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FutureGov was very happy to be invited to help celebrate the 10th birthday of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY SPP) in Singapore the other week. Back in 2003 as the Editor of a one-year old public sector modernisation publication, I remember being very excited when LKY SPP was set-up. It’s nice to see how established the school has become in the years since.

Joshua, the current Editor of FutureGov, moderated the first session of their anniversary conference, and the rest of the FutureGov publishing team were involved in explaining the new features of the FutureGov digital platform when it relaunches in a few weeks (I think this government official from Pekalongan in Indonesia won the prize for being FutureGov’s biggest fan).

One of the highlights for me, other than catching up with old friends from the Philippines, was being taken for a ride in a Time Machine back to the early years of independent Singapore.

The pilot for this trip down memory lane was Dr Liu Thai Ker, one of the giants of Singapore’s civil service - or ‘Mr HDB’ as I like to think of him.

Dr Liu was the architect-planner and Chief Executive Officer of the Housing & Development Board (HDB), 1969-1989, where he oversaw the completion of over half a million public housing units. 85 per cent of Singaporeans live in this high quality public housing - you only have to travel around Singapore to see the output of the team Dr Liu led. His public service swan song came as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1989-1992, where he revised Singapore’s overall masterplan of land use and prodded a change in direction for heritage conservation.

Back in 1960 Singapore had a population of 1.9 million (compared to 5.4 million today), of which 1.3 million were squatters. On independence, 30 per cent of the land was ‘Crown Land’, or land belonging to the state - but under a policy of government land purchase, this quickly rose to 70 per cent - with the remaining land in private possession used to determine a ‘market rate’ for property.

Such an aggressive land purchase policy was only possible because it was part of a transparent process, where Singaporeans understood that the sale of land to the government was for clearly-identified use. Dr Liu recalls the typical attitude of affected property owners as being ‘Of course I’m unhappy, but I understand why.’

What makes the Singaporean experience particularly useful, is that in contrast to grand designs in other developing countries of the period - think Brasilia, and Soekarno’s beautification of Jakarta in the 1960s - it took a very incremental approach.

You need to think carefully about the issues that are critically needed for your city and resist what is glamorous,” says Dr Liu. “Try not to reinvent the wheel by embarking on something new, and instead look for what is already successful. This maximises the impact of the resources you have available.”

One illustration of this approach can be seen in how Singapore was greened: “Tree planting is the cheapest way to beautify and green a city,” he explains. “Trees and grass are a more cost-effective option than flowers, because they don’t require as much maintenance.”

Anyone who’s driven past the withered shrubs in cracked plant pots on EDSA, Manila’s main thoroughfare, can immediately see the sense of what Dr Liu says.

Incremental tinkering, rooted in a pragmatic desire to increase urban functionality, lies at the heart of the Singaporean approach to urban planning. And for a long time, this unflashy approach generated its fair share of condescension.

Until recently when foreign architects and urban planners visited Singapore “everyone complained that Singapore was very clinical,” shares Dr Liu. “I told my people to ignore this - they had centuries to develop vibrant cities in Europe. We needed to get the fundamentals in place first. Once we had done that, we would have time to create a vibrant city. No visitor says that Singapore is clinical anymore!”

Dr Liu’s experience seems to underline an important truth in public policy - that it’s the unflashy, incremental improvements that create the conditions for enduring change. Certainly the ‘transformative’ turnkey projects have a tendency to end in tears - whereas the smaller scale projects, with rapid, iterative development cycles, tend to be those that deliver sustainable government innovation.

Of course in the context of Singapore, urban planning transcends where you plant the trees, or how many petrol stations you situate within a suburb - it comes down to whether a small, densely-packed island can sustain the critical elements of an independent state, not just now, or in a decade’s time - but for all time.

We can be excellent, but never perfect. For example, I wish I’d thought more about the use of bicycles when planning our HDB housing estates,” Dr Liu concludes. “But if you want Singapore to remain a sovereign state, you had better plan long-term!”

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It was great to be a part of last week’s Policy Innovation Festival at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

We have been publishing interviews with delegates all week, so I thought I would share the comments I was asked to make on e-government and innovation.

My key point was a simple one: most policy innovation is kept separate from the delivery side, but the exciting thing about e-government is that the innovation is the delivery mechanism itself.

