Oklahoma Aims to Boost Its Economy by Solving Government Problems

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The state’s tech team has an ambitious plan to fuel the state’s technology sector; it’s early, but they may be on to something.

BALTIMORE — Dustin Crossfield, Oklahoma’s director of technology services, had an idea for improving government and growing his state’s economy. It started with a presentation over lunch with the state chief information officer, Bo Reese, which quickly led to a one-on-one with Gov. Mary Fallin.

“Two months later, I’m watching at this giant press conference as she announces this new Innovate Oklahoma program,” Crossfield told a crowd at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear conference.

Crossfield’s idea come to life is a mash-up of government innovation and economic entrepreneurship. It is a technology incubator, meshed with the citizen volunteerism of Code for America and the insourcing approach of the federal government’s 18F office.

In what may be a uniquely Oklahoma twist, though, the intellectual property that comes out of Innovate Oklahoma stays with the individuals that created it.

“I want them to retain everything,” Crossfield said. “I want them to make a ton of money.”

That’s because improving Oklahoma’s government through technology is only part of the goal. Equally important is growing a strong economy. While Oklahoma wants to be the first customer, they don’t want to be the only one.

“If I think I’m going to be the only customer, I’m not going to do the deal—even if it is really, really good for me,” Crossfield said. “I want them to hire people … I want them to pay lots of taxes.”

The first newly minted tech out of the office is COLLAB—an innovation management tool the internal team is using to work through the challenges submitted to Innovate Oklahoma. COLLAB has already signed their second customer: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I kinda like the idea of Oklahoma, then MIT; we could get used to that,” Crossfield quipped.

They are hoping to announce their second success next week, a company named ACTOVOS that promises to expedite the locating foster families for children.

Right now, it takes Oklahoma up to one week to place children in crisis with a foster family due to technology limitations. Crossfield said ACTOVOS can take the process down to 20 minutes.

According to Crossfield, the project is turning heads. Traditional technology companies and venture capital firms have been encouraging, as they like the idea of investing in companies that already have a relatively large first customer. They are also getting support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the state’s technology-focused economic development arm.

Crossfield told Route Fifty that the goal is to move as much as five percent a year of the state’s technology spend into solutions from new technology startups via Innovate Oklahoma. Crossfield notes that five percent would be “millions and millions of dollars.”

“Several millions of dollars going into startup companies, if those companies—just a few of them—take off, that could really change the face of the entire city,” he said, referring to Oklahoma City.

Innovate Oklahoma is asking citizens to submit challenges they are having with government that better tech could solve. In turn, Innovate Oklahoma pulls together agencies and technologists to build ways to solve them. Crossfield is both working with frontline leadership teams to identify additional problems, and receiving challenges at a rapid clip.

“We’ve seen some good ones; we’ve seen some crazy ones,” Crossfield said, but in response to them, he’s “astounded by the number of solutions we’ve gotten in.”

Mitch Herckis is Senior Director of Programs at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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