How effective are the world's governments at using technology to become
more responsive? Technology has revolutionised the way that we do
business, but the public sector has traditionally moved more cautiously
than the private one. Now, a report
from the Centre for Technology
Policy Research in the UK has made some recommendations for the use of
technology as an enabling mechanism for government.
discusses the concept of open government, which it defines as a
government subject to public scrutiny, in which employees work in
"smarter, better informed ways". In order to achieve open government, an
administration cannot simply tack technology onto existing processes,
the report warns. Instead, it suggests changing key processes from the
What might this look like? The report cites Tim
O'Reilly, founder of technology publisher O'Reilly, arguing for
government to be recast as an "open platform" that encourages innovation
and change. To encourage this, the Centre for Technology Policy
Research makes several suggestions.
Cultural changes are
necessary to create an Internet-aware government, the document says. A
vision must be created by leadership, outlining guiding principles that
must then be enforced.
Audits should focus on outcomes, while
enabling departments to achieve those goals using their own means.
Opening up access to social media tools may help them to meet their
objectives, by helping governmental organisations to listen to feedback
from traditionally under-represented groups, such as front line workers.
Other tools that could help to achieve positive outcomes include
real-time communication tools such as live chat.
policies include a board-level, CIO function, compulsory training in
technology and related policy for senior civil servants, and the
integration of technology planning into public policy documents, rather
than addressing it individually in dedicated IT planning documents.
Other high-level recommendations include the revolutionising of
procurement practices via the use of free cloud-based services for
commodity functions such as social networking, and the replacement of
all-rights-reserved licencing with open licence agreements in public
Talking of openness, the use of open standards and
open source in public systems is a strong recommendation in the report.
Government systems should support interoperability wherever they can, it
said, adding that open source, taxpayer-funded code should be shared
across all areas of government.
We are already starting to see
providers targeting this sector. For example, Google has
been heavily targeting government players. The City of Los Angeles
replaced its Novell Groupwise system with Google Apps last October. At a
federal level, the US Government has launched its own cloud computing
under the banner Apps.gov, which includes applications from a
number of cloud players, including Google and Salesforce.
the UK Government just announced this week that it would be cutting
from its own IT budget, and David Cameron has in the past
questioned the wisdom of large, centralised projects such as the
National Health Service's mammoth Connecting for Health project.
Instead, he has posited the idea of working with specialist cloud
players to achieve similar goals. Signs are already emerging
that we can
expect a significant policy change in such areas.
All of this
will radically change the role of service providers and the process of
procurement in public sector IT, and those working in the area would do
well to take note. A recent qualitative study conducted by Microsoft in
conjunction with the Institute of Directors, called the Hybrid
Organisation, describes the need to slim down the size of the state to
the point where it performs on a third of national income, rather than
half (see video, below). Technology will be crucial to driving the necessary efficiencies
into government practice - and those with the know-how to make that happen will be able to capitalise on the trend.