ICT
January 19, 2015

Digital guardian angels, learning cities, mobile data – trends that are changing government

Each year, IBM makes five bold predictions about technologies that “will change how we live, work and play” in the next five years. The predictions are based on the growth of data analytics and cloud and cognitive computing, and our greater demands for data mobility. Warren Tomlin, managing partner for Strategy and Analytics at IBM, spoke with associate editor Chris Thatcher following a presentation to GTEC in late October on the most recent trend lines.

During GTEC we heard yet again that security will be paramount in all government applications. If, as you suggest, the public is already ahead of government in what they are willing to accept in the way of security for a better user experience, where does that leave government?

Let me be provocative: As a former government employee and as someone who advises government, I think government hides too much. I think sometimes they hide behind what they believe is the “uniqueness” of government. No question when you are talking about service delivery, you can’t just cut out a segment and say they are too expensive to serve. But at the same time, when you are looking at security and authentication, I would suggest that having a breach of government data is as bad as having a breach of my bank account – both are serious.

If we give the technology and policy guys too much grip, the solution will be bullet proof but no one will be able to use it. Similarly, if we give the business people too much grip, it will be easily useable, very adoptable, but potentially exposed. So we have to bring those two together. This is complex systems integration. It’s got to be secure but let’s talk about the experience. So our prediction of a “digital guardian angel” is: how do you make security so it is not in your face, but rather persistent and monitoring – it’s just there.

You used the term “stretch the elastic.” How does government actually do that?

I think it requires a bit of a reset. I thought the deputy minister panel discussion at GTEC around digital government was excellent because the question they debated is a good one: what has changed? If security is something we have to get right, we need to rethink how we look at it; to be less about PINs and passwords and go with something that is more persistent. Your guardian angel is just there.

You suggested that citizen-centric services will become a by-product of mobility, that as we see advances in watches and other wearable devices, more information will be pushed to the consumer. This would seem to suggest a very different interaction with citizens. How does government capitalize on that?

I think government needs to pull back a little and ask, what is our omni-channel strategy? With multichannel, we just moved content onto multiple channels and it has become really expensive; with omni-channel, we are starting to ask, how do we maintain states? If I start a transaction on my mobile phone, can I continue that in-person if you can scan a bar code and maintain that state across the channels.

I think mobility is the hub and what I worry about what I am seeing with government is this: taking 1,500 websites in each language down to two or three is an advancement, but if you are going to invest that kind of time and money, at the same time we also need to take the content out of the container and surface it as two tiles on a mobile phone, or as six tiles on a tablet to provide a high fidelity experience. Three to five years from now, it won’t be desk top computers, it will be more tablets and way more mobility.

I think it starts with the end in mind. We use journey mapping. With that method government can take its investment in transformation, break up the content and surface it on a mobile device. If we had a flu or Ebola outbreak, you could now push that information to all these devices. If we had a repeat of the [software] virus last tax season, you could quickly send a secure notification.

How might that journey map work for government?

With our private sector clients we say, pick the personas you want. So for government it might be individuals under 25 and super wired; 25 to 50, has a tablet and is semi-wired; 25 to 50, not wired at all; the elderly; and the inaccessible. Once you have those personas, then we do a journey map to understand their experience with government. For the under 25 and wired, we might say: they don’t want to talk to anybody, they don’t want to go anywhere, they will take a photo of themselves for ID. And on an eight-foot sheet of paper, we will literally draw out the art of the possible, and ask our IT and business people, do we agree this is the future state? If it is, and we can’t get there tomorrow, then here are the capabilities we will need. Some of them may be new, some may be abstracting old systems. But you need to know where you are going so five years from now you haven’t spent all that time porting 1,500 websites into two, you have ported them into a device so that when a citizen walks into an area that can be securely “geo-fenced” and messaged, you can have a deeper connection with them. You understand how they want to be serviced.

What are the implications for government in delivering a workforce that is responsive to a learning city? As a citizen, you can take a picture of pothole but if I’m the city manager responsible for road repair, with a fixed budget and limited staff, and now I’m inundated with photos of potholes, I’m faced with demand I probably can’t meet at present.

And you don’t want to upset me as a citizen if you asked me for feedback; I gave you feedback and now you are not doing anything about it. This might be a weird analogy, but one of the beauties of SAP as an enterprise resource planning system is how inflexible it is. The product says you need to change your business to suit this because these are best practices, and if you try to customize it and keep your old, potentially not optimized processes, you are not transforming the processes. That inflexibility, while frustrating sometimes, drives a change through the business. This isn’t simply adding another channel to report stuff, you have to transform the way you respond. Back to the beginning of the conversation about not hiding behind policy: we have to get on with it, take those two or three resources and deploy them to something different in the supply chain.

You mentioned in your presentation the rise of Uber and its fight with the regulated taxi industry. There seems to be a growing clash between regulation and the creative adoption of technologies. Napster, for example, may have been beaten back, but ultimately the entire music industry had to change. Do we need a new approach to regulation?

I participated in a roundtable for European government CIOs and one of the CIOs said to another, ‘I believe we are in an existential crisis.’ It was right around the time of the Occupy movement, and what he meant by that was that government is losing control of its citizens. They are self-forming through Twitter, Facebook, etc, and he said, ‘We need get in front of this and move faster; we don’t need to get it perfect but we need to get it started.’

I think there is a whole discussion around government losing control. And it is being enabled by technology. You are seeing the edge of it around Netflix, around Uber. But I would challenge you to think of one example where digitization was stopped. The music and video industries freaked out and now we are seeing the CRTC, cities and taxi companies freaking out. But if it’s not Uber, it’s the next Uber.

In economics, the market is inherently efficient and it is going to find its way. I think government constituents are the same way. I believe that government needs modern policies that enable, rather than unfairly influence or stem a natural progression.

 

SIDEBAR: IBM’s 5 technology predictions for the next 5 years

1. The class room will learn you.
2. A digital guardian will protect you online.
3. The city will help you live in it.
4. Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well.
5. Buying local will beat online.

For more information, see http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibm_predictions_for_future/ideas/

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