In the beginning, there was the single app… single-purpose applications developed one at a time by individual city departments. They enabled citizens do things like get real-time bus arrival information, monitor air quality or stay current on news about elected officials and legislation relevant to the neighborhood where they live or work.
The problem with the single app is that, well, it is single. It typically doesn’t talk to other apps to share data and only has a single function. Increasingly, cities are coming to the conclusion that building separate tools for separate applications or investing limited funds and resources to integrate single apps is not practical or cost-effective.
The thinking now is to develop comprehensive set of capabilities that can be used to build a variety of integrated apps for a wide variety of applications that span multiple departments and functions – a platform, in other words.
AT&T, in alliance with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM, Intel and Qualcomm, has just announced one such initiative. Known as the Smart Cities Framework, this initiative combines AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities with those of its technology partners to offer a range of solutions for cities. The initial offering of the Framework consists of four categories of IoT solutions:
Infrastructure – Capabilities that will enable cities to remotely monitor the conditions of roads, bridges, buildings, parks and other sites
Transportation – Electric bike rental stations to reduce traffic congestion; digital signage that indicates near real-time the arrival of buses and trains
Public safety – Management of pedestrian traffic patterns at busy intersections, stadiums, parks and other venues; gunfire detection technology that pinpoints the location of shootings and the number of people involved
Citizen engagement – Remote viewing of parking meters and ability to reserve parking spaces ahead of time; mobile apps that provide helpful information real-time, e.g., malfunctioning traffic light on commuter’s route
AT&T is also developing a Smart City Network Operation Center (SC-NOC) that provides a dashboard view of how well a city’s infrastructure is performing in near-real time. The SNOC enables city officials to monitor things such as power outages, water leaks and traffic congestion from a single location.
The first cities to get connected will be Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. Each will implement capabilities tailored to their needs.
The success of this initiative will largely depend on whether cities see an attractive payback for this type of investment. If the ROI is not there, it is unlikely cash-strapped cities will invest in this technology. However, if IoT technology can save cities money while helping them provide better service, this ambitious initiative has a bright future.
In previous posts, I have talked about what Government as a Platform (GaaP) is all about: government agencies not only providing web applications specific to their mission but also services on which citizens and organizations can build applications of their own for the benefit of other citizens and the community. It’s the apps that provide the value; GaaP is just an enabler.
So who’s developing such apps and for what purposes? Herein is a sampling of government-open-data apps that have been developed and, in many cases, available for your use.
USA.gov – The US Federal Government publishes a list of mobile open-data apps it has developed. The list, which is available through its official web portal, USA.gov [ https://www.usa.gov/mobile-apps ], comprises of nearly 300 apps. These apps, by and large, are specific to the Agency’s mission.
These apps essentially consist of user-friendly interfaces to specialized open-data sets. In many regards, these are the first-generation eGoverment apps – based on the concept of “let’s make all this data available and see what people do with it.”
Data.gov – This companion website lists 81 government-data-based apps developed by third parties. Like USA.gov, the apps cover a very wide range of applications.
An interesting app, which is still under development, is iCitizen. According to its creators, iCitizen “tracks elected officials and the issues you choose to care about in real time. Take part in polls to let your representative know where you stand on hot-button topics. Real-time monitoring and voting. Rate your federal and state elected officials. View their voting records and campaign contributors. Track the current issues most important to you, and keep up with related news. Cast your vote in polls related to today’s issues. Show your support for or opposition to pending legislation.” If iCitizen can do all of this, it certainly would raise citizen engagement to a new level.
Code for America – This site lists Code for America’s products: 40+ apps focused municipal services. These “tactical” apps are designed to solve specific problems or provide a particular capability. Some examples:
AddressIQ – Jointly developed with the City of Long Beach, CA, this web application was developed to reduce the demand on emergency services by analyzing city data to help identify addresses with a high number of 911 calls (In 2013, 10% of the city’s addresses generated 52% of 911 calls). AddressIQ displays this information to city staff and supports the coordination of cost-effective ways to provide those addresses with better care and resources.
TextMyBus – Provides a simple text messaging service to relay real time bus arrival information to Detroit riders and an API for developers to build 3rd party transit apps.
