Vacations are over – or at least mine is – but I’ve brought home some of mine for homework. Yes, I did a little work while on vacation. While in Costa Rica this summer, I had the opportunity to meet with the country’s Director of Digital Government, Alicia Avendaño Rivera.
Governments worldwide recognize the power of “going digital.” The recently announced US Digital Service and the appointment of its dedicated Administrator illustrate a commitment on the part of the US Federal government. Yet the US is merely joining others who have made similar commitments to transforming government with a focus on efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and empowering citizens and businesses through new digital technologies. Alicia Avendaño has served as Costa Rica’s Director of Digital Government since 2009.
Costa Rica Digital Government initiatives address four main goals:
G2C: Government to Citizen – citizen oriented services
G2B Government to Business – rapid and transparent business services
G2G: Government to Government – efficient and interconnected services
Infrastructure – favorable ICT infrastructure and legal framework
I had a fascinating inquiry this morning with a government securities commission (not the SEC and not in the US). The client had a classic question about how to navigate the new data economy. The commission produces and consumes large volumes of data but continue to struggle to answer persistent business questions like how well they are doing or even who they are doing it for. Yes, securities commissions regulate securities markets; they monitor publically traded companies, investment houses, and brokerage firms. Howevver they continue to ask, “for whom?” Who are the investors that they are protecting with their regulation? As they expressed the question, “How do we know what Mrs. Smith is investing in?” They currently work with several large data providers who provide financial information on companies but that information wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. Essentially, in this Age of the Customer, they want to know who their “customers” are. This was a question about how to best serve their customers, in this case the investors.
They wanted to know how to source additional third-party data that would give them a clearer picture of the investors that they are serving. Census data provides a wealth of information about households and individual finances. But the data teams at the commission are not experts in navigating census data. Data providers like Thompson-Reuters provide data on the financial services industry. Others such as Experian or Acxiom provide information on consumers. What kinds of other data providers can help them with their data strategy to answer that basic question of how to better serve their customers, and who they are?
So you need some work done that you’ve never had done before or you need to buy something you’ve never bought before. What should you pay? That can be a tough question. What seems reasonable? Sometimes we set arbitrary rules. It’s OK if it’s under $50 or under $100. But that’s just a reassurance that you’re not getting ripped off too badly. Certainly the best way to avoid that outcome is to know how much that service or thing is worth, or at least know what others have paid for the same thing.
Fortunately now, in the age of the customer, that’s easier to find out. Price information for most consumer goods is easier to come by, making the buying process more efficient. But what about governments? We’ve all heard about the $600 toilet seat or the $400 hammer. Stories of government spending excess and mismanagement abound. Some are urban legends or misrepresentations. Others have legs — such as the recent reports of Boeing overcharging the US Army. While these incidents are likely not things of the past, open data initiatives have made significant progress in exposing spending data and improving transparency. Citizens can visit sites such as USAspending.gov for US federal government spending or "Where Does My Money Go?" for details on UK national government spending, and most large cities publish spending as well.
As we all learned as kids, it's nice to share. That holds true for public sector organizations as well, particularly in tough times. Public sector organizations don't have the privilege of dialing back on scope in challenging economic times. In fact, when the going gets tough, government organizations often have to kick into high gear. And that was the case with state unemployment insurance (UI) programs in the US, which saw spikes in applications when the economy slumped. But in most states the technology infrastructure wasn’t up to the task.
Legacy systems were on life-support... Colorado’s 25-year-old COBOL-based mainframe systems continued to process unemployment insurance claims, but it was increasingly difficult and costly to find the "doctors" to keep it alive. They had to bring developers out of retirement to maintain it. State officials knew it was only a matter of time before they had to pull the plug on their system.
…and just weren’t up to the task. Not only did the “look and feel” leave a lot to be desired, the legacy system failed to deliver. The system ran processes in batch mode, meaning that data was typically collected over a period of time (daily, weekly, or monthly) and processed into the system at the end of the period. Daily downtime for processing excluded the possibility of 24-hour availability or even extended hours. The delays and lack of availability frustrated end users who wanted or needed real-time or near-real-time information to make decisions.
