Big Data and Government Digital Policy United States

Data and a $32B Travel Operation

When a government office is as significant as the Defense Travel Management Office of the US DoD, insights and analytics are critical. One fact highlights the magnitude of the operation. The office oversees annual spending of $32B.

Last week we interviewed Harvey Johnson, SES, Director of the Travel Management Office. Harvey is responsible for one of the world’s largest commercial travel operations – moving civilian and military personnel from one place to another using a vast network of travel providers.

We’ll feature more video content from the interview in the coming weeks. But to whet your appetite, in this short sequence, Harvey discusses the importance of data and insight in providing quality service and to help set the policy agenda.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government Government and Cloud United Kingdom

Xero, Tax and HMRC: EnterConf

EnterConf opened today in Belfast, Northern Ireland in a former Harland & Wolff warehouse building (now home to a skateboarding park). The venue is grungy but the presentations – from the great and the good in enterprise software – help paint a picture of enterprise software in a state of flux.

The flux is, to some extent at least, being caused by cloud technology. Enterprises (and governments) are all over this technology and want to be seen to be using it. Sometimes they have no choice – such is the tendency for developers, in particular, to start using the new cool thing – the C-suite is then forced to pay the bill for an enterprise license. There’s talk, at EnterConf, about the ‘shadow cloud’ – non-approved software entering the enterprise and staying there.

But most SMEs see little down-side to the cloud. And a new breed of software vendor has entered the domain traditionally occupied by Google to offer very handy functionality for very little cost. One such company is cloud based accounts vendor, Xero.

Xero, along with competitors Sage, KashFlow and others, offers its software for a minimal monthly fee. Functionality grows with need as the business grows.

Such cloud based packages have transformed the lives of small business owners and accounting firms. They have also caused government tax authorities to reappraise the nature of the relationships between themselves and small business owners. In the case of the UK tax authority – HMRC – it seems inevitable that its head-count will reduce as its need to provide face-to-face engagement reduces with the advent of all-electronic filing and returns.

I had the opportunity to ask Andy Lark, CMO of Xero, about his observations about how government tax authorities should rearrange themselves – in preparation for a cloud future.

Digital Government Digital Policy Events United States

The Ticking Privacy and Security Bomb

As eGovernment applications proliferate, so does the amount of sensitive citizen data stored in government IT systems. Proliferating as well is the risk that this data – which individuals are usually compelled to provide – is disclosed, stolen or otherwise compromised through human error, negligence or cyber-attacks. And, in the end, it’s the citizens who are getting hurt, really hurt. The damage from security breaches has moved far beyond identity theft and financial gain – lives could now be at stake.

Case in point: The targeted March 2014 cyber-attack by a foreign government of the US Government agency that maintains the records for tens of thousands of government employees, military personnel and contractors holding or having applied for security clearances – including this author’s. Not only did these records contain information such as Social Security numbers, birth-dates, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. but also extremely sensitive personal data such as:

  • detailed listings, including addresses and phone numbers, of family members and foreign contacts
  • prior arrests and disciplinary actions
  • lawsuits
  • bankruptcies
  • history of mental illness, gambling, alcohol and drug use

The consequences of this breach are staggering – not only for the individuals affected but for national security. This information enables the perpetrators to:

  • identify covert agents, which could result in their imprisonment – or worse
  • target individuals possessing classified information of value and expose them to blackmail or recruitment as a spy
  • identify foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence personnel and expose them to coercion

The point here is that privacy and security are the underpinnings on which eGovernment is built. If the underpinnings fail, the building collapses. Up to now, privacy and security of data have been taken as a given but this seemingly endless stream of security breaches, each worse than the previous one, make this now a myth.

Why should a citizen trust the government with their most sensitive information anymore? In a Fall 2014 survey of about 1,000 adults, the Pew Research Center found that only six percent stated that they were “very confident” that government agencies can keep their records private and secure; 25% stated they were “somewhat confident.” It’s not clear how much longer citizens will tolerate this situation – or how far away we are from the tipping point where individuals will flat out refuse to provide sensitive personal information, even at the cost of penalties.

This distressing state of affairs can only have a quenching effect on the growth of eGovernment services, particularly at the Federal level. Privacy and data security can no longer be taken for granted, they must now become an integral part of the value proposition that eGovernment offers to citizens.

Citizen 2015 will be chairing a panel discussion on cyber-security at the EnterConf 2015 conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June, 19



Digital Government Events United Kingdom

Citizen 2015 at EnterConf in Northern Ireland

One of the most successful aspects of the Web Summit in Dublin – which has been described as “the best tech conference in the world”, “Glastonbury for geeks” and “Davos for nerds” – was the Enterprise Summit.