Jail Population Management Dashboard – Gives Louisville, KY, judges, corrections staff, and police a real-time, in-depth view of the local metro jail system, which helps them understand the conditions in the metro jail and use this data to assess how their decisions will affect program, facility and inmate outcomes.
The above three sites provide a good cross-section of the types of government-open-data apps that are being implemented today. As I indicated in a previous post, these examples represent the first-generation of GaaP applications – akin to the Pong video game of the early eighties.
This is the latest in a series of articles by Larry Larkin that looks at GaaP. Read them all.
There’s a debate going on in the UK regarding what the Government Digital Service (GDS) is going to deliver – a true Government as a Platform (GaaP) service model that transforms the way government does business and blows up the monolithic siloed system mold or just a “platform-looking” variation of current systems based on updated technology – the latter being referred to as a “Platform for Government” or PfG.
In a very interesting article, Mark Thompson, a leading (and very vocal) proponent of GaaP in the UK, cautions that the British government may be heading down the PfG path, largely as a result of scant engagement by senior civil servants and politicians and strong lobbying by large system integrators – who have the most to lose from the implementation of a true GaaP service delivery model. In short, civil servants are sniffy about a model that many see as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not all see it that way.
So what’s the difference between GaaP and PfG? According to Thompson, their contrasting characteristics are shown in the table below.
So why is it important? As Thompson puts it: “The distinction here – and government’s choice – between a blueprint for GaaP that supports participation versus one that supports mere access, is critical. The former is about democratic re-invigoration, and the latter is about – well, just technology. Participation is much more disruptive to existing modes of organising within government.”
Linnar Viik, Associate Professor and Member of the Board of the Estonian Information Technology College, likes to tell a story about what drove Estonia to become one of the most advanced wired societies in the world after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its new prime minister, the story goes, was being shown his office by his secretary for the first time. On a table sat six phones, two with a dial and four without. Upon seeing them, the prime minister asked what all those phones were for. The secretary replied: “Mr. Prime Minister, we don’t know – they were there.” And so, as Professor Viik likes to put it, “That was the beginning of the infrastructure in the country. You didn’t know where the cables are going, what are the solutions behind them and who is where. And it gave the opportunity to start from scratch.”
No longer reliant on the economic resources of the Soviet Union and stuck with an archaic technology infrastructure, Estonia faced a daunting challenge in the early nineties: how was the small nation with a tiny population and very limited resources to move ahead? With the advent of the Internet, Estonia’s leaders saw the opportunity to create an e-society from the ground up and embarked upon an ambitious program to make it a reality.
First came the legal framework:
The Personal Data Protection Acts of 1996 and 2003 that established the laws regulating the use of citizens’ personal data by government and third-parties,
The Digital Signatures Act of 2000 that established the legal validity of digital signatures, and
The Public Information Act of 2000 that established a national registry (called the Population Register) containing the personal data of all citizens/residents and set forth the conditions, procedures and methods for accessing this information.
The centerpiece of the legislation is that it is the citizen who owns his/her private data and has the right to control who can access it. The “system” allows citizens to specify at a granular level who can access their records. For example, they can specify which individual doctor or doctors can look at their electronic health records. While there are situations such as law enforcement where a citizen cannot block the government from accessing their data, they can still get a record of who accessed it and when – on-line. If a citizen suspects an official of accessing their data without a valid justification, he/she can file an inquiry and have the official disciplined (read: fired or imprisoned) for unauthorized use of private data.
Once the legal framework was in place, then came the technology infrastructure. First, every citizen had to be uniquely identified. Each individual was assigned a distinctive 11-digit Personal ID Code based on his/her date of birth and sex.
The government then established a Population Register – a national database holding all the basic information about each person living in Estonia. It contains their names, Personal ID Codes, birthdates, places of residence, legal relationships and other statistical data such as nationality, native language, education, and profession. The Population Register is the central repository of all personal data.
Along with a Personal ID Code, every citizen 15 years or older was issued a compulsory Estonian ID Card (Figure 1). The card serves both as a physical identity document as well as an electronic identity. It can also be used in lieu of a passport when traveling within the European Union.
