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How Washington state found its spot on the innovation bell curve

Government shouldn’t be at the leading edge, argues the state's chief information officer — but rather a little behind to learn from those who paved the way.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives

Jake Williams is currently the Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives for StateScoop, based in Washington, D.C., where h...

Michael Cockrill has a different perspective on the buzzword-filled concept of innovation: slow down.

“Understanding technology strategy, frankly, is fairly simple, right?” the Washington state chief information officer says in a video interview with StateScoop. “Everything lives on a bell curve, and we are behind the leading edge of that curve.”

But government, Cockrill says is supposed to be behind.

“You don’t want your government spending the people’s money on experimental things at scale, right?” Cockrill says. “You want us to be doing things that are tried and true that we know work.”

Cockrill says that if you picture innovation on a bell curve, startups and other mainstream tech companies would be on the right hand side — on the downward slope of the bell curve. Some of those companies fail, but they — and by proxy, others — learn a lot from that failure. Government is on the slow end of the bell curve, he says, and for good reason.

“If I want to know what’s next, all I’ve got to do is look ahead at what the private sector is doing and where they've been,” Cockrill says.

Despite trying to stay a little behind the curve, Cockrill says he still spends a good deal of time talking about emerging technology and how it could impact state government down the line. That focus and thought process emphasizes the difference between visioning and strategy.

“The one thing I spend a lot of time talking about right now is augmented reality,” Cockrill said. “Where can we in the government apply augmented reality to make it faster so that labor and industry can do inspections faster and get your elevator requirements done in real-time instead of a four day process? That’s how we do the visioning.”

When it comes time to solidify a budget, Cockrill says, it all comes down to how the emerging technology can deliver results.

“You vision for [emerging technology] one way, and then you have to go out and convince people that your vision is right,” Cockrill says. “I’m looking at relatively small experimental things that can live within my budget. You have to get buy-in. You have to get budget."

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