Tom Cochran – notes from his presentation

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Picture of Tom talking

If you missed seeing Tom Cochran present here at Department of Finance on 22 March 2017, we have put together some notes for you.

Some key points that we took away from Tom’s presentation include:

  • The Obama campaign utilised digital engagement, which  enabled the capacity to generate money in campaign mode through two election cycles
  • The three key challenges in government were and still are – hiring, procurement and security
  • The key challenges were also people ones, not technology ones….
  • At the White House, we arrived to find one out of four days, email was down, 80% of tech was at end of life stage (PCs with disc drives)
  • There were often issues with the way the tools are used, not the tools themselves.
  • Another big issue is the lack of capability in government for vendor management and relationships – all issues arose where there was too much trust in the vendor, and not enough verification of what the vendor was doing
  • Fixing this takes a lot of work, the procurement exercise to get the right providers/contract management took over 6 months of constant work

Pictue of Tom presenting to group

What were the three key lessons learned from his time at the State Department?

  1. As an outsider, listen first, get the current staff onside, work as a partner and use the political capital to partner, rather than antagonise
  2. Educate and tell people about the capacity to get a more nuanced view of risk in government, what it is, how to manage and understand it etc. Include conversations into innovation, risk and improvement as a continuous cycle
  3. Enable people with up to date/effective technology - this work will always be difficult if your team has no access to the relevant technologies

After a great presentation from Tom we had a Q & A session. Questions included:

How did you manage the transition from campaigning to government?

“It was like going at 100 miles an hour and then hitting a brick wall”. The environment was very old school, we managed to implement open source technologies based on the supporting argument that it avoided vendor lock in.

The main functions using open source technology was the content management system – using Drupal, and big data functions as well.

What’s the next big thing after the web for transformation

The next big thing for this type of technology (content management systems) would be the capacity to send content to any channel/tool/platform from a central point (content hub). Another place will be the growth of augmented reality (e.g. where your Linkedin profile pops up beside you as you are in an audience, so the speaker can tailor the responses accordingly). The commercial sector is where more innovations will continue to be generated.

What’s the most effective message to get to agencies to adopt a policy of open data?

The clear argument that government is the steward of money, data and information etc. Government’s job is to release this to the marketplace and enable the marketplace to innovate.

What were some of the wins you had?

From the ‘We the people’  petition site, examples included the implementation of the 2014 cell phone Consumer Choice Act, and the government’s response to the Death Star petition which showed a degree of authenticity, credibility and good humour…

How do you balance the desire for the latest new thing in technology against delivering solutions in government?

Not easy, but that’s the job and we do it because it matters…. Another key issue is to ensure that you have the skillsets to verify what vendors do to ensure they are delivering what you want. Secure vendor trust, but always verify!

Do you challenge the status quo or work with it?

You have to work with it and team up to get the change to happen.