Andrea Di Maio

Time for government to plug into one platform?

In a new blog post, Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio asks if it’s time to pull the plug on government Websites? Di Maio cites one Japanese city’s decision to migrate its online presence to Facebook as an example of an outside-the-box approach to government Web operations.

One comment from ‘Carolyn’ makes a strong case why the Facebook approach is short-sighted:

Believe it or not, some people trust Facebook even less than they trust government. Why make civic participation dependent on surrendering portions of your privacy to a corporation that will monetize it? I don’t want a crowdsourced opinion on when my garbage will be collected. I don’t want to have to sift through the mass of information out there on the web to find the proper permit application, or tax form for my business. And I don’t want corporate interests controlling my access to my government.

Related to this, one of my favorite quotes about Facebook comes from blogger Jason Kottke (2007):

As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.

Di Maio’s general point is that when government builds Websites they “almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.” But just because this has been the case to date, doesn’t mean public sector IT should transition its entire online operations to the trendiest social network.

It’s time for government to radically reconsider its online service offering to citizens with a more sustainable approach.

Centralizing government Websites into one portal is something I’ve advocated for years (see here and here). In fact, the White House is exploring this and other options around improving the .gov ecosystem (they addressed my question specifically on this subject at a White House ‘Open for Questions’ live chat here).

If government really wants to focus on IT efficiency and cost-savings, CIOs and CTOs need to construct a more focused, organic strategy that includes the following:

  • Centralize your Web ecosystem into a single CMS and uniform brand/theme
  • Develop using open source software.
  • Create an open data portal.
  • Leverage APIs.
  • Migrate as much to the cloud as possible.
  • Create topic-based content and ensure distribution via RSS, email and all social media means available.
  • Develop a mobile strategy based on accessing the data above and empowering external, entrepreneurial ventures to compete in a free market to provide the best services (i.e., build less apps in-house).

The above list is by no means comprehensive and perhaps one day I’ll have more time to elaborate. It is, however, a general, sustainable strategy for addressing pubic sector budgeting constraints given the current economic conditions. Some or all of this could be done in-house or out-sourced. If the latter, it needs to be highly extensible and portable.

I’m all for radical re-working and thinking different, but don’t let fiscal uncertainty or short-term instability drive irrational IT decision-making, especially when it comes to public services and citizen privacy.

Gov 2.0 Hero: Andrea Di Maio

Andrea Di Maio doesn’t mince words when discussing Gov 2.0 on his blog. Di Maio, Gartner Research VP Distinguished Analyst, shares his thoughts on Gov 2.0 globally, what will happen in 2010 and how to filter the signal from the noise.

What’s your assessment of Gov 2.0 execution across the globe?

Gov 2.0 is primarily a bottom-up phenomenon. So, while nation-wide strategies on gov 2.0 in the US, UK and Australia, make people think those are the most advanced countries, reality is that there are many local and regional authorities as well as individual agencies across the globe that are trying out and sometimes succeeding in getting value out of gov 2.0. The assessment also depends on what people define as Gov 2.0. In most cases, this is equated to the combination of open government (more public data more easily available to people over the Internet) and the use of web 2.0 technologies for internal collaboration and external engagement. In my view, gov 2.0 is something much deeper, like the tip of the iceberg of socialization and commoditization of government data, processes and services. What we are seeing is the first phase, but the real (and disruptive) potential of gov 2.0 is still ahead of us.

What’s the signal v. noise in Gov 2.0?

Undoubtedly it is a much hyped phenomenon, so I would say that in many instances the ratio is not so good. However, if you apply the right filters, you can find interesting developments in several areas. I do believe people start getting the fundamentals of social media usage right: although many still look at that as a complementary communication channel and focus on developing agency and department Facebook pages, client conversation tell me that there is now a better understanding that engagement has to take place on the citizen’s turf, i.e. on their rather than on the government’s terms.

What does 2010 look like for Gov 2.0?

It is time to move from vision to execution and to fully understand that the single most important success factor is to empower government employees. The focus must be on refining social media policies and creating management frameworks that enable employees to use external social media in order to engage with existing groups and to advise their own agencies about whether and where to create a more institutional presence on selected social media and for selected topics. The other important aspect is to shift focus from information provision to information intelligence: in fact, while many governments (at all levels) seem obsessed with making public data more easily accessible (which is good), they are not putting sufficient emphasis on identifying, assessing and leveraging information that citizens collect on social media and can help in both service delivery and policy-making.

What’s your advice to Gov 2.0 implementers?

Make sure gov 2.0 is not limited to a small elite of visionary officials who blog, tweet and join barcamps and govcamps. The business value of joining communities and engaging external stakeholders must be shown by socializing examples where value has actually been created, and not only an idea that has a great potential. Also, look at the information management aspect: how to find communities and content that are relevant and how to identify external patterns that may help agencies do their job. We have seen early examples in areas like law enforcement or tax and benefit auditing, where examining external information (on Youtube, Flickr, Google Maps and the likes) has revealed patterns of fraudulent or criminal behavior. The same should be applied to more positive patterns: where is knowledge that can help fight unemployment or improve child welfare or better prioritize local policies?

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