The ability to quickly, continuously improve a service according to user feedback is an enormous change for public services - with huge potential - and it has a knock-on impact on just about everything else.

For example, citizens increasingly expect integrated, customiseable services that compare with what they get from their bank. It isn’t enough to put information on a website; instead, it has to be easily found - both on an integrated platform or directly from Google; intuitive to use; and accessible on a large range of devices.

Government must change the way it works
Agencies must now work much closer together to ensure that their digital offerings are integrated - and that information isn’t duplicated across multiple parts of the internet. This year’s UN E-Government rankings gave higher ratings to governments with agencies that cut across their own areas of responsibility, sharing information and resources with other departments.

But this is still rare. Officials are often cautious about sharing data or resources with other agencies, while the nature of public service incentives often means that public servants focus on their own objectives even when they should be helping another agency with a more pressing concern.

Data sharing, in particular, is crucial to to the future of public service delivery. For example, there is enormous potential from combining health information with location data and transport data. Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority is looking at whether, in the future, it could provide personalised emergency services to citizens by using sensors that notify government when someone is in medical difficulty, find the nearest emergency crew, and then guide them to the scene along the most efficient route.

This approach would need a number of agencies to work closely together, and requires a much more fluid departmental structure than is present in many countries. Our interview this week with Singapore’s Climate Change Secretariat showed one way that governments can create new structures to ensure greater collaboration.

Win citizen trust
Another barrier, though, is public opinion: citizens are increasingly wary of how their data is used. This means that it is vital to be transparent, rigorous, secure - and guide citizens along the reform journey. If this doesn’t happen, there will be tension between government and the people. But including citizens in the process of making these decisions could be a huge opportunity.

South Korea is leading the way here. Its Government 3.0 programme allows people to participate in policymaking decisions, and better understand the challenges faced by officials. A more open approach means that, even if citizens don’t agree with a final decision, they still trust the processes that led to it - as one senior Japanese official recently told us.

It also helps improve delivery. One Chinese province is experimenting with asking citizens for feedback and monitoring their complaints. This was hugely useful - the province discovered that housing was a massive area of concern for citizens, while other potential priorities such as transport and crime received far fewer complaints. Resources were subsequently redirected.

Time for change
The overall trend, then, has to be for greater interaction with citizens, causing iteration in the delivery of public services. I was struck by the comments of one delegate at the Policy Innovation Festival, who said: “The word stakeholder annoys me, because who isn’t a stakeholder?”

That may be true, but only now is every one of those stakeholders empowered to have a voice. Governments can harness this to improve their public services, but it will require restructuring and a change of mindset.

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“Gamification” - the building of games to influence behaviour and promote messages - is a new trend for government, which we’ve profiled on FutureGov today.

After a great deal of (serious) gaming, we have picked out the 6 greatest games built by government. There is also a feature explaining the principles behind gamification, and the inside story of how one government agency - the Australian Bureau of Statistics - built a game to raise awareness of its census data.

The pieces illustrate that there is a great deal of potential for gamification but, as with all new technologies, it is vital they are used in the correct way. As a leading game designer told us: government agencies can’t simply adapt their existing campaigns and force them through a game structure - instead the game must be designed from scratch with a great deal of thought and planning.

A failure to do this meant that many of the games FutureGov played were simply not fun. Some were patronising, others were confusing, a couple were very dull, and some tried too hard to make people share them on social media without considering the message itself.

By picking out 6 good examples of games, we hope that more governments in the future will build other successful campaigns (and not just because we will enjoy playing them in the office during working hours).

There may be temptation for an agency to splurge money on building a game because it is the new big thing in public service delivery. It is important that there are still sufficient funds to provide more detail to players on the issues raised in the game through communications campaigns.

But games don’t have to be expensive, anyhow. Take the case of Flappy Bird - the astonishingly successful game for smartphones. The graphics are incredibly clunky and it took very little time to build. The reason for its success is that it is fun - even addictive - for players. When budgets are tight, agencies should focus on designing a fun game with a good premise, rather than paying for the additional development costs such as good graphics or even a soundtrack.

As ever, if you have a success story you would like to share with us, please email me: joshua.chambers@alphabet-media.com.

Happy gaming!


