Update On The DATA Act: Nearing Nine Months

Well, it’s now been about nine months, and time to check in on the gestation of the DATA Act.  But before we start on what’s happened since the law passed on May 9, 2014, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and what government organizations have to work with.

This bipartisan legislation – jointly sponsored by two democrats and two republicans – is an effort to modernize the way the government collects and publishes spending information – in particular by establishing standard elements and formats for the data. The new law assigns responsibility for the task, sets out a four-year timetable for implementation, and establishes a strict oversight regime to measure compliance in the adoption of the standards and the subsequent quality and timeliness of the published spending data. That oversight is the big difference between the DATA Act and the previous legislation to improve funding transparency.  This time someone is watching, and the law has teeth.

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The DATA Act Just Might Fulfill Jeffersonian Hopes For Transparency

 “[W]e might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”

Thomas Jefferson to Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, 1 April 1802

Governments have made enormous progress in improving their transparency – thus increasing accountability. While the “union” is not quite there, implementation of the DATA Act with new standards for financial reporting and data publication will move the bar forward.  In the meantime, local governments demonstrate numerous best practices. Thomas Jefferson would likely give a nod to many of the cities and states that have published checkbook-level details of their budgets. 

Checkbook NYC Demonstrates Transparency

In July of 2010 the New York City Comptroller’s Office launched Checkbook NYC, an online transparency tool that for the first time placed the City’s day-to-day spending in the public domain.  Using an intuitive dashboard approach that combines a series of graphs and user-friendly tables, Checkbook NYC provides up-to-date information about the City's financial condition.

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Smart City Expo 2014: Cities Take Over The Show

Last week I participated in the 4th annual Smart City Expomy 4th Smart City Expo. I’ve always enjoyed the event as it is a well-balanced mix of technology vendors, academics across various disciplines, and government practitioners — a refreshing change from many tech industry trade shows. In the conference sessions, panels reflect that mix with academics sharing their research on urban studies, vendors promoting their wares, and government leaders discussing their pain points and efforts to address them — oh, and an occasional industry analyst sharing observations on best practices. This year, however, the exhibitors reflected a different mix.

In the first years of the Expo, the exhibition hall featured technology vendors preaching salvation through connected and intelligent city systems —classic “vendor push.” City leaders were eager to see the light, but their conversion was not so straightforward. Most city systems were not ready to be connected, and many were far from intelligent. This year, cities are ready — or significantly closer. As the CIO of Madrid acknowledged at an IBM-sponsored lunch, two years was the time needed just to transform the thinking of the city council. Now work on their technology platform, called Madrid iNTeligente (MiNT) — which addresses urban mobility, public facilities, road infrastructure, waste, and parks — is well under way. Evidence of that shift was plentiful on the exhibition floor as cities — often sponsored by economic development and investment boards or vendor partners — demonstrated their progress in:

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Exploring The Data Economy Opportunity: Some Do's and Don'ts

An inquiry call from a digital strategy agency advising a client of theirs on data commercialization generated a lively discussion on strategies for taking data to market.  With few best practices out there, the emerging opportunity just might feel like space exploration – going boldly where no man has gone before.  The question is increasingly common. "We know we have data that would be of use to others but how do we know?  And, which use cases should we pursue?" In It's Time To Take Your Data To Market published earlier this fall, my colleagues and I provided some guideance on identifying and commercializing that "Picasso in the attic."  But the ideas around how to go-to-market continue to evolve. 

In answer to the inquiry questions asked the other day, my advice was pretty simple: Don’t try to anticipate all possible uses of the data.  Get started by making selected data sets available for people to play with, see what it can do, and talk about it to spread the word.  However, there are some specific use cases that can kick-start the process. 

Look to your existing customers.

The grass is not always greener, and your existing clients might just provide some fertile ground.  A couple thoughts on ways your existing customers could use new data sources:

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Age Of The Citizen: Empowered Citizens Drive Change In Government

When I was in high school – and admittedly that was quite a while ago — my neighbor quit his job as an insurance salesman to go into the car phone business. My mother couldn’t understand why someone would give up a good, stable job to sell something that she couldn’t imagine anyone ever using. Who would use a car phone? Why would anyone talk on the phone in a car? 

Fast forward a few years… (OK, a few more than a few)… and most of us can’t imagine not having our phone with us. We use our phone everywhere… And, yes, according to Forrester’s 2013 Consumer Technographics survey, 68% of US online adults use their phone in the car, and 48% even use their phone from the bathroom. Who’s guilty?! As for my mother, she has still never used an ATM card at a bank and still writes checks for cash at the grocery store, but she DOES have a cell phone and just might have used it in the car once or twice.

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Not “Smart” But Efficient: Schneider Electric Helps Cities Achieve Realistic Goals

My sister used to tell me that I wasn’t smart I was just organized.  I’m not here to argue (anymore) but I have never forgotten her claim. In fact, it’s true for more than just me.  It’s really what is at the heart of smart cities. It’s not about what you know but what you can do with it. The industry has been pushing “smart” on cities for a half a decade.  But the most successful stories about cities cutting their cost of operations and improving the lives of their citizens are about being better organized or more efficient. 

At the Schneider Electric Influencer Summit in Boston this week, Schneider execs and customers focused their smart city story on just that – getting more efficient. We all have heard the numbers: cities take up only 2% of the world’s surface but they consume 75% of the world’s energy and account for 80% of the world’s carbon emissions.  As the Schneider CMO cited, “If left unchecked, our appetite for energy will grow 50% by 2040.” And there is significant room for greater efficiency. The sweet spot for Schneider in this Next Age of Change is in helping cities control their public energy consumption.  While their vision  – and “marketecture stack”  – extends into water and other domains, they plan to establish their footprint with energy efficiency.  Phew! That’s a refreshing change from vendors who want to do it all.

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Government CIOs And CMOs Unite! Governments Must Embrace The "Marketing" Function

Here at Forrester we are busy planning our upcoming Forum For CIOs And CMOs.  With a theme of “Building A Customer-Obsessed Enterprise” the event explores the partnership between marketing and technology leaders. But what about our government clients?  The role of marketing is associated with the private sector. Companies employ marketers to identify their target markets and the opportunities for providing goods and services to them. Public-sector organizations don't typically have the luxury of  choosing their target market or their products and services. Or at least that’s what most organizations think. But even if that is the case, it doesn't mean that these organizations shouldn't get to know their "customers" and understand how best to meet their needs. While the service might be prescribed by legislation or regulation, public organizations can influence the customer experience, and the rising focus on citizen engagement mandates they do so.

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Exploring Costa Rica: Progress And Challenges In Digital Government Transformation

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
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Regulators Navigate New Data Sources To Better Know Their "Customers"

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? 

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Double Down On Data: Who Ya Gonna Call?

An explosion of data is revolutionizing business practices. The availability of new data sources and delivery models provides unprecedented insights into customer and partner behavior and enables much improved capacity to understand and optimize business processes and operations. Real time data allows companies to fine tune inventories and in-store product placement; it allows restaurants to know what a customer will order, even before they read the menu or reach the counter. And, data is also the foundation for new services offerings for companies like John Deere or BMW or Starwood.

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