Commentary: Where Have All the Luddites Gone?

By Kimberly Samuelson

October 11, 2013

When people think of organizations with innovative information technology strategies, government isn’t usually the first -- or second or third -- place that comes to mind.

Historically, the public sector was one of the last places to look for IT innovation. Conventional views, budget constraints and an aversion to technology held many agencies back. This notion, however, has been turned on its head. There are many examples that showcase how agencies are providing valuable IT leadership.

Starting at the top, one need look no further than President Barack Obama’s campaign to promote IT innovation in government, ranging from big data to open source technologies. On his first day in office, the president also pledged to make federal agencies a model for open data. This initiative still has a ways to go, but it’s certainly an improvement.

State and local agencies also are exemplifying IT innovation. They are not only making use of open source technology, they’re walking the talk by participating in open source communities to modernize systems and contributing their work to repositories such as GitHub.

“We’re reaching a tipping point where we’re seeing more collaboration not only within government agencies, but also between different agencies, and between the government and the public,” GitHub’s communications chief Liz Clinkenbeard said in a recent article on the technology website O’Reilly Radar. Federal agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are explicitly making their code open source.

Governments aren’t just expressing an ideological position; their actions have real business value as well. Ironically, part of what is driving innovation in public sector IT is a lack of funding to hire more staff. Agencies are using technology to develop tools when they can’t hire the people they need. Participating in open source communities is just one way governments are meeting the mandate to do more with less. Here are a few other examples:

It’s clear that agencies have made great strides in recent years, and are committed to embracing and adopting new technology to drive innovation. Government is no longer the traditional, tentative laggard when it comes to IT innovation, and other industries should look to public agencies for tips on creatively using IT.

Kimberly Samuelson is director of ECM strategy at Laserfiche, an enterprise content management technology firm.

(Image via Raimundas/

By Kimberly Samuelson

October 11, 2013