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FutureGov award winner, and president-elect of Indonesia, Joko Widodo is already displaying his modernising credentials after being announced winner of the 2014 general elections on 22 July.

He posted on Facebook asking his citizens to share who they think should sit on this Cabinet two days after his election victory was announced.

The Jokowi Centre Facebook page shared a Google form with a list of 34 Cabinet positions and 3 ministerial candidates named under each for citizens to pick. There’s also a fourth option ‘Other’ for citizens to suggest another candidate.

The Facebook post said, “Indonesia’s current political landscape is not only marked by the presence of Jokowi, but also by the emergence of outstanding volunteer participation. Now, volunteers can continue to oversee Jokowi’s political movements in a variety of ways.”

“The selection of ministers is the prerogative of the president. But that does not mean people cannot participate,” it said. The candidates were decided after “intensive discussions” with activists, intellectuals, journalists and politicians, the post read.

Jokowi needs a coalition in Parliament and by collecting the public’s view on ministerial candidates, this move enables him to have more power over his opponents.

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I was in the wonderful (but cold) city of Melbourne last week for our FutureGov Forum Victoria event. It was great to catch up with officials from State and Commonwealth governments, and one of those conversations is worth sharing.

“We should ban Cloud,” a top civil servant said to me over lunch. “Eh?” I replied, after I finished coughing. I had just inhaled a small part of my sandwich. “Cloud computing is saving agencies across the region huge amounts of money. Why would you ban something that’s cheap and useful?”

“Sure it’s helpful,” he continued, “but that’s not the point”. ‘Cloud’ is a confusing term that makes it harder for CIOs to persuade their fellow senior executives to invest in new systems, the official explained. Words matter, and Cloud just sounds complicated and expensive.

The official finds that, when he just explains the principle of Cloud without using the term - data and applications are stored on large servers and accessed remotely - senior executives understand, agree with the principle and move on to discussing investment. It’s still physically stored somewhere, he tells them, just not under your desk - or even necessarily in your office.

Mobility is also a distracting term, he argues. “Why wouldn’t something be accessible on a range of devices?” he asked. Of course someone in the roads department would want to be able to access information by the side of a motorway, rather than just on the computer in their office.

Using jargon can make solutions sound unusual and difficult, rather than obvious and straightforward. He has a point.

Perhaps we should stop talking about mobility altogether, while cloud could be simply termed ‘remote computing’ - or described in plain English if the solution is slightly more complicated than that. Boring, perhaps, but it puts the focus back on ensuring that the technology is being geared up to support innovative new delivery models.

Insourcing is in vogue
I haven’t attended a FutureGov event before, and I was impressed at how different they are from the usual government events I have been to. Instead of a procession of speakers broadcasting to an assembled audience, the ‘Interactive Discussion Tables’ in Melbourne brought together small groups of participants to discuss a particular topic, chaired by a senior official, before rotating to another table to discuss something else with another lead official.

It is a more participative approach, and the relaxed, chatty atmosphere revealed a number of interesting trends in Australia. In particular, I was struck by an increasing use of in-house project managers. Public agencies are less likely to want external consultants handling their IT projects. Realising that you can’t ever outsource risk to a third party, they seen the need for internal project managers to oversee contractors.

This trend was backed up by a survey we conducted of participants at the conference: 48 per cent of officials from the Victoria state government said that they are using a mix of both outsourcing and an in-house ICT team to manage projects, while a further 27 per cent have a dedicated in-house team to monitor the performance of ICT infrastructure. Only 6 per cent had fully outsourced to a vendor.

One participant talked of her experience of ‘insourcing’ a project management team, saving big sums of money in the process. We have seen this trend for using internal project managers a fair bit on FutureGov over the past month. In Queensland, for example, the Department of Health turned around a failing ICT project by creating a dedicated in-house team. Meanwhile, Malaysia has claimed US$17m of savings by using in-house ICT project managers. Singapore is also seeking to build internal capabilities, according to James Kang, the former government CIO.

In Britain, too, there has been a move to boost the project management and oversight capabilities of civil servants. It is no longer appropriate to trust external suppliers to manage projects effectively; all outsourcing projects seem to require a level of internal oversight and management.

