Government as a Business? Maybe and Maybe Not.


Maybe, maybe not. But here’s a useful related question: What works well and efficiently in the business world to accomplish something that government also has to do?

One thing our federal government does a LOT of is manage information: gather data; collect documents and forms and correspondence; correlate information; share it – or keep it from being shared; analyze it, write about it, and publish it. Think about, for example, the CDC tracking Zika. They have to collect information about Zika outbreaks in other countries, modes of transportation, temperature and humidity levels, treatment protocols and outcomes. They have to analyze the information to determine threat levels and make recommendations. They need to get slightly different sets of related information out in a timely fashion to citizens, the medical community, border agents, local health departments and others. And they need to publish updates rapidly as circumstances change.

What’s important to this effort?

  • Gathering accurate information from reliable sources
  • Tapping into multiple sources of information
  • Tailoring the message to the audience
  • Delivering the message at the right time in the right format
  • Reacting quickly to changed circumstances

Sounds a lot like a news organization.

We’ve been looking at the possibility of using the tools and techniques of news organizations to help make government information management faster, more efficient, and more effective. In particular, we’ve partnered with EidosMedia to bring the Méthode digital information platform to government agencies.

Méthode powers Cox Media Group, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Dow Jones and dozens of other media and financial services companies around the world, all doing the same thing: gathering information from multiple sources, collaborating to analyze the information and present stories or reports in multiple formats to different groups of information consumers.

Think about a government agency with an urgent, time-critical need to collect information from multiple sources, vet that information, report on it securely to decision-makers, and get reports out to others as well. Local officials need the essentials for their locality, intelligence agencies might get additional details, our foreign allies might get targeted versions. The public needs some information – on a government website, but also via multiple news outlets and social media sites. FEMA, CDC and DHS come to mind, among many others.

Imagine doing this with Word, email and SharePoint. That’s the current situation in many agencies. Some have adopted enterprise content management systems to support these activities, but they tend to be designed primarily to manage documents. Collaboration, workflows, analysis and publication are usually an afterthought at best. Critical details are easily lost in a cut-and-paste blunder.

Now imagine doing the same job with the tools a news organization uses to put out dozens of tailored websites, newspapers and broadcasts from a shared base of information 24 hours a day, every single day. It’s a natural fit. Méthode’s “write-once, publish-many” platform would enable government agencies to do what news organizations do – publish multiple versions to different public and private channels with a single click.

We encourage our clients to choose software that is designed to do the job that needs doing. This can be an uphill battle when the IT team says, “This system is already authorized on our network and it does something that should be close enough for your purposes.” Or the procurement team says, “Here are the systems available on a contract vehicle – it’s easier if you use one of these.” Or there’s no budget and there sits SharePoint.

Government isn’t a business, of course – but it has some jobs to do that businesses have figured out how to do very well. That’s where industry can really bring value to the government. We’ve started asking, “What’s the job to be done?” and really listening for the answer.