Massachusetts is fertile ground for innovation, from Kendall Square to the Innovation District. But there's a new innovation focus turning up in a place where you may least expect it.
Tony Parham is three months into his role as Chief Innovation Officer, and in that time, he’s been familiarizing himself with the infrastructure of state-run agencies with a specific goal in mind-- to make life simpler for Massachusetts constituents, or as he calls them, “customers.”
“Interactions should be audience-specific,” Parham said. “Different customers, when they interact with state government, they get confused because there are so many different entities, and if any particular individual or organization that says ‘gee, I don’t know which agency—there are 18 different organizations I might interact with, with each deals with a piece of the problem.’”
This past spring, Governor Deval Patrick announced a Council for Innovation. The idea is to change the way government does business, while saving taxpayers money. In addition to the council, Governor Patrick and Secretary of Finance and Administration Jay Gonzalez launched a lengthy process to find a Chief Innovation Officer to be at the helm of this council. They hired Parham this fall.
Parham’s previous experience in the private sector includes chief technology officer in the pharmaceutical industry, to managing director of a social media marketing firm. He is applying his business background to streamline government agencies to operate more efficiently.
“We can focus on having an even more of a customer-centric attitude, which is definitely in place in the Commonwealth currently,” Parham said. “And continue to focus on how could we get things done quickly, how can we move away from the status quo and not just continue to do things the way they were, but always have the mindset of continuous improvement,” Parham said.
For example, if you’re a small business owner, there may be multiple steps that you might take, such as licensing, incorporation, registration, and tax information. And within the state government, there are several different agencies that deal with each aspect.
"To some respect currently, it’s incumbent upon the individual to figure out all the different pieces and to coordinate them,” Parham said. “So what would be great is if we had one place where a small business could go and everything is oriented towards their needs and so they don’t have to run around. It’s like a one-stop-shop for their small business.”
Other innovations on Parham’s list include creating a website that’s a one-stop grant index so that local towns and governments can more easily navigate and find grant information. Another item on his list includes making the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s website more smartphone friendly. And while Parham is bringing ideas in from the private sector, he says there’s a lot to learn from state government.
“There’s a very large spirit of collaboration which isn’t always present in some private enterprise entities, and so perhaps there can be some learning bi-directionally in the Commonwealth and the private sector,” Parham said.
Parham said the goal is for all state agencies to be working together as a network, and that Massachusetts residents could see a difference in how things are run by spring of next year.