State Seal of Indiana.

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Reading Governor Mitch Daniel’s book, Keeping the Republic, he mentions the Indiana Welfare Eligibility modernization.  This modernization was a ten-year deal worth $1.3 billion to IBM and its partners.  It is an important story for all of government because everyone has the same mindset.

This mindset is characterized by anecdotal evidence to support an ideology.  In this case, privatization.  The old welfare system was labeled as the nation’s worst according to the US Department of Health and Human Services back in 2005 – these are the same bureaucrats that Governor Daniels laments about earlier in the book.  The system was rife with error, delays, fraud and unhappy people with the status quo.

Further, the welfare offices were described in the book as “a chaotic mess.  Antique, green-screen computers from the 1970s sat amid the floor-to-ceiling stacks of boxes stuffed with paper.  I asked our researchers to take pictures.  Otherwise, I knew no one would believe later how bad the system was.”

This is the death sentence for governments assuming old manual systems with old technology is always bad.  Government management has embraced modernization because it doesn’t feel “modern.”  However, the old systems are never evaluated for flow or knowledge, just that things looked old.  This is the mentality that wastes taxpayers billions of dollars.  IBM and others wait like wolves ready to pounce on the gullible and naive.

Governor Daniel’s calls the attempt an “oops.”   The re-engineering to modernize and privatize the welfare system wasn’t begun with knowledge but ideology and assumption.  When ideology and assumption are in the decision-making costs increase and service worsens.  Politics has a hard time separating reality from fantasy.  Evidence without preconceived notions is always best.

Modernization and privatization – which I am not against – really need to begin with knowledge of the systems we are trying to improve.  Governor Daniels does not challenge the back office design when describing the improvement effort, yet, here is a huge opportunity for improvement.  Most believe in the front-back office design that handicaps the design of work.  Different thinking and better method are required to improve work.

Governor Daniels has brought fiscal discipline to Indiana, but fiscal discipline by itself is doing the wrong thing, righter.  Indiana and other government entities can find dramatic improvement (another 30-70%)  from changing the thinking about the design and management of work.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Learn more about the Vanguard Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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