In an odd turn of events, President Obama was the keynote speaker at last week’s South By South West conference in Dallas Texas. But what exactly was his message to the lucky delegates fortunate to blag a ticket?
Well, one lucky Aussie to find himself in the “cool crowd” was Douglas Nicol, creative partner at The Works in Sydney.
Last night a group of media and Works’ clients gathered at their North Sydney HQ to hear of Nicol’s SXSW adventures. Among a number of highlights, Nicol revealed he was one of the lucky few to snare Obama tickets, someone he described as “undoubtedly one of the great speakers of our time”.
In a talk titled “Start-ups in the basement of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (that’s the address of the White House in Washington), Nicol revealed that Obama had secretly squirrelled some of the world’s great tech minds into the basement of the White House to try and bring government services kicking and screaming into the 21st century digital age.
“He (Obama) is doing a lot of things you don’t really hear about in the digital space and his philopophy is, ‘Well the private sector has taken taxis and introduced Uber and increased the customer experience, it’s lifted the game, it’s bought down prices. We need to do that, the Uber experience in the private sector and apply it to government services’,” Nicol regaled.
An example was the antiquated way people attempted to get a Green Card (the permit foreign workers need to work in the US).
“When you want a Green Card it should be as easy as getting an Uber Taxi, if that makes sense?” Nicol told his audience.
“So Obama has actually set up a whole bunch of start-ups in the basement of the White House. He’s been very clever – he went to Google and Amazon and Facebook and all the top tech firms and said, “I want your best people to rotate through the basement of the White House and come along and do two or three months secondment and help us improve government digital services.
“To get a Green Card there is an awful lot of paperwork and you have to visit about eight different websites and there are umpteen forms you have to fill in manually and it really was a pain in the arse.
“Four years ago they tried to do it. They employed all these top management consultants – I won’t name them as they’re pretty well known brands – and their job was to build a new website to centralise this (getting a Green Card). They spent $1.6 billion trying to build this website and nothing was delivered at the end of the project,” Nicol said.
However, following the President’s initiatives after just seven months his basement army had managed to develop a digital system that was now operating.
“These guys have transformed the user experience and it will now be applied to every aspect of (US) government business.
“And Obama should be congratulated for this. It’s something you don’t hear about and he’s really leading the way with this sort of transformation,” Nicol said.