The differences between the Rosselló Administration and the Fiscal Oversight Board are vast and ample, the most recent being the proposed furloughs for government employees. The Board presented their annual report last week, highlighting 18 recommendations to promote the economy. They were classified by the following topics: infrastructure, benefit reform, education, manufacturing, tourism, financial institutions and technical assistance. Of the 18 recommendations listed in the report, one third are related to technology (33%) yet none of them received much coverage in mainstream discussions.
The first of these recommendations proposes the centralization of government services through a central digital identity platform in collaboration with the US Digital Service. The report recommends that "Federal Digital Service staff support the development of a digital platform to centralize government services," which is a very good recommendation. I made this same statement in one of my columns in the summer of 2016 and participated in a petition with the support of various local leaders and entrepreneurs requesting precisely such collaboration. Governor Rosselló formally requested this in December 2016. It seems that from the technological point of view, both the Board and the Government agree on what we have to do.
The adoption and implementation of “native digital” strategies is a new and significant effort for both the Puerto Rico government and the FCOB. Therefore, success in this initiative will require an approach that balances the need for the FCOB to properly execute its role while allowing the Puerto Rico government latitude in implementing reform measures. It is well known that the government of Puerto Rico has historically been very ineffective in achieving meaningful reforms of digital transformation.
The Board submitted the recommendation, but getting the US Digital Service to collaborate with Puerto Rico requires a serious commitment on the recruitment and empowerment of people who are to form part of a new core technology structure.
During the last edition of Dear Fiscal Board, Tom Loosemore, former deputy director of the UK digital service, recommended the following three steps to improve digital efficiency in any country:
● Have a strong mandate to challenge IT spend.
● Have “better for less” digital services, pilot projects that start small and can scale fast.
● Fix procurement
For the upcoming "Dear Fiscal Board" series on Sept. 6, Dan Sheldon of the UK Digital Service will address the above aspects and share their experience transforming spending and investment control into government systems at the same time that it will present its perspective for Puerto Rico in those lines. The recently approved budget assigns $50 million for improvements to accounting systems. The budget allotment reads:
● $25.3 Million - For improvements to the accounting and financial systems and to comply with the fiscal plan.
● $25 Million - To cover costs for professional services and consulting to comply with the fiscal plan and the presentation of financial statements.
Budgets certainly are a problem when it comes to technology in government, but the fix isn’t to make them bigger, it’s to make them different. Tom Loosemore said “You are spending money in technology like it is 1990 and it is 2017. You can do things much better at 90% less of what you are spending today.” Apply Tom’s formula to the budget accounting system allocation and we should be able to do it for $5 million. We need to be able to let projects start small and iterate based on real user needs, which is not to be confused with requirements. The Fiscal Board needs to have implement oversight and contracting mechanisms that allow for that process, and then kick in ongoing funds only as the project proves itself.
The right way to approach government right-sizing and achieving real transformation of public services is to adopt a “native digital” strategy where public services are designed and implemented from the ground up using digital approaches. These “native digital” strategies have proved effective in achieving short time-to-market, significant cost advantages, enthusiastic stakeholder adoption, and repeatable success in the design, implementation, and operation of digital services. In the end, digital services are the key that can unlock the door to significant economic development gains for Puerto Rico.
At "Dear Fiscal Board" we will evaluate the technical recommendations and the next steps we need to take to carry them out. Be part of the conversation! Register through www.Dearfiscalboard.com.