CIO Tips From The Gov2.0 Summit

As I reflect back on the highlights from the Gov2.0 Summit last week (and read back through my Tweets), it's easy to identify the underlying theme that seemed to resonate throughout the event:

Governments need to open up access to data to allow nongovernment groups (private enterprise) to develop citizen-friendly applications that leverage the data in new and useful ways.

The very first session highlighted some fascinating public transport services created on top of open government data (see embedded video below).

 

A Case for Open Data in Transit

There were certainly some compelling arguments made in favor of this approach — not the least being that it's a highly cost-effective way to provide improved services to taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for government IT efforts. As an investor in government IT (I pay taxes), I'm fully supportive of anything that improves services and reduces costs!

One of the most memorable quotes came early on from Carl Malamoud when, in his opening keynote, he suggested, "If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can launch the Library of Congress into cyberspace." (See his keynote below).

Where Carl really got the attention of the audience was when he mentioned the $81.9 billion (yes, that's "billion") that US taxpayers invest in IT projects administered by government IT. "We build systems so badly, it is crippling the infrastructure of government."

This isn't a new phenomenon; it's being going on for decades. What's new is the way the Obama administration has focused on open government: Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has given us a window into our IT investment with the Federal IT Dashboard. (CIO's should check it out — it puts your governance pains into perspective!). One of my favorite Kundra lines from the conference was, "We're trying to get federal CIOs to get away from building yet another data center. . . . Our goal is to make sure dollars spent on Gov IT produce taxpayer dividends relative to the money spent."

It's not that IT civil servants are hapless or inept — instead they are saddled with an enormous burden of regulations and laws that are incomprehensible to anyone outside of government circles, making even the most rudimentary technology solutions seem overly complex. The hope of many in the Open Government movement is that by sharing the burden of developing functional systems on top of open data, we can let federal IT focus on those things, like platform development, that cannot be undertaken by the open movement or the private sector. Princeton's Harlan Yu even suggested that "the long-term success of open government will depend on better platform development."

Many speakers highlighted the need for governments to empower citizens by opening up government data for public access and use. This may be an overly simple way to look at the problem, but it resonates for me, perhaps more this week than ever, with the publication of Forrester's book Empowered.

It's not just in the development of applications that people are being empowered; civil servants are increasingly empowered to make a difference through the use of emerging social technologies. For example, in August the DOT introduced IdeaHub to help employees collaborate, and in 2009 the DHS launched IdeaFactory, which already has more than 9,000 ideas submitted, 40+ implemented, and more than 25,000 employees involved. Further examples of how citizens and companies are being empowered to participate in government are highlighted at Challenge.gov. (The topic of how to apply emerging technologies to government is one of the topics I'll be discussing at Forrester's upcoming CIO Forum: Government Program in Washington, D.C., this October — I hope to see you there).

So here are my three recommendations for government CIOs following the summit:

  1. Focus on building improved platforms for conveying raw data: Open up data for public consumption wherever possible.
  2. Stop reinventing the wheel — identify core civic capabilities that must be unique, and collaborate for the rest (e.g., tap into CivicCommons.com).
  3. Empower employees — for example, using social platforms — and remove obstacles in their way.

Did you attend the Gov2.0 Summit? What suggestions do you have for government CIOs?