Technological innovation is rich with potential for the reorganization and reinvention of government.However, adapting technology to long-standing government work practices often requires a heavy financial and political investment and runs a high risk of failure. Decisions to adopt new technologies are usually made through a competitive bidding process, a one-shot technique that allows for little experimentation or learning. As a consequence, multi-million-dollar failures occur all over the country. Even when agencies have identified a promising new technology, they have trouble drafting appropriate proposals or identifying qualified vendors to help implement new systems. The process of introducing new technologies can be so difficult that by the time they are finally adopted, they are already outmoded.
To address these problems, New York State created the Center for Technology in Government. The Center (CTG), established in 1993 at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany, serves as an institute for public innovation and is supported by a partnership between the government, high-tech corporations, and university faculty and students. CTG gives state and local agencies the opportunity to experiment and to learn what works and what doesn't through the use of low-cost, low-risk prototype projects.
Each project is chosen competitively: state and local agencies bid for the right to have the Center test new technologies to improve their operations, cut costs, enhance productivity, and increase interagency cooperation. A project begins with the construction of a comprehensive model and a rigorous cost-performance analysis. Project teams analyze how each technology could improve a particular government operation and then define, build, and evaluate prototype systems. Once completed, each pilot project is fully documented in working papers, technical notes, and formal reports, all of which are made available to the public. Projects are selected, in part, based on their potential for broad applicability; it is hoped that the findings from one pilot project can prove to be useful in many areas of government.
The Center provides a supportive setting, state-of-the-art computing and communications capabilities, and high-quality staff. Its location at SUNY-Albany is ideal: not only is the Center able to tap faculty expertise, but it is also able to take advantage of the high skill and low cost of the university's doctoral students. And although the center is directly funded by the State, it also receives significant in-kind corporate contributions and expertise. This focused partnership of public, private, and academic has helped to make CTG an able and effective incubator for government innovation.
By 1995, 31 high-tech corporations, 30 government agencies, and a dozen academic researchers had participated in projects at the Center. Major corporate partners have included SUN Microsystems, AT&T Global Information Solutions, Computer Services Corporation, Precision Systems Inc., Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft. CTG demonstrations have been attended by more than 1,000 state and local officials. The success of the program has also attracted national attention: through reports and conference presentations, CTG's program has been shared with all 50 states, and more than 1,500 project reports have been distributed throughout the country.