At Web Summit in 2014 more than 5,000 attendees from more than 60 countries attended Enterprise Summit. It was the busiest stage and exhibition area. Attendees were business and government leaders interested in understanding how enterprise software could help their company or department, be it CRM, finance, HR, security or data.

The team behind Web Summit has decided to create a standalone conference, EnterConf, dedicated to enterprise software.  It takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, next week. We’re delighted to announce that we’ll be covering the event for Citizen 2015.

I will also be moderating two panels at the event – one focused on CRM and a second on enterprise security.  I’ll try to feature a few audio interviews with delegates during the course of EnterConf.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government Digital Policy United Kingdom United States

The Government Productivity Problem

One of the consequences of the economic downturn, post-2008, is a problem with productivity. While several of the developed nations have managed to engineer growing economies, many seem to be doing so without a corresponding increase in productivity.

When economies grow without productivity growth there is often a suspicion that growth is coming from either 1) public spending (typically fuelled by debt); or 2) consumer spending (typically fuelled by debt).  A better form of growth emanates from businesses producing more – and more efficiently.  But when demand is sluggish and businesses have difficulty sourcing bank finance, productivity tends to suffer.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom have seen poor levels of productivity growth – or even declining productivity in certain sectors. One of these sectors is public administration.

There is much debate as to how public sector productivity should be measured. Indeed, do public sector bodies ‘produce’ anything? Most clearly do. For example, local authorities provide refuse collection and disposal services; public healthcare systems provide general practitioner services, hospital services. But, public sector productivity can be measured in a very simple way. Public services have running costs and employees. If running costs increase with no reduction in headcount then the productivity per employee declines if the service provided remains constant.

Source: ONS/

Interestingly, taking the United Kingdom as an example, a recent article in The Economist highlighted the fact that in the UK while overall productivity levels have been declining, certain sectors do appear to have been improving their game. While government service productivity has been declining since 2009, productivity in the administration and support sector has been improving. This includes organisations like business process outsourcing (BPO) firms.

Therefore, there seems no clear reason why the public sector couldn’t see similar productivity improvements. The administration and support sector clearly takes advantage of technology that reduces the number of employees required to provide better service. BPO shared service centres can avail of better technologies to better manage much larger volumes of customer interactions in a much more efficient manner.  Consequently many services firms have grown – supported by better technology and processes.

The challenge for government is to provide better service with lower headcount. Departments often face considerable restrictions in terms of changing employment practices or outsourcing core services. But the public sector will, inevitably, come under pressure to deliver more, better as austerity really starts to bite.

Digital Government Digital Policy Open Data

Letting the Light In: Sunlight Foundation

I first heard about Sunlight Foundation when I heard Ellen Miller present at a conference in San Francisco several years ago. Sunlight Foundation – in common with other like-minded organisations in the UK such as MySociety – has set itself the ambition of bridging the gap between citizens and government.

This is no easy task, of course. The reason a gap exists is often because of complexity – or deliberate obfuscation. But there’s no doubt that a gap exists. Citizens often feel isolated from decision-making. They often feel powerless when they have difficulty getting the information they need.

The Sunlight Foundation has evolved over the years. It was an early advocate for the opening of government data. It’s now accepted wisdom that more and more government data sets need to be opened – and Sunlight Foundation has been at the vanguard of that movement. But as government gets more complex the role of the Sunlight Foundation is changing too.

We’re delighted to announce that in the coming weeks we’ll be interviewing Chris Gates, President of Sunlight Foundation. We’ll feature the interview on this site in early July.

Digital Policy Open Data Smart Cities

Smart Cities, Common Sense

I was interviewed for a feature on smart cities by London’s new DAB radio station Share Radio. The piece was broadcast earlier today.

Bill Bambrough, the Share Radio journalist who produced the piece, asked me about the evolution of smart cities, concerns over personal data privacy and how city planners should approach smart city roll-out.

The piece touches on other topics such as Internet of Things, Open Data and how technology, generally, can help improve the lives of citizens in cities.


Citizen Engagement Open Data Smart Cities

GSMA: Government Needs to Open Data

Michael O’Hara is the Chief Marketing Officer of the GSMA – the association of global mobile operators that, among other things, runs the Mobile World Congress.  The Congress is the largest annual event in the mobile industry – held in Barcelona.

Michael is based in Boston but was in the UK last week presenting at a number of events.

Michael is an advocate of open data – publicly available data sets – to allow amalgam services to be built and made available to mobile devices. In this short interview I ask him why it’s important that government and city authorities make available data for website and app developers.

(Somewhat ironically, when interviewing Michael I received a text message about 26 seconds in to the interview – so no need to check your phone).