Department of Technology deputy director Scott Gregory, who is leading the new Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement, talks about the vision for the office during a technology conference in Sacramento on May 12. Photo: Bill Maile / Techwire

The California Department of Technology's new innovation lab will be a place where government can try unconventional or radical ideas that encourage experimentation, its director Scott Gregory says.

"That may scare some folks — 'radical' and 'unconventional' in government. Those two don't often reside in the same sentence or conversation. But we aim to do that," Gregory said during a May 12 technology conference in Sacramento.

The lab being launched within the Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement is a space where users can experiment with open source code via Redhat OpenStack. It will will be housed in the state's private cloud.

"The most exciting thing to me is we're going to have an opportunity to develop a culture around 'ideation,' fresh thinking — a place where folks can come in, build something, spin up a VM [virtual machine], develop an application. If they don't like it, throw it away, start building again," Gregory said.

The Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement was created with the intent to enhance delivery of digital services by partnering with organizations inside and outside the state government, Gregory explained.

Gregory called the concept a "civic consultancy," and it's modeled after the U.S. Digital Service and 18F — two such efforts in the federal government. California has been listening and taking lessons from them, said Gregory.

One the key features of California's new office is the diversity of expertise among its staff. Gregory said the office is mixing together back-end programmers, staff with user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) skills, graphic designers, social media specialists and business analysis experts.

The office will try to solve business problems by using technology, rather than existing solely for the sake of doing IT, said Gregory.

The initiative will look at implementing agile and lean business processes to quickly deliver IT solutions, and open data also will be a core component, he said.

"Open data is going to be a platform, and a program, and a movement, if you will, within California, that's going to drive more content delivery, more ability to innovate and collaborate around important issues," Gregory said.