Monday, May 28, 2007

How To Re-Populate Detroit: Bring Our City To The Information Age by Akindele Akinyemi

It is simply impossible for the City of Detroit government to meet the challenges of the 21st century with the bureaucracy, regulations and systems of the 1880s.
Implementing policy effectively is ultimately as important as making the right policy. In our government here in Detroit we have an absolute crisis of ineffective and inefficient implementation which undermines even the most correct policies and risks the security of the city. In health, education and other areas we have cumbersome, inefficient, and ineffective bureaucracies which make our tax dollars less effective and the decision of representative government less capable. People expect results and not just excuses.
To get those results in the 21st century will require a profound transformation from a model of Bureaucratic Public Administration to a model of 21st Century Entrepreneurial Public Management.
It is an objective fact that the City of Detroit government today is incapable of moving at the speed of the Information age.

It is an objective fact that government today is incapable of running a lean, agile operation like the logistics supply chain system that has made Wal-Mart so successful or the recent IBM logistics supply chain innovations which IBM estimates now saves it over $3 billion a years while improving productivity and profits.
There is a practical reason why city government cannot function at the speed of the information age.
Modern government as we know it is an intellectual product of the civil service reform movement of the 1880s.
Think of the implications of that reality.
A movement that matured over 120 years ago was a movement developed in a period when male clerks used quill pens and dipped them into ink bottles.
The processes, checklists, and speed appropriate to a pre-telephone, pre-typewriter era of government bureaucracy are clearly hopelessly obsolete.
Simply imagine walking into a government office today and seeing a gas light, a quill pen, a bottle of ink for dipping the pen, a tall clerk’s desk, and a stool. The very image of the office would communicate how obsolete the office was. If you saw someone actually trying to run a government program in that office you would know instantly it was a hopeless task.
Yet the unseen mental assumptions of modern bureaucracy are fully as out of date and obsolete, fully as hopeless at keeping up with the modern world as that office would be.
Today we have a combination of information age and industrial age equipment in a government office being slowed to the pace of an agricultural age mentality of processes, checklists, limitations, and assumptions.
This obsolete, process-oriented system of bureaucracy is made even slower and more risk averse by the attitudes of the Inspectors General, the Congress, and the news media. These three groups are actually mutually reinforcing in limiting energy, entrepreneurship, and creativity.
Without fundamental change, we will continue to have an unimaginative, red tape ridden, process-dominated system which moves slower than the industrial era and has no hope of matching the speed, accuracy and agility of the information age.
The Wal-Mart model is that “everyday low prices are a function of everyday low cost.” The Wal-Mart people know that they cannot charge over time less than it costs them. Therefore if they can have the lowest cost structure in retail they can sustain the lowest price structure.
This same principle applies to Detroit's city government. The better you use your resources the more things you can do. The faster you can respond to reality and develop an effective implementation of the right policy the more you can achieve.
An information age government that operated with the speed and efficiency of modern supply chain logistics could do a better job of providing public goods and services for less money.
Moving Detroit's government into the information age is a key component of Detroit being able to operate in the real time 24/7 worldwide information system of the modern world.
Moving Detroit's government into the information age is absolutely vital if the military and intelligence communities are to be capable of buying and using new technologies as rapidly as the information age is going to produce them.
Moving Detroit's government into the information age is unavoidable if police and drug enforcement are to be able to move at the speed of their unencumbered private sector opponents in organized crime, slave trading and drug dealing.
Moving city government into the information age is a key component of Detroit being able to meet its educational goals and save those who have been left out of the successful parts of our society.
Moving city government into the information age is a key component of Detroit being able to develop new energy sources and create a cleaner environment with greater biodiversity.
Moving city government into the information age is a key component of Detroit being able to transform the health system into a 21st Century Intelligent Health System.
This process of developing an information age government system is going to be one of the greatest challenges of the next decade.
How do we began to do this in Detroit?

