Positive Disruption: Avoiding IT Dinosaurs, Breaking the Rules, Innovating, and the new Public Servant

rhizomaticCivic Hackathons are a threat to the IT Dinosaur. Citizen driven, with city hall and central government innovators supporting it, powered by sponsorship from smart ICT companies, are creating an environment that is starting to transform
government itself. The IT Dinosaur roars; “Security! Privacy! Risk! Standards!” in an effort to retain it’s territory and control. Meanwhile, a new breed of public servant is rising, finally, one that is unfettered by the strict rules, regulations, and processes of the 1990’s enterprise IT department.

The process is simple. A group of people get together as a connected community to solve a problem. Transport. Truancy. Citizen engagement. Air quality. Water quality. Graffiti. And so on. Taking open data and pooling it for the entire community to utilise, they start to create ideas and apps using that data to solve the problem. All solutions are open-sourced. Government innovators work hand in hand with civic hackers to create smart cities and digital communities. The IT department is nowhere to be found.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

It’s usually found trying to stop the innovation. You see, old school IT is still dominated by the original Computer Engineer. A necessary force that is struggling to find their place in modern ICT. The IT Dinosaur will arrive at your desk, having had their ear to the corporate or government party-line and heard what you are up to, they will find out what your idea is, then go away, and attempt to kill it. I find this frequently, particularly with local government.

The IT Dinosaur can be characterised by the following traits:

  • Uses risk as an alarming weapon. Rather than looking a risk as an opportunity, the IT Dinosaur sees it as a method to stop the innovation. The risk is almost never quantified, but is scary enough that it terrifies an organisation into a state of inaction, or paralysis by analysis.
  • Will get control of an idea, then do nothing with it. Can seem helpful and willing to progress the innovation, but then it gets put in a “priority queue” whereby the IT Dinosaur suddenly becomes “far too busy” to do anything with it. Any attempt to wrest back control of the innovation results in tears, tantrums, email with cc ALL THE COMPANY, and a host of other annoying behaviour.
  • Has control of the process and can bend it at will, convincing you that following the process will allow the innovation to happen. However, when the innovation enters the process it is tied up in a bureaucratic maze that can be likened to Leviathan’s catacomb in Hell Raiser II.
  • Knows what the user needs, knows what the citizen needs, and is determined to make sure that they get it.
  • Doesn’t know what a customer is.


Civic Hackathons are building services that digitise the community. Rental property inspections, artificially intelligent traffic systems, service requests, rubbish management on demand (only collect rubbish when you are ready), animal services, permits (such as fire or garage sale), crime alerts, artificial intelligence that manages water use, digital art, digital graffiti, gamification of cycling, tourist information, digitised urban planning, geospatial information, big data, and thousands of other applications.

In some cities there are services that are in place that allow a business to be created and operating within minutes. It interfaces to central government, local government, and hooks into the slew of Cloud services that are required to support it from HR, to payroll, to web services. This is managed by City Business Development Managers who can advise on a very personal level, over coffee, a beer, or lunch, in real-time.

Meanwhile, the IT Dinosaurs that are not changing themselves into service delivery brokers, trusted advisers, and supporters of innovators in the business are slowly being made extinct. The innovators don’t actually need to talk to them anymore. They can talk to the Mayor, the Minister, the General Managers, and the Leaders of a company to get what they want. Technology is finally not about pieces of iron, its about real services that support a community, a country, or a customer.

This breeds a new kind of public servant. One that is no longer constrained by bureaucratic rules, a positive disruptor who can reach out into the world and bring together communities of ICT geeks, smart people, interested people, local ICT companies, and facilitate the creation of entirely new services. Someone who can accomplish something, that looks above the “mandated” rules of the IT Dinosaurs to the end customer, who realises that they are the same person, and breaks, bends, and ignores the old rules of bureaucracy, all with the CEO, Mayor, Minister, and Manager’s blessing.

We need far more of these people, and I think we are seeing them. I spend a lot of time in government and local government, speaking on this subject. What is interesting is this. No one is interested in being in ICT anymore. We are suffering a resource deficit of ICT people. we are told, and this is true in the development area, but the reality is that Computer Science doesn’t impress that much anymore. Having a digital urban planning degree does, or being part of an innovation team, or the city hackathon manager, and so on.

Public Service should not be seen as a digital desert filled with Dinosaurs that are unaware of the impending comet.

The movement has started, and for all you innovators trapped in the desert, I give you the Apperley version of the ten rules of the intrapreneur:

  1. Come to work each day prepared to be eaten by the IT Dinosaur. Fear of the dinosaur is stasis. If it kills you, go somewhere else.
  2. Ignore any IT Dinosaurs that tell you that your idea cannot be fulfilled.
  3. Do anything that you need to do, to make sure your idea can live.
  4. Find other people that the IT Dinosaur’s speak badly of, and group with them. They are probably on the right track.
  5. Create a secret anti IT Dinosaur coalition.
  6. Ensure that you work as long as you can outside of the view of the IT Dinosaur. Once they spot you they will descend on mass and try and eat you.
  7. Back yourself.
  8. Remember that it is far easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission.
  9. Don’t be an idiot. If your idea is stupid, and your fellow innovators tell you it is, don’t die in a ditch with an IT Dinosaur sitting on top of you.
  10. Make sure you look after your backers.

Break. The. Rules. Be a positive disruptor.




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