Transformation Should Focus On Improving Outcomes, Not Merely On Increasing Competition
I’ve spoken with many IT Procurement leaders in public sector organizations ranging from US county schools districts to national governments. Most are prevented from applying best practices such as Strategic Software Sourcing by their politicians’ ill-conceived edicts and directives, such as those included in this announcement by the UK’s Cabinet Office that optimistically claims “Government draws the line on bloated and wasteful IT contracts”. In related press interviews the relevant minister Francis Maude complained that “a tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace” and talked about his intention to encourage use of open source alternatives to products such as Microsoft Office, to increase competition and to divert more spend to small and medium-sized IT companies. The new edicts include bans of contracts over £100 million or 2 years’ duration and of automatic renewals. Mr. Maude claims these rules “will ensure the government gets the best technology at the best price”.
Mr. Maude and his team have a laudable and important goal but their approach is misguided, in my opinion. Short term contracts, indiscriminate competition and avoiding sole source category strategies will deliver neither the best technology nor the best price, because:
The recent Executive Order Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum Open Data Policy – Managing Data as an Asset have brought much attention to efforts to promote the use of data by the US federal government. In fact, highlights of the US Federal Open Data Project are already impressive. Many agencies already provide their data in machine-readable formats through APIs, or at least downloadable data sets. However, I personally measure “highlights” in terms of the use of the data (not by the number of data sets accessible). And, many organizations already put this data to good uses in health, energy, education, safety, and finance. My recent blog, Open Data Isn’t Just For Governments Anymore, highlighted several examples of companies built on open data. Think Symcat, Healthgrades, oPower, or even Zillow which has been using public data for a while now. How many of you have “zillowed” your house, your neighbor’s house, or even a colleague’s house? Be honest. I have.
. . . Nor has it ever really been. Government data has long been a part of strategic business analysis. Census data provides insights into local standards of living and household budgets, health needs, education levels, and other factors that influence buying patterns for all kinds of goods and services. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the International Labour Organization provide data on employment and the availability of skilled labor that helps inform decisions on where to locate manufacturing or other facilities. The World Bank and UN data provides insights into global trends.
Moreover, the release of government data has itself spurred billion-dollar industries. Think weather data released in the 1970s by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – which gave birth to the weather industry and services like Accuweather, weather.com, wunderground, and newer services like ikitesurf.com’s “wind and where.” Data from the US Global Positioning System (GPS) was opened to civilian and commercial use in the 1980s and has given rise to thousands of location-based services. Think FourSquare, Yelp, and Where’s The Bus?
For some reason public safety has been a hot topic for me of late. I recently presented at ZTE’s Public Safety Summit in Dubai, where there was an audience of public safety officials and telecommunications ministry representatives from the Middle East and Africa. One element of the presentation that sparked interest and audience questions was citizen engagement.
We often think of public safety in terms of emergency services – police, fire, and ambulance; and, for many people, public safety first conjures up images of the police chasing bad guys – likely the effect of too many TV shows like Cops or Southland. But as I defined it in a previous blog, public safety covers a broad range of issues that touch a city’s inhabitants: crime prevention, traffic control, health services, public infrastructure management, and any of a list of emergency services including those for natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding or incidents like urban wildlife sightings as well as fire or riots.
In order to better act as the eyes and ears of the city – particularly given the mandate of doing more with less – many public safety organizations are returning to a kind of community policing – through better engagement with citizens. This isn’t a new concept.
I attended a Xerox analyst event last week in Grenoble, France, and was very impressed with both the setting and what I heard. Xerox is much more than the verb it was once associated with, and office workers no longer set off to get something “xeroxed.” As the CEO said in a recent interview, the younger generation doesn’t know Xerox as a verb. I mentioned having read this to a fellow analyst at lunch the first day of the event, and she looked at me quizzically. She didn’t know what it meant to “xerox” something. Indeed, there is hope for Xerox to recast itself as much more than a copier. However, there remains work to be done.
Infosys recently won a financial services systems integration deal from the Department of Post in the Ministry of Communications and IT of India worth INR 700 crore (US$126 million). In 2010, India’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved India Post’s “IT modernization” project, which was divided into eight separate contracts worth a total of $337 million. With this deal, Infosys has won one of these eight contracts.
According to the terms of the contract, Infosys will commission both hardware and software – Intellectual Property (Finacle Core Banking and McCamish Insurance products) over India Post’s approximately 25,000 departmental offices over a period of 24 months. The contract, which is valid for seven years, includes managed services, application support, and infrastructure operations. More details about the deal can be found here.
Let’s look at what this deal means to Infosys and to India Post: