Passion And Government – An Oxymoron?

Sean O'Brien

I learned early on – walking home from school in a snowstorm at the tender age of 13 – that my passion is to help people through public services.

On that day, when I left home and took two different bus rides from my village to my school in a nearby city, it wasn’t snowing. But the storm came in fast and we got to go home early. By the time I got to the last bus, it was full and it left without me. I walked seven or eight miles through very deep snow to get home, arriving in the dark with frozen clothes and feet.

The walk in the snow was a pivotal experience for me, as an inner urging to help people arose in me during it. That urge eventually turned into a passion that led to a variety public service positions, including several years in operational policing, and now in public security in governments for a technology company.

Because of that walk long ago, there is personal meaning to me when public sector organizations work hard and passionately to use digital technology to help improve people’s lives.

Believe it or not – governments are passionate too

As I work with executives in governments around the world, I see the struggles they and their staffs go through on a daily basis. I see them trying to overcome budget issues and constituent concerns as they attempt to provide the best services they can. It’s always an uphill battle, especially when it comes to gaining the trust of the people in the communities these governments serve. And it’s particularly challenging when every citizen expects better, more efficient services – right here and now.

Sadly, constituent trust is actually at an all-time low throughout the world as people’s concerns about jobs, safety, and services rise. For instance, Gallup polls show only 15% of the people in Brazil approve of the country’s leadership, while in the state of Illinois in the United States, only 25% of the residents are confident in their state government.

There are often logical reasons for these low ratings, but the truth is that the government executives I work with share my passion for helping people. They are turning to citizen-centric technology solutions and digital innovation to provide the best services possible for their constituents – and they are having great success.

Innovation leads to more responsive services

Take the city of Buenos Aires. Government officials struggled with flash floods caused by torrential seasonal rains. In 2013, there were nearly 100 deaths from flooding and the overall economic cost of the disaster was over $100 million. However, the government took proactive action and installed sensors throughout the city to collect and analyze weather data, providing real-time reports on areas needing immediate support. This move was met with success in 2014, as the city was flood free, leaving its residents safe. The city is also using technology to better address maintenance issues and to improve city lighting while reducing costs.

The State of Indiana recognized that there was a 500% increase in the rate of drug overdose deaths. To reverse this trend, the state developed a comprehensive data-driven management system to gain insight into the drug abuse crisis. Using crime lab drug data, the state maps drug use and develops correlations to predict where hot spots could arise to drive down use and provide resources to combat the problem. The state is using similar technology to collect data on infant mortality, so it can allocate funds to subpopulations of mothers with high risk profiles.

Across the globe, technology is helping the Fire & Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) in Australia predict fires and other natural disasters before they happen with accurate early warning systems. To better prepare for an increasing number of natural and man-made disasters, the FRNSW has taken the lead in consolidating key data from related agencies involved in protecting people and property. This will help all the agencies minimize property damage and personal injuries.

And on an even larger scale…

The United Nations (UN) recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that commit to end poverty, protect the planet, fight diseases, and ensure prosperity for all. These goals are bringing governments together with private sector and non-government organizations to create passionate solutions for people all across the globe.

At SAP, we help public sector organizations solve their problems that are linked to each of these goals in their communities. And we help other customers use their technology solutions to do the same.

Helping the world run better and improve people’s lives is the higher purpose at SAP. This commitment is what keeps my passion – and that of our customers’ – alive and it’s what helps the world become a better place.