More to come from Melbourne
There are plenty more articles to come from the FutureGov Forum, including an interview with Grantly Mailes - the state government’s CIO equivalent - on disruptive business models, geospatial location and making projects work more effectively. We will publish that later on today, and there will be interviews with Australian CIOs going up on the site all week.

As ever, if you have anything that you would like to share with FutureGov, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Joshua.Chambers@alphabet-media.com

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There is a street in Singapore’s Chinatown that was once known as the “Street of the Dead”. The old and the sick of Singapore’s Chinese immigrant community would come here to die in the shabby hospices that lined both sides of the street. They believed it was bad luck to pass away in their family’s home, and didn’t expect to recover from their maladies, so they cast themselves out and lived their remaining days in desolate isolation.

Aside from the complete lack of proper medical diagnosis, this tradition had a dismal lack of reverence for the elderly - who would be exiled rather than listened to and learned from. The parlours were outlawed in 1961, but this temptation to separate the dying from the healthy still seems to manifest itself in a strange way across the region’s public sector agencies (and beyond).

When a government project is believed to be on its last legs, agencies will make every effort to distance themselves. The project will not be discussed, and all efforts will be made to focus on other ventures instead. This is natural, but it means that agencies miss out on learning from a failing project, and using this knowledge to improve their future delivery.

Ignoring a failing project also causes problems for morale in an organisation. Employees are aware of something not working out, and unless there is a positive attempt to discuss the problem internally, it can upset staff and cause stress.

That’s why I was struck, last week, by a positive example of an organisation learning from failure, and using this experience to turn its delivery around. We have just interviewed Susan Middleditch, chief executive of Queensland’s Health Service Support Agency, who wrote to us to tell us that following a disastrous attempt to introduce a new payroll system some years back, her organisation has learned from these problems and just successfully introduced a new system.

She also shares some useful lessons for IT projects across the public sector, including the importance of good internal project management, rather than relying solely on external contractors.

It’s always difficult to discuss failing projects in a political environment, so here are some ground rules that can help agencies learn from the past, without acrimony or upset.

  1. Professional not personal. When problems occur, there is always a temptation to blame individuals. While people should be accountable for their actions, the wider learning comes from looking at the structural problems that prevented success, and the decisions that could have been taken differently.

  2. Keep people in the loop. When a project isn’t working out, or obstacles arise, there should be a healthy internal dialogue about what’s going wrong and what can be done to fix it. I was struck by the Philippines’ open data team blogging about the challenges that they have experienced when seeking to open up public sector data. Employees can tell if something isn’t working, so it’s best to include them and seek their advice.

  3. Provide a sense of perspective. How does a problem fit with what’s happening in the agency or government? It may be that a problem isn’t as big as it originally seems. For example, at the start of Australia’s financial year, the new online tax system - myGov - crashed. This did cause problems, but it should be seen as a small glitch that a big and broadly successful initiative experienced. On this point, the media also has a responsibility to report with perspective, and that’s what we seek to do at FutureGov (here was our coverage of the myGov crash).

  4. Don’t make the same mistakes twice! The only way to do this is to discuss problems and share the experiences with other agencies. A discussion shouldn’t just be limited to an individual organisation, however painful it may be to share. If it’s kept professional, then it shouldn’t be as troublesome. After all, in Silicon Valley, the mantra is not to avoid failure, but to fail fast - then learn from it.

Not everything in government is perfect first time around. But innovation requires the occasional risk, and it’s much better to discuss these problems than to exile them and pretend that they never occurred. FutureGov is more than happy to help.

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I’ve been thinking a fair bit this week about how governments join up their processes to present a single interface to citizens.

You can see our coverage of this on our connected government channel, but I just wanted to quickly share something with you that I read first thing this morning before I got in to work.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has just sent a message to staff setting out his vision for the company. It’s always interesting to hear what one of the biggest companies in the world is up to, and I was particularly struck by his focus on user needs, and on streamlining processes.

“First, we will obsess over our customers,” he said. “Obsessing over our customers is everybody’s job.”

It’s the same story in government: everyone’s job is to work for citizens - and governments around the region are focused on ensuring that this proves to be the case. But this is easier said than done - processes, siloed behaviour and conflicting priorities can sometimes get in the way.