The ID card is a smartcard that stores the individual’s name, gender, biometric data, Personal ID Code, and cryptographic keys and public key certificates. The certificates are used to assure identity and allow the individual to digitally sign documents. As a result of the Digital Signature Act, digital signatures are legally equivalent to manual signatures – and government organizations are required to accept digital signatures from citizens.
In 2007, the government introduced a Mobile-ID Service that enabled individuals to use their mobile phones as a form of secure electronic ID. Like the ID Card, the mobile phone could be used to access secure eServices as well as digitally sign documents – but with the advantage of not requiring a card reader. The system is based on a specialized Mobile-ID SIM card which the individual must obtain from their mobile service provider. Private keys are stored on the mobile SIM card along with an app for authentication and signing.
As a matter of law, government systems are not allowed to store the same data in more than one place. In the case of personal data, all they store is the Personal ID Code. To interconnect all the various government databases, the state developed “X-Road”– essentially a secure data-sharing network. It was initially developed as a tool to perform database queries but has been significantly enhanced. Today, it has the capability to write to multiple databases, transfer large data sets and perform searches across multiple databases. External third parties such as businesses can now interconnect as well.
To provide a gateway to all available eServices, the government developed the so-called State Portal, eesti.ee. The portal provides three views: a citizens view, an “enterpriser” (businessman) view and a public servant view and requires a single log-on.
To date, over 800 services are offered via the portal, both governmental and non-governmental. One of the first applications to be implemented was the Information System of Government Sessions, popularly known as eCabinet. It is akin to a workflow tool that enables ministers to prepare for cabinet meetings, conduct them and review minutes electronically. All documents processed and generated are digital and any that require official signatures are signed digitally by the cognizant minister(s). Under the paper-based system, cabinet meetings ran, on the average, five hours. With eCabinet, meetings are averaging 30 minutes. The fact that this was one of the first eGovernment applications implemented was no accident – it was intended to demonstrate the government’s commitment to eGovernment.
On-line tax filing – 97% of tax returns in Estonia are filed electronically. Why? Because it’s so easy – the process, on the average, takes 10 minutes. Most of the fields are already filled out: Wages are reported automatically by employers as are charitable deductions by non-profit organizations. Mortgage tax deductions are automatically calculated from mortgage information provided by commercial banks. And so on. According to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, “[On-line filing] had the additional effect of dramatically increasing compliance. People paid their taxes! – which then had the additional benefit which allowed us to reduce taxes and, suddenly, the Estonian government found out it had budget surpluses because people were paying more – people were paying their taxes.”
Electronic health records – This nationwide EHR system integrates data from the country’s various healthcare providers and creates a common record for each patient. While it has the appearance of a centralized database, the system actually retrieves the data it requires from the various providers’ systems as needed and presents it in a standard format. Patients can access their own records and those of their children. By logging into the EHR Patient Portal with an electronic ID card or mobile phone, an individual can review previous doctor visits and current prescriptions, control which doctors have access to their medical information, and can even receive general health advice. Prescriptions are now being done on-line as well.
On-Line voting – In 2005, Estonia became the first country to use on-line voting for nationwide elections. The Internet-Voting System, or iVoting for short, allows Estonians to cast ballots from any Internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world. In the last parliamentary elections in 2011, 24% of eligible voters voted electronically, up from 5.5% in 2005.
Company registration –Estonians (and non-Estonians) can register a new business online in just minutes without ever having to go to a notary or government office. All it takes is an ID Card/mobile phone and an Internet connection. Through this system, businesses can also file annual reports and obtain information about other companies. This system decreased the average time required to set up a business from five days to two hours. By 2011, 98% of business registrations were done on-line.
If ever there was a proof-of-concept for eGovernment and, to a certain extent, Government-as-a-Platform, Estonia is it. Granted, in many regards, the country had the opportunity to build from scratch and with a manageable scale. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that it took sustained commitment and political will to make it happen. And it’s that which makes the difference between success and failure.
US Government agencies have spent billions of dollars in an effort to improve the services they provide. Yet, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report, citizen satisfaction with Government services has been in decline for the last two years (Figure 1).
