Across the Digital Nation: Homeland security pushes government to be tech innovator

Rishi Sood

Traditionally, state and local governments are risk-adverse organizations. Public-sector entities often shun bleeding-edge technology in favor of proven, safe solutions.

This behavior is tied mostly to the fact that technology projects are funded with tax dollars, and failed initiatives are a sure path to electoral distress.

In many respects, however, the demands of homeland security have boosted government agencies' willingness to employ technologies earlier in the adoption curve. Public-sector organizations are working closely with the vendor community in developing new technologies to support the goals of the Homeland Security Department. In several cases, government organizations are leading the charge of technology innovation and teaching critical lessons to the private sector.

For example, the increased use of radio frequency identification technologies demonstrates how state and local government agencies are pushing the traditional technology adoption boundary and are innovating faster than the private sector. Over the next two years, state and local government port authorities will undergo a massive technology transformation as RFID initiatives become more ubiquitous.

Spurred by federal government initiatives and Defense Department demonstration projects, RFID-related initiatives are expected to be a core component of new port technology strategies and will receive funding support.

Similarly, some state and local governments' first-responder organizations have been able to use mobile technology to increase time-sensitive data sharing and improve organizational communication. In selected areas, these groups have used personal digital assistants, such as Pocket PC or BlackBerry devices, to close the gap between first-responder groups and to create more efficient information transfer.

Another key technology innovation is the Defense Department Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion project. This multiyear initiative will establish high-speed wireless and fiber-optic networks to connect branches of the armed services and eventually link soldiers on the ground with headquarters. This is one of the most far-reaching technology projects and shows how government organizations are embarking on major technology advancements.

Clearly, the technology innovation taking place within the Defense Department and DHS as well as state and local government entities has created new opportunities for emerging technology companies. The increased use of innovative technologies adapted to public-sector requirements shatters the image of staid government technology use.

Although many companies are rushing to bring these solutions forward, these vendors must understand the frameworks that guide the government marketplace.

In particular, these vendors would be best served by mastering the procurement process, assisting prospective clients in receiving grant funding, and partnering with key professional services firms to reach critical decision-makers.

Rishi Sood is research vice president with Gartner Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. His e-mail address is rishi.sood@gartner.com.

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