Nadella thinks that achieving this means that processes must be streamlined, individual accountability increased and data used more readily to set priorities. “We will modernize our engineering processes to be customer-obsessed, data-driven, speed-oriented and quality-focused,” he said.

“We will be more effective in predicting and understanding what our customers need and more nimble in adjusting to information we get from the market.”

“We will streamline the engineering process and reduce the amount of time and energy it takes to get things done. You can expect to have fewer processes but more focused and measurable outcomes. You will see fewer people get involved in decisions and more emphasis on accountability.”

Further, every software engineering group will have data resources to help them focus on measurable outcomes and predictive analysis of market trends. This could be handy in public services: welfare agencies, coastguards, police forces, the whole caboodle of public agencies could have access to data that would help them quickly adapt and shape their priorities.

These things take time, but I thought it interesting to share Nadella’s vision for the company. Singapore’s already doing a great deal to join up its services, and others in the region are as well.

Certainly it’ll be worth watching Microsoft’s journey; governments may wish to borrow some of Nadella’s successful techniques, and learn from pitfalls he may well fall into.

Read the full speech here:

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I’ve been out of the office the last couple of weeks - in London for a digital publishing conference, and in Bombay/Mumbai to catch up with state government, and attend HP’s Asia Pacific Summit. I always worry that the office will burn down during my absence, but happily there’s no obvious burn damage to the carpet and the pot plants were watered while I was away.

Despite being on the road, I managed to remain pretty productive - special thanks to my trusty BlackBerry Z10, which really is just about the best phone I’ve ever had. (In the interests of full disclosure, BlackBerry did not pay me for the product placement.)

As a result I was able to keep connected to what my publishing colleagues were up to - and I must say they didn’t slack off: we just recorded two consecutive weeks of record traffic! So rather than regale you with curry anecdotes - I thought I’d highlight a few of the great stories we’ve broken over the last couple of weeks.

Singapore Riot Report Recommendations: Police to Get New Tech
Last December in Singapore 400 rioters destroyed 25 emergency vehicles, injuring 39 police officers and 4 other uniformed personnel. The Committee of Inquiry that was established to look in to the causes of the riot has just released its findings, and made recommendations - one of which was that more use needs to be made of technology.

One of the reasons for the riot getting out of hand was that the officers on the ground were not aware of the situation unfolding around them - and as a result, body-mounted cameras, and smarter integration of fixed and mobile CCTV are now prime areas of focus.

It also came as a surprise that in the heat of the moment, police were unable to make effective use of their radios - being unable to hear instructions, or screen out radio chatter from multiple users trying to speak simultaneously.

Australia Bounces Back from the myGov Crash
It turns out that you can have too much of a good thing - as the start of the new financial year in Australia saw the tax web site fail under unprecedented user demand. But rather than focus on the fact that the web site was offline for a few hours, we asked the General Manager of the Department of Human Services what went wrong - and what they were going to do about it.

Obviously managing peak demand is something which all agencies struggle with - and none more so than the region’s tax authorities. Nevertheless Thailand and Singapore have led the way in maintaining availability during their tax filing seasons.

In order to flatten demand over a longer period of time, Singapore’s tax authorities have even run lucky draws (though I only managed to win a polite letter asking me to pay up my tax).

UN E-Government Rankings
Not only were we first to break the news - “I see you just broke a story on the 2014 UN E-Government Rankings - a global scoop, no-one else has published anything yet, not even the UN!” - but I’m sure that we have been the most exhaustive in our coverage (certainly the journalists involved look pretty tired).

Of course we covered the big news, that Singapore, Japan and Korea continue to lead the charge for e-government in the region -

  • What made South Korea come first in e-participation
  • How Singapore managed to rise in this year’s ranking
  • Why Japan made it to the top for online service delivery, alongside Singapore and Korea

    But we also covered equally important news on the other countries in the region -

  • Malaysia’s success at rolling out online services nationally
  • Indonesia’s need to focus on governance and ICT policy
  • The Philippines’ which saw its ranking continue to slide, but still impressed in online service delivery and e-participation.

    There couldn’t be clearer proof that FutureGov really is the journal of record for public sector transformation in the region.

