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IT innovation tips from unlikely sources

We head to the bleeding edge with a federal government department, a hospital and a collaborative design house, in our coverage from this year’s GTEC in Ottawa.


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‘Government’ and ‘innovation’ aren’t words many people would put together. But the organizers of GTEC, the government technology conference held in Ottawa this fall, did just that. A panel on digital disruption yielded eye-opening stories about innovation in government, in the non-profit sector and in the private sector. A few notable anecdotes speak to IT decision-makers across all realms:

Bring back the creativity

When clients of ISED Design Lab — a design-thinking facility within Infrastructure, Science and Economic Development Canada — are told they’ll play with Lego during their session, “they’re confused,” says lab executive director Chrystia Chudzak. “And they don’t want to be photographed.”

But she insists participants make use of the colourful building blocks to help envision problems in new ways and perhaps even tap into the creativity many of us lose as we age out of playtime.

The takeaway: sometimes it’s good to try new ways to solve problems. Keep an open mind when colleagues come up with novel approaches to challenges. Those different points of view might just be the key to discovering the next logical step forward for your organization with respect to building on, changing and improving the IT infrastructure.

Know your options

Frank Rybicki, chief of radiology at The Ottawa Hospital, recently faced a tough problem. A young patient needed a new prosthetic arm so he could carry a bag for trick-and-treating on Halloween. His family couldn’t afford a new limb. So Rybicki and his team devised an inexpensive solution: they used a 3-D printer to fashion a simple arm.

“There are all kinds of incredible technologies we can use,” Rybicki said, espousing an important pointer: it’s important to know your options when it comes to solving challenges. Whether you need fast network connectivity to a remote location, a team content-sharing system or a cloud management strategy, be sure to keep your eyes open for the latest technologies.

Prepare to pivot

Janak Alford’s collaborative design studio PrototypeD struggled when it first opened in 2011. The company had trouble attracting clients to its ‘hackerspace,’ where people would use all sorts of technologies to invent, innovate and commercialize new ideas. Customers simply did not come.

So Alford shifted focus. Rather than providing access to technology, his company presented itself as a team of designers, engineers and experts who know how to use those technologies to help early-stage startup entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

PrototypeD is flourishing now. The company never closed its doors to rethink its business model. The firm pivoted on the fly. The lesson: when solutions fail to solve whatever problem you may be facing, try the pivot — which means changing one aspect of your approach but not necessarily everything. Be sure to listen to your users. They’re the ones who can help you pinpoint what needs to change and what should stay.

Looking ahead

It probably isn’t fair that ‘government’ and ‘innovation’ are so commonly thought to be mutually exclusive. Judging from this panel of GTEC speakers, at least some people in the public sector are just as creative and curious as those in the private sector. We’ll see how that pans out for the federal public service. And we’ll also keep reporting information you can use to boost innovation in your department.

Image: Free Digital Photos

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