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Boy Are You Behind The Times

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IT used to be sold to CIOs.  Now an employee adopts a piece of software and pushes his company to do the same. An Expense App to Hook Road Warriors, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec 15, 2014.

I had found a program called “Packrat” which was a simple reminder/to-do program.  The problem was I was working in the US Federal government and we didn’t allow non-standard programs to be used on our PCs.

I dug through the regulations as I was want to do.  People thought I was crazy that I read them, but they always had useful nuggets of what was allowed.  Lo and behold there was a procedure for getting private software approved for use on government PCs.

I worked in a plans and programs office. Our job, among others, was to deal with all the random taskings from the Department of Defense.  Each time one of them came down to us, we had to jump and scurry to get it completed by whatever deadline they had edicted.

What I had noticed is that these random taskings were not so random.  They seemed to show up each year about the same time.  Yet they always seem to take us by surprise and someone always got dumped on to take care of it in a crisis mode.  I just figured something like this Packrat program which I could set a reminder for a year in the future might be handy at giving us an early warning that something might be coming our way.

I looked over the regulation for getting personal software approved, filled out the form, and submitted it to the proper department.  In about a week I got back an approval letter!  Woo hoo!  I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

As I dealt with the daily chaos of higher headquarters making requests, I loaded reminders into Packrat of each task as we completed it.  A year later, Packrat would give me a reminder and then I would keep my eyes open and wander around looking to see if that tasking showed up again.  It inevitably did and I would help the person get the task completed.

This process, which should seem too simple and too obvious to anyone today, brought an amazing order out of chaos.  Our periodic crisis’s just disappeared. This happened in the 90s when this kind of software wasn’t in widespread use.  Tracking periodic tasks then was done with pencil, paper and file folders.  Someone had to manually check each day to see if something that had to be done periodically was due.  It didn’t work so well, at least at this government unit.

Our success was not because of the classic downward directed new initiative that would make government more efficient.  No, it was because I was a computer geek in the 90s and had been using software at home that made my life more organized.  I then decided it would be incredibly useful at work and I then took the chance to see if I could get it into use.

New initiatives have been springing up from individuals for a long time now.  The notion from the Bloomberg article that we are only now allowing bottom up initiatives struck me as humorous. This process has been going on for a long time and has long been recognized as a wellspring of good ideas and initiatives.

See for example Four Ways To Encourage Successful Innovation

What are you doing to ensure that you are not living in the past or under an assumption that has not been true for some time now?

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