Satisfaction with eGovernment services, while higher, has remained essentially flat. In fact, it has declined about one percent in the last six months (Figure 2).
Why is that? There are several reasons. For starters, debacles like Healthcare.gov, the gargantuan breach of personnel records at OPM and the scandal surrounding the wait times of veterans seeking medical treatment at Veterans Administration clinics have had a marked adverse impact on citizens’ views about the quality of government services.
Furthermore, citizens’ expectations, particularly in the eGovernment realm, are continually rising – largely driven by their positive experiences with private sector on-line services and eCommerce.
Consumers (and citizens) expect immediate response and personalized service across multiple channels at any time from anywhere – consistently.
For businesses, failure to deliver what the customer wants translates into lost business. Hence, meeting customer expectations is critical and receives constant attention and investment. For Government agencies, customer service is not as critical a component of their mission as it is for businesses. An agency will not go out of business if it is providing inferior customer service. Among the 40 specific industries covered by the ACSI survey, the US Government ranked next to last – just above Internet service providers (Figure 3).
The ability to keep up with – and meet – citizen demands continues to be a challenge for Government agencies. The reason for this is that most of the investments that agencies have made to improve customer service have focused on technology improvements rather than improving the process itself, i.e., the customer experience. This is critical; not only to improve service but to expand citizen engagement and build trust.
Research has shown that satisfaction directly impacts behavior. The more positive the experience, the greater the likelihood the citizen will engage further. The data in Figure 4 shows how positive customer experiences with websites, for example, drive engagement and, more importantly, trust in government.
The Federal Government has launched several cross-government initiatives to improve customer experience. For example, the General Services Administration has established a Customer Experience (CX) index that agencies can use to assess their service quality and measure their progress. The President’s 2015 Management Agenda has as a goal the delivery of “a world-class customer service experience for citizens and businesses.”
Many agencies have made great progress. Out of the 100 Federal Government websites surveyed, the Foresee eGovernment Satisfaction Index for 2Q 2015 , found that 27% received a score of “Excellent” (80 or higher). The Department of Health and Human Services led the list with ten of its websites rated Excellent followed by the Social Security Administration with six sites.
So, given the now critical role of citizen experience, perhaps it’s time to change the “e” in eGovernment from “electronic” to “experience.”
In my previous article in this series focusing on Gov as a Platform, I talked about the formidable challenges that lie ahead in making Government-as-a-Platform a reality. But how about the GaaP concept itself – does it make sense?
The GaaP concept is based on the business model of companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft that built commercial platforms, opened them to third parties and allowed them to develop all kinds of applications. The idea here was that by opening the platform to others, it would unleash the creativity of developers and result in applications and capabilities limited only by people’s imagination. This business model proved to be fantastically successful and, nearly overnight, created a new market for platform apps. What has made the platforms such a success has been that they are based on open standards, foster and facilitate an environment of collaboration among the developers, and do not require a large investment to participate. Essentially, just about anybody can develop and sell apps for iPhones, for example.
But will this platform business model work in a government environment? Andrea Di Maio, Managing Vice President responsible for government research at Gartner, wrote a very interesting piece back in 2009 on why government cannot be a platform. He sees these flaws in the concept:
Government operates in a more regulated environment – The data the government holds has statutory restrictions that commercial entities either do not have or are less restrictive. For example, when considering data for release, the government needs to determine if, from a regulatory aspect, the data is public data, data covered by the Freedom of Information Act, personal data, confidential data, classified data, etc. Different restrictions apply depending on the category of the data. These regulatory controls hinder the release of data.
The motivations of government are different from that of other platform providers – For starters, commercial platform companies are for-profit enterprises where success is measured by metrics such as revenue, profitability and growth. Government organizations do not exist to make a profit but rather to create what Di Maio calls “public value.” Success is measured by how effectively they fulfill their statutory mission and how well – and efficiently – they serve their customers/constituents. The metrics of success and rules of engagement are very different and, in the case of government, more complex.
