct market research to find the right technologies? And how do I get the right tech to find my RFP?

Market research isn’t just a requirement for the procurement process, it’s an essential step to identify the right tech to solve your problem. We recommend letting program offices lead the market efforts and searching outside of traditional channels to find the right products and services. To do that: research like an investor.

To get your RFP in front of the right nontraditional tech, we recommend another nontraditional approach: market like an accelerator. Leverage tech communities, and meet companies where they are. This, paired with good research, will uncover innovative emerging tech solutions to solve mission challenges. Alternatively, you could work with private organizations like Dcode since that can be faster than going it alone.

What can I do to foster innovative culture in government?

Changing culture is no small undertaking, but it is possible. The government is more risk-averse than the private sector, and risk-averse workplaces can lead employees to be afraid of pitching or testing new ideas that could improve the way the government runs. During one of our three-day training courses for government leaders, we organized a panel of four “recovering Defense Department innovators” who left the service rather than staying to see their ideas through because of the workplace environment.

One person said, “If my leadership, for even one second, showed that they had my back and trusted me, I would have stayed.” Take steps to foster an environment of psychological safety to give your team the ability to take risks, share ideas, and stick their neck out “without fear of having it cut off.”

How to drive real results

We know it’s possible to bring emerging tech and innovation into the federal market. We’ve helped over 100 emerging tech companies drive over 200 implementations of their commercial solutions in government. We’ve also trained over 400 government leaders and know works.

Ask for help when you are running into obstacles that seem insurmountable. Other government leaders or private sectors partners can provide guidance, lessons learned, and best practices to help you push forward. Seek out federally-focused accelerators and VCs to inform, source, and evaluate high-growth tech companies to drive government missions forward. Engage with tech at every change you get to build relationships and understand the barriers from an outside perspective.

Find government innovation training courses that provide actionable insights and show examples of how to work with tech, and introduce you to mentors and other leaders who can speak from experience. You don’t have to be a technical expert to lead your team effectively and leverage emerging tech to improve the way government runs.

Dcode’s GovHub is the central place government leaders get started with tech innovation. You can ask us anything about government innovation, connect with other federal leaders, and engage with emerging tech, VCs, and industry partners to move the government forward. Get in touch today.