Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
While some of us of a certain age fondly recall Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from the 80s, this line from the movie still feels relevant after 30 years and boy, can we relate in this day of mindboggling technological advancement.
When I took office a few years ago we found the Department of State bogged down using antiquated programs alongside outdated policies and procedures. While everything functioned OK I felt things could be dramatically improved. It was like having that conventional oven in the kitchen when the microwave was invented. The old oven worked fine, but honestly, who wanted to wait around 30 minutes for a chicken pot pie?
This stagnation isn’t unique to state government. We all know that decades of experience in any profession has a way of forming barriers that stand in the way of change. The self-defeating proclamation that “we’ve never done things that way before” closes us off to innovation and limits what we are willing to experiment with. Whether it is a fear of failure or limited time and resources this reluctance to explore new options can be debilitating when considering a new way of going about our business.
So from day one we began reviewing each system and process within the Department of State looking high-tech solutions to optimize efficiency and reduce mind-numbing red tape. From our Business Services branch to the State Library and Archives to our Elections Division the rallying cry essentially became Paper to Pixels!
Since statehood the Secretary of State’s office has served as the state’s official “filing cabinet.” That is to say we are the institution that stores and files important public documents and preserves access to the state’s historical information.
We started with the low hanging fruit. Accepting credit cards. For years people would come to file documents with one of our many different offices and would understandably be annoyed with the inability to pay the fee or fine with a credit card. While we don’t charge much for most of the services we provide, our customers had been frustrated with what should be a simple activity.
From there we took on notary applications and renewals and made them available online. We developed an electronic petition scanning system. We created an electronic candidate filing platform and election night reporting system. And just recently we launched a campaign finance tracking website SeeTheMoney.com, not to mention our online Capitol Museum store www.azcapitolgifts.com.
Some of these efforts didn’t go smoothly. We suffered setbacks and were frustrated with unexpected delays. We experienced unintended consequences and negative feedback from the very people who we intended to help. We often questioned our own ability to get the number of things we wanted to get done in the time we felt we wanted to get them done.
These kinds of issues aren’t limited to large governmental institutions. A recent report suggested that roughly 90 percent of digital projects either failed, fell below expectations or produced only minor improvements.
The point of all of this is to say that the path towards success includes the idea that technology can lead us to previously unimaginable levels of creativity and productivity. Sure it can lead to some bumps in the road. But if the desired destination is a better more productive you, the ends surely justify the means.
As a small business person, I’m disappointed by some of the burdensome hurdles state government makes us jump through. In fact, that’s the original reason I ran for public office back in the early 2000s. Since then I have made it a priority to thoroughly review each and every process with the idea that interactions with your state government should be as painless as possible.
As we continue to look for ways to make it easier for people to connect with us we have adopted another theme from Ferris. “The question isn't what are we going to do, the question is what aren't we going to do?” While that hasn’t led to too many “days off” it should be the attitude we all take on when using technologies available to us to become as successful as we wish to be.
Many business leaders believe their businesses could be at risk of failing if they don’t take advantage of new technologies. As we all continue to migrate towards a digital tomorrow, ask yourself if you’re doing enough to prepare or you might feel like you’re looking around for Bueller… Bueller… Bueller…