    Indonesian Presidential Elections: The FutureGov Candidate
    Lastly, but by no means least - I’m taking a close interest in the Indonesian Presidential elections. The world’s third largest democracy will see 187 million voters go to the polls tomorrow - over a third of them for the first time. The polls suggest that the result will be on a knife edge - though FutureGov got exclusive access to the first exit poll for overseas voters in Singapore, which suggests a clear lead for one of the candidates.

    Joko Widodo, universally known as Jokowi, won a FutureGov Award during his time as Mayor of Surakarta - and he impressed us then with his no-nonsense approach to breaking down administrative silos.

    Since then he has taken the same approach to the challenge of governing Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital city - overhauling procurement, demanding that civil servants make greater use of ICT, showing a keen interest in the role of sensors and dashboards to improve municipal management, and rolling out new healthcare programmes targeting the poor.

    As a result of this track record, for the first time FutureGov is officially endorsing him as the candidate that we believe would have the most positive impact on the country’s public sector.

    Of course, FutureGov does not get to cast a vote, but if you do - we only ask that on Wednesday you vote early, and vote often!

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  • Never mind the World Cup, the past week saw the publication of the United Nations’ E-Government Rankings, the biannual league table of all 193 UN member countries’ digital efforts.

    There are many interesting trends and achievements in these results, but one thing stands out above all others: digital public services, like football matches, are a team game.

    The accompanying e-government report notes that public services in many countries “are still greatly shaped by early 20th century models of public administration whereby ministries work in ‘silos’ and issues are tackled through a sectoral perspective.”

    This can’t continue, the report adds, because of the cross-sector nature of many policy challenges, and that is especially true online because of the increasing expectation of citizens for simple, accessible services.

    The UN rankings therefore favoured governments where services are joined-up and departments pull together to deliver digital public services. Singapore shot up seven places to 3rd in the world (and 1st in Southeast Asia) partly because of its work in reshaping processes to share information across departments.

    In particular, the report highlighted its Alliance for Corporate Excellence, a multi-agency programme run by the Ministry of Finance that groups together systems and operating environments for human resources, finance and procurement into a shared system - doing difficult work in the back-end of government to make the public-facing side operate seamlessly. And the country implemented its ‘OneInbox’ system last year, an official platform where citizens and businesses receive all government correspondence electronically in one place.

    New Zealand, ranked 9th, was also singled out for praise due to its “exemplary” commitment to make agencies work together when delivering online services. “Collaboration among departments, supported by strong leadership in the form of a Government Chief Information Officer, is seen as crucial to moving transactional services online and has been a central plank in the national plan to transform public sector ICT”, the report enthused.

    This is not to say that services and government information should necessarily be available on a single platform. The UN noted that there’s a trend for “one-stop shops”, but clearly said this isn’t a criteria for success. The requirement is just for departments to be working together to deliver services that make sense to citizens.

    And broadly, that means that digital public services are everyone’s responsibility, not just a few lone voices in the ICT function. E-Government is the future of government, so officials from all parts of public sector agencies should consider how their services are accessed online.

    The UN’s E-Government Survey contained a few other interested nuggets, which I’ve presented in bite-size chunks below (or Suarez-size chunks, to continue with the World Cup theme).

    • E-Participation matters. This year, the UN put an increased emphasis on how much information agencies publish, and whether agencies are including citizens in decision-making processes. Ultimately, e-government isn’t just about putting services online, it’s also about using technology to involve citizens in the work of the public sector. South Korea topped the league table for this: its Government 3.0 programme uses the internet to engage citizens in the design and delivery of public services. Its epeople.go.kr portal hosts petitions and lists upcoming data releases, and the government also has plans to release information on the assets of civil servants.
    • The UN now includes environmental information services in its basket of basic online services, alongside education, health, finance, labour and social welfare functions.
    • The future is mobile. The UN has put weighting on the accessibility of digital services on mobile devices.
    • E-Government doesn’t mean exclusive government: public services must be accessible to everyone. The UN Rankings rates countries’ “digital inclusion” efforts, and Malaysia has performed strongly on this.

    There is one last point before the final whistle blows. The World Cup is a knockout competition, but e-government isn’t a competitive affair. Not only departments should be joining up, but countries can also do more to share lessons learned. For example, New Zealand is using Britain’s code for its e-government portal, launching in mid-July (check back for comprehensive coverage), and other nations could embrace the ideology of open source by sharing their digital resources.

