Defying perceptions, exceeding expectations: Idaho Transportation Department named finalist for Innovative Company of the Year

BOISE - Creative, dynamic and customer-focused are typically not the first descriptors that come to mind when thinking of a state agency. Defying that perception, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) was recently named a finalist for Idaho Innovative Company of the Year by the Idaho Technology Council.

ITD is one of three finalists for the honor. The winner will be announced Oct. 25 in Boise during the technology council’s Hall of Fame dinner.

"It is a notable accomplishment by a state agency competing in a private-sector arena," said ITD Chief Administrative Officer Charlene McArthur.

Underscoring that point, last year’s winner in the innovation competition was Micron Technology Inc., which posted $16.2 billion in revenue in Fiscal Year 2015. State agencies typically cannot compete evenly with for-profit companies — until now.

Spurred by Director Brian Ness’ vision to operate more like a business, and motivated by an annual funding shortfall in the hundred of millions, in 2014 the department launched a strategy to engage employees to find solutions to everyday problems. The centerpiece of this innovation strategy is an employee-driven effort branded “Innovate ITD!."

Rather than rely on the brainpower of a select group of leadership-level people, ITD is harnessing the creativity of all 1,500 employees statewide. Employees at every level are encouraged to submit ideas for time and money savings and making processes more efficient. But this is not just an old-fashioned suggestion box. From there, employees work to implement the best ideas that have a measurable impact.

The results have been impressive: 405 ideas for improvement have been implemented statewide. Savings and efficiency improvements amounting to $2 million have stretched the money that can be applied to Idaho roads, bridges and delivering improved transportation services. ITD employee-initiated and reported innovations have also saved more than 66,000 labor hours of contractor and employee time across the state. Of the reported innovations, nearly 150 are customer-service improvements. Since ITD’s ultimate customer is every one of the Gem State’s more than 1.1 million drivers, the ultimate winner is the Idaho taxpayer.

“Innovation is the most constructive way to change and get better. We do not reject ideas. Rather, we empower employees to look for innovation in all we do from basic, yet effective, process improvements to the most creative ideas,” said Ness.

“I think ITD stood out in the mind of the judges because what we are doing — innovating at the roots of the organization — are things that many in private industry are striving to achieve,” McArthur explained. “As a state agency, we are supposedly handcuffed by regulations, policies and compensation caps, yet we are still able to inspire and engage with a workforce determined to deliver the maximum value to our stakeholders and customers.”

“The recognition for ITD does two things for us. First and most importantly, it communicates to all ITD employees and future prospects the nature of the ITD of today — we are forward-thinking, adaptive, achievers who value collaborative and motivated employees willing to solve challenging problems and continuously improve our performance. We hope to retain and attract thinkers and doers who create a culture that make ITD the employer of choice in the state.

"Secondly, it validates the course that Director Ness and the transportation board launched us on six years ago to make ITD perform more like a business than a government agency. We are focused on our performance outcomes and the direct impact we have on ensuring safety, mobility and economic opportunity.”

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