Government is both a platform provider and a platform consumer – Government uses data from the private sector to fulfill many of its tasks (e.g., law enforcement), which it gets from commercial platforms (e.g., social networks). It performs both functions at the same time.
Government provides services in domains where there is no business case for the private sector to do so. In fact, most of what government does is generally of little interest to the public at large, things like childcare, unemployment support, public education, basic healthcare – whose most frequent users are, as Di Maio puts it, “on the ‘wrong’ side of the digital divide (least affluent, least connected, etc.).”
Government is many different things to the same people at the same time – It plays many roles in our lives as an authority, protector, educator, health care provider – to name a few. Given these multiple roles, their attendant overlaps, and the varied nature of the relationships, it’s not clear where the platform boundaries should lie – or could even be sensibly defined.
Government remains accountable for anybody else’s mashups – While, in theory, application developers would bear liability for errors/problems in their government-platform applications (vs. the platform provider – except in cases where the failure was triggered by a problem in the platform), the government will be criticized. To avoid this, will the governments get involved in testing and certifying third-party applications?
While these are all very valid points, I personally do not believe that GaaP: (1) is an all-or-nothing proposition and (2) these are unsurmountable problems. GaaP will evolve and its direction will be driven by needs – so if there’s not a need in a certain area – or there are major regulatory obstacles – then it’s not likely anyone will expend the effort and money to create applications. It will be a natural evolution process.
What do you think – can the government be a platform?
This is Part 3 of a series of articles by Larry Larkin
Previous articles in the series described the myriad of benefits – financial, operational and social – that GaaP can bring. But how do we get there? The path, alas, is not a road to follow but, rather, a cliff to scale. The challenges associated with moving from our current siloed, monolithic application environment – pervasive across the Federal/Central governments – to an open-data platform ecosystem are mind-numbingly formidable.
The technology path, relatively speaking, is the easiest one because: (1) the technology is available, (2) the cost efficiencies are more apparent and measurable, and (3) ever decreasing budgets are acting as forcing functions. We’re still far away, particularly in the United States, from the “one big Government cloud” – but we’re making progress. The US Federal Government’s “Cloud First”mandate, which requires agencies to consider cloud-based solutions when seeking to implement new systems is a good example.
The showstoppers are issues like:
Leadership – What incentives do agencies/ministries have to collaborate to design and build a common architecture that delivers shared services? Even if the cost savings of a common approach are there, who is going to orchestrate and drive its development – who has the authority to make it all happen?
Control of the data – Today, the data owners, i.e., the government organizations, have control of the data. Will they be willing to relinquish some of that control and share this data? What data should be shared and what shouldn’t? Who decides? What role do citizens have in deciding which data about them can be shared and which cannot? What about privacy and security – and liability?
Open data standards – Who sets the standards on how data is shared and defines the interfaces? To date – by default – it has been the private sector, companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, that has been setting the standards.
These are complex issues that cut across government, industry and citizens. They tend to be manageable at the state and local government levels given their smaller scale. However, at the national government level, particularly in the United States, given its size and complexity, these issues are almost intractable.
For such an effort to succeed at the national level, a central organization with cognizance over all governmental departments and some measure of authority – the orchestra conductor, if you will – is a requisite first step. Happily, these organizations already exist: Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK, and US Digital Service (USDS), together with 18F in the United States. GDS, by virtue of its ability to fund projects, has made tangible progress in constructing GaaP building blocks, platforms like GOV.UK for publishing and GOV.UK Verify for identity verification.
USDS and 18F, by necessity, have been focusing their limited resources in fixing critical systems at risk of failure and, in the process, inculcating industry best practices across US government agencies. Given their remarkable workload – and their success – I suspect it will be a while before they can focus on “global” GaaP issues.
So, the good news, is that several critical chess pieces of GaaP are in place. Given the magnitude of the cultural change (within government agencies) and massive resources the implementation of GaaP will require, the process will have to be evolutionary and will take time. But the movement is there…
The Conservative Party Conference is taking place this year in Manchester from Sunday 4th October. The Conference hand-book has just arrived on delegate door-mats and provides a great insight into some of the policy focuses of the major think-tanks and the Conservative Party itself.