    If more governments start sharing best practices then, ultimately, their citizens will be the winners.

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    If there were an approach that officials could use to vastly improve public service delivery, without vastly increasing spending, would you use it?

    Agile project management is a software development approach that’s transforming government technology, and could do the same in other areas too.

    The approach is making a big difference in Australia. As John Sheridan, the federal government’s Chief Technology Officer, told us just last week: “By using agile we’re getting better results. That’s not surprising, because that’s a common finding of people who are using agile.”

    Sheridan’s team is using it to enable the upgrade of their web portal, australia.gov.au, and approves of the technique’s continued user testing and feedback, iterative development and prioritisation of user needs.

    The benefits The team only has limited resources, and using this approach has allowed them to achieve immediate improvements across a range of areas, rather than store up resources - including staff time - and wait for investment in a bigger project.

    They also found that there were unexpected benefits from using the technique including: better shared planning, because the technique encourages publication of key user requirements and milestones; better communication across divisions, because people need to constantly interact; faster improvements to public services; increased staff productivity; and improved morale, because of an immediate sense of achievement.

    After just months, australia.gov.au’s usability and technological underpinning has been improved, and agile project management has proven itself equally useful for similar e-government projects in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

    Not just about technology But it’s not just an approach for use in ICT: the principles that underpin agile project management could make a big difference to other public services. The Agile Project Management Manifesto states that “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery” and that “we welcome changing requirements, even in late development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”

    This approach could be applied to healthcare, for example. Many countries around the world are facing the knotty problem of an ageing population, and Japan is facing it sooner than most. As Yasushi Yoshida, Director General for ICT Strategic Policy Planning at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, told us in an interview last week, he is creating a five year plan for hospitals to invest in cloud computing, enabling the sharing of healthcare records and the joining-up of services centred upon the patient.

    This technology will be useful, but on its own it won’t be sufficient to mitigate the difficulties of supporting an ageing population. Instead, it will need to be supported by a focus on user requirements. This may challenge basic assumptions about healthcare: an ageing population could mean that officials need to close large hospitals and reprioritise expenditure towards home help for the elderly. And given how new the problem is, Japan will need to continuously hone its approach, rather than rigidly stick to its first assumptions.

    Potential for personalised services The agile approach also allows for greater personalisation of public services, because it constantly develops services according to changing user needs. If digital public services are to adapt rapidly to citizen feedback, then it would make sense to allow them to adapt to the feedback of specific users, rather than to the population as a whole. Singapore is considering personalisation of public services, the prime minister recently hinted.

    Embracing agile is not for the faint hearted, though, as it demands a willingness to embrace risk well beyond the comfort zone of many public servants (and ministers). Perpetual ‘beta’ represents a big shift from conventional notions of government. That’s why it also hasn’t always been well-implemented - as the United Kingdom’s recent welfare reforms showed. The social security department’s internal processes couldn’t cope with the shift, and the end product became overly complex and poor value for money, according to Britain’s National Audit Office.

    But there’s certainly something to the argument that officials must be alive to the needs of their citizens, and constantly seek to make small improvements to public services that will help people in their daily lives. And being slow to respond to a rapidly changing user environment is the biggest risk of all.

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    “Government is lousy at spreading ideas,” according to a new book, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. This is true but also baffling, because governments in the Asia Pacific are the most innovative in the world - and should do far more to publicise their achievements.

    That’s why I’ve flown 7,500 miles to join FutureGov as its new Editor. I want to share this region’s success stories and highlight often-overlooked accomplishments. The list is vast, but here’s just a few that have already struck me:

    • Indonesia’s early embrace of open government, and its current Presidential candidates debating approaches to e-government just last week (surely a first for any election debate!)
    • South Korea’s pioneering ‘Government 3.0’ programme, which directly includes citizens in policy making debates and decisions
    • Vietnam’s creation of one-stop shops for public services
    • Malaysia’s efforts to support rural communities in the face of global urbanisation
    • Thailand’s use of technology to educate its young people
    • New Zealand’s cross-government budgeting
    • Singapore’s use of analytics to make its city liveable, clean and green
    • Hong Kong’s pioneering work on digital inclusion
    • Australia’s embrