Digital Government Digital Policy GaaP Series Government Cloud

Government as a Platform? Bah! Humbug!

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?

Read Larry’s full series of posts on GaaP.  

Digital Government GaaP Series Government Cloud

So What Exactly is “Government as a Platform?”

These days, “Government as a Platform” has become a very popular topic in the eGovernment community. It has been touted by some as the foundation that will enable citizen eParticipation on a scale that will finally realize the promise of eDemocracy. What I’ve also found is that there is widespread confusion as to what GaaP really means – which is probably caused by the myriad of definitions or, shall I say, interpretations, of what GaaP is.

Tim O’Reilly introduced the concept of GaaP in 2009. In its simplest form, GaaP is “…an open platform that enables anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility into the actions of government and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy-making.”

Figure 1. The GaaP concept from an IT nuts and bolts perspective.
Figure 1. The GaaP concept from an IT nuts and bolts perspective.

At the IT architecture level, the basic idea here is that instead of each agency/department providing services through siloed enterprise applications, there is a common, government-wide IT platform through which all these services are delivered. Within this cloud-based platform, common functions such as communications, identity and access management, and web services are implemented as shared utilities (“shared capabilities” in GaaP parlance) – instead of replicating them in each silo.


The benefits are not only a simpler architecture but lower risk and costs. Functions unique to an agency/department would still be provided by that organization. Figure 1 depicts a simplistic example. A more detailed – and very humorous example – is provided in a video by change management consultant Mark Foden.

One of the first – and most successful – implementations of a digital government platform is Britain’s National Health Service’s NHS Jobs e-recruitment service.

Prior to 2003, recruiting for NHS jobs was done on a regional basis by 600+ providers, each of which ran their own recruiting program and facilities. TUK’s Department of Health and its consultants worked with all NHS providers to standardize on a single recruitment platform which, when implemented, opened job opportunities to workers nationwide. By eliminating duplication and inefficiencies due to redundancy, the platform-based e-recruiting system has saved over US$1.6B/£1B in its first nine years of operation.

Cost efficiencies are just the tip of the iceberg (or perhaps the icing on the cake) with regards to the benefits GaaP brings. In Part 2 of the series, we will examine how GaaP can transform government the way Web 2.0 transformed the Internet.

Read Larry’s full series of posts on GaaP.  

(You may also want to read this post by David Moody).  

Digital Policy Government Cloud

Fancy a New Digital Identity?

It’s almost a truism that the small nation of Estonia, with a population of less than 1.5 million, has been one of the leaders in terms of delivering government service with the click of a mouse.

But now the government is rolling out a new concept: transnational digital identity.

Foreign nationals are now being offered an additional Estonian digital identity so that such nationals can avail of online government services with a few mouse-clicks. The opportunities, in terms of gaining access to the single European market, are obvious. Foreign nationals, equipped with their new Estonian e-Identities, can set-up new businesses super-fast with minimal fuss.

This video, from European Parliament TV, explains the concept in a bit more detail.

Big Data and Government Digital Policy Government Cloud

New Citizen Expectations: Smartphone Generation

In this interview with Bill Annibell of Sapient Government Services, Bill outlines how citizen to government engagement processes have had to change. To some extent it’s about the smartphone. To another it’s about much greater citizen expectations.

But delivering service, given these expectations, is challenging.

Bill outlines how too many government requests are for technology solutions rather than solutions that enrich the relationship between citizen and government entity. He talks about how so many government processes are separated and distinct rather than joined-up.

Bill makes a strong case for joined-up thinking and about all levels of government getting together to think about things from citizen perspectives.

Bill covers quite some ground in this interview…how he uses research to better understand customer need, how some levels of government ‘get it’ better than others. He talks about 18F, FedRAMP, and Generation Y.

Great insight from someone who understands how citizens and government can work better together.