This conference is different because, in the words of David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, it’s “the first time we have gathered together with a Conservative majority government for almost twenty years!”
I’ll be attending the Conference on behalf of Citizen 2015 and will be blogging about some of the main technology focused fringe events.
Here are three of the highlights.
On Monday the 5th of October the Policy Exchange and Nominet will focus on smart cities with a fringe event that asks the question: Should cities have to be smart before they are given more powers?
The Policy Exchange is also holding a session on the Monday afternoon of the Conference that focuses on the opportunities and threats of going digital. The guest speakers include Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for the Digital Economy and Matt Warman MP (formerly the Digital Editor at the Telegraph).
On the Tuesday of Conference the Mayor of London, London Councils and Core Cities Group are holding a debate called Cities 2020: An Urban Evolution. Panellists include Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council.
The report will discuss how government needs to change to get ready for a digital future.
The future of citizen engagement will require new ways of delivering service to citizens that take much greater account of citizen needs. Government will be required to focus, increasingly, on more complex engagements as open data based services handle more and more information requests.
As complexity increases so, too, will the need to have greater insight into the nature of the citizen relationship. Citizen Experience Optimization will rely more and more on analytics, better workforce management and CRM processes that are fit for purpose.
The report will describe a future for Citizen Engagement that will emerge in the next 15 to 20 years that puts citizen experience at the top of the government agenda. As austerity bites government will be forced to be embrace culture change that aligns citizen engagement processes with commercial sector norms. Instead of papering over cracks, the most progressive government service organizations will implement digital investment that is fit for purpose.
The report will define what ‘fit for purpose’ means and will highlight how certain government organisations are becoming much more ready for more digitally demanding future citizens.
Register now and be sure to get your copy delivered via email – as soon as it’s published in late October.
In my last post on the subject I talked about the IT nuts and bolts of Government as a Platform (GaaP) and the significant operational cost efficiencies that it could realize. The real value – and power – of GaaP, however, is as an enabler of what I call, for lack of a better phrase, “government-enabled applications.” By that I mean applications developed by end users, be they individuals, organizations or companies that combine “Government Platform” capabilities with other web services to deliver applications that are only limited by one’s imagination. Or as Tim O’Reilly aptly put it:
“If there’s one thing we learn from the technology industry, it’s that every big winner has been a platform company: someone whose success has enabled others, who’ve built on their work and multiplied its impact. Microsoft put ‘a PC on every desk and in every home,’ the internet connected those PCs, Google enabled a generation of ad-supported startups, Apple turned the phone market upside down by letting developers loose to invent applications no phone company would ever have thought of. In each case, the platform provider raised the bar, and created opportunities for others to exploit.”
This is what GaaP is really about – government agencies not only providing web applications specific to their mission but also services on which citizens and organizations can build applications of their own for the benefit of other citizens and the community.
What kind of applications you might ask? A good – and commonly used – example is chicagocrime.org (now a part of everyblock.com) created by Adrian Holovaty in 2005. Chicagocrime.com combined (“mashup” for the technically inclined) crime data published by the Chicago Police Department with Google Maps. The result was a map showing the physical locations of where crimes were being committed. There is a page and RSS feed for each city block. The user can browse the crime data in a variety of ways: by street or address, by ZIP code, by location type (house, building…), by type of crime, by date and by keyword. In a matter of a few clicks, a person can get a picture of crime activity in their neighborhood and potential areas to watch – useful stuff.
Openstreetmap.org (OSM) – which provides free, editable maps – is a good example of how GaaP type of applications can evolve and blossom. OSM grew out of a crowd-sourcing effort led by Steve Coast to create free maps of the UK, where map data is expensive and not freely available. Using Ordnance Survey (UK’s mapping agency) out-of-copyright maps from the 40’s to aid navigation, OSM volunteers set out to map the UK in 2004 using handheld GPS trackers. Today, OSM now offers a map of the entire world and has over 1,000,000 contributors worldwide.
These examples represent the first-generation of GaaP applications – akin to the Pong video game of the early eighties. Much needs to happen to enable GaaP to achieve its full potential. This will be the topic of the next article in the series.