We have to start with a distinguishing set of terms because we are describing a fundamental shift in thinking, in goals, in measurements, and in organization. Changes this profound always begins with language. People learn new ideas by first learning a language and then learning a glossary of how to use that new language. That is the heart of developing new models of thought and behavior.

Simply throwing the doors open to market oriented, entrepreneurial incentives with information age systems will not get the job done. The system we are developing has to meet the higher standards of accountability, prudence, and honesty which are inherent in a public activity.

We must shift from professional public bureaucrats to professional public entrepreneurs. We must shift from administrators to managers. The metrics will be profoundly different. The rules will be profoundly different. The expectations will be profoundly different.

Nine steps to make this a reality in Detroit:

At every level leaders have to sift out the vital from the nice. In the information age there is always more to do than can possibly get done. One of the keys to effective leadership and to successful projects is to distinguish the vital from the useful. A useful way to think of this is that lions cannot afford to hunt chipmunks because even if they catch them they will starve to death.

When dealing with this scale of complexity and change people have to be educated into a doctrine so they understand what is expected and how to meet the expectations. We greatly underestimate how complex modern systems are and how much work it takes to understand what is expected, what habits and patterns work, how to relate to other members of the team. The more complex the information age becomes and the faster it evolves, the more vital it is to have very strong team building capabilities so people can come together and work on projects with a common language, common system, and common sense of accountability.

The better educated people are into doctrine, the simpler the orders can be. The less educated someone is into the common doctrine, the more complete and detailed the orders have to be. With a very mature team that has thoroughly mastered the doctrine and applied it in several situations, remarkably few instructions are required. In a brand new team the orders may have to be very detailed.

The information age requires a constant focus on team building, team development, and team leadership. It is the wagon train and not the mountain man that best characterizes the information age. People have to work together to get complex projects completed in this modern era.

Information technology combined with the explosion in communications (including wireless communications) create the underlying capabilities that should be at the heart of transforming government systems from Bureaucratic Public Administration to Entrepreneurial Public Management. The power of computing and communications to capture, analyze and convey information with stunning accuracy and speed and at ever declining costs creates enormous opportunities for rethinking how to deliver goods and services. These new capabilities have been engines of change in the private sector. They are the heart of Wal-Mart’s ability to turn “everyday low price is a function of everyday low cost” into a realistic implementation strategy. They are at the heart of the revolution in logistics supply chain management. The more rapidly government leaders study and learn the lessons of these new potentials the more rapidly we will invent a 21st century information age governing system which uses Entrepreneurial Public Management to produce more choices of higher quality at lower cost.

Creating a citizen centered government using the power of the computer and the Internet. The agrarian-industrial model of government saw the citizen as a client of limited capabilities and the government employee as the center of knowledge, decision and power. It was a bureaucrat-centered model of governance (much as the agrarian-industrial model of health was a doctor-centered model and the agrarian-industrial school was a teacher-centered model). The information age makes it possible to develop citizen centered models of access and information.

Personnel mobility will be a major factor in the information age and will require profound changes in how we conceptualize a civil service. The information age creates career paths in which the most competent people move from challenging and interesting job to challenging and interesting job. A government civil service that required a lifetime commitment was both guaranteeing that it would not attract the most competent people and guaranteeing that it would not have the flexibility to bring in the specialists when they are needed.

Outsourcing is inevitably going to be a big part of the information age. Virtually every successful private sector company uses outsourcing extensively. The ability to create competitive pressures and shift to the best provider is inherent in the outsourcing model. Applying these principles to the public sector will both save the taxpayer money and improve substantially the quality and convenience of services provided to the citizens.

Privatization is a zone that needs to be readdressed in Washington and in the states. At one time the United States was a leader in privatization but now we have fallen far behind many foreign countries. There are a number of opportunities for privatization which would help balance the budget, increase the tax rolls of future contributors to government revenue, and increase the efficiency of the services delivered to the citizen.

These nine steps would help build a better Detroit and allow people to move back into the city.


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