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How the pandemic has advanced technology in government and education, according to a Houston expert.

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If you recently logged on to a government website, you know that dealing with squeaky, outdated government technology is as fun as traveling to a DMV. Government websites and other technical tools, constrained by Byzantine procurement rules, commission control, and aggressive commitment to the UX principles decades ago, are routinely confusing and scary to use. , Very inefficient.

But now it can finally change. The COVID-19 pandemic required us to rethink our relationship with the technology we use, from Zoom calling to e-commerce services. Government agencies are increasingly forced to move faster, adopt more up-to-date technology, work with private sector partners to meet new challenges and deploy services quickly in the 21st century.

Get educated

One of the most dramatic examples is in the field of education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 93% of school-age children have been engaged in distance learning since the beginning of the pandemic, and four-fifths have relied on digital technology instead of classroom resources. .. However, access to digital technology at home is strongly correlated with household income, so governments and the education sector need to act swiftly to give every child access to laptops and web connections. was.

Not everyone is a fan of distance learning. As a parent, I know how difficult it is to have a child at home. But one thing we all can agree on is that if we rely on digital learning, we need to make digital learning available to everyone, including trusted computers and families who don’t have access to WiFi connections. It means that there is. at home.

Achieving that quickly and on a large scale required incredible flexibility and creativity for policy makers at all levels. Successful people did so by dispelling the bureaucratic formalism that trapped previous government technology initiatives and instead working with private sector partners to quickly implement the necessary solutions.

Lessons from Texas

For example, here in Texas, at the beginning of the pandemic, one in six public school students had no access to a high-speed internet connection, and 30% had no access to laptops or other learning devices. To accelerate the transition to distance learning, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) have connected 5.5 million Texas public school students to computer devices and reliable Internet connections for $ 400 million. Campaign has started in Operation Connectivity. To date, 4 million devices have been purchased and distributed to children, opening the door to greater educational and financial opportunities. Further work is underway to remove other connection barriers, such as slow connection speeds in rural areas, to assist students and all Texas people.

Deploying such an ambitious project in some 1,200 school districts in the state could have been catastrophic. After all, many government IT projects go on for months or years without the huge cost to taxpayers and the desired results. However, Operation Connectivity is different because it is based on a true partnership between government and private sector players.

Faced with an urgent deadline, government leaders turned to Gabby Row, a former CEO of Aeon Tech Hub, to lead the project. As an innovator, Rowe brought a real understanding of entrepreneurship and the power of public-private partnerships, moving operational connectivity from a blueprint to action within a few weeks. Leading technology companies such as Microsoft, SAP, and Hubspot will soon join the effort to provide cost-effective connectivity and hardware solutions to ensure that every child in the state has the education they deserve. Did. Since then, Operation Connectivity has distributed over a million devices, including laptops and wireless hotspots, to families in need, splitting costs between states and individual districts.

Edge of private sector

Consider my own company, Digital Glyde, to understand how private sector know-how can spur government technology transformation. As part of Operation Connectivity’s efforts, we were asked to help design and build the back-end software and planning infrastructure needed to effectively coordinate with hundreds of school district staff scattered throughout the state.

Such efforts usually require consultation, committee work, and a elicited process of bureaucratic formalism. However, in the face of an urgent need to help children in the state, we were given the freedom to act quickly and were able to implement a viable system in just a few days.

Leveraging state-of-the-art data extraction and image processing tools, we help Operation Connectivity automatically process invoices and match technology costs to available COVID bailout funds in record time. did. We achieved 95% accuracy within three weeks of deployment so that the school district could quickly receive a refund for hardware purchased on behalf of school children.

Build on success

Operational connectivity is just one example of how government officials can embrace technology and leverage private sector support to overcome the COVID crisis. From contact tracing programs to vaccine distribution programs, governments take a much more practical and partnership-driven approach to technology.

Of course, not all experiments go according to plan. In Florida, a government agency decided to use a web tool to manage vaccination appointments, but the idea was to use a commercial website built to handle electronic invitations for birthday parties. Was implemented. Not surprisingly, the results are chaotic, users have to scramble to get appointments when posted to the site, and older people have their heads on websites designed for young parents. I was having a hard time.

Such stories remind us that governments cannot solve big problems just by grabbing the technology tools closest to them. It is important to find the right solution and work with a partner who understands the complications and constraints associated with delivering public sector services on a large scale.

When trying to overcome the COVID crisis, rebuild the economy and overcome future challenges, we need to learn from this experience and refuse to go back to the good old days of old tape and old technology. Over the last few months, we have come together to show what we can do when we combine true government leadership with private sector innovation and efficiency. In the coming months and years, we will need more creativity to leverage this kind of teamwork and technology.

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Varun Garg is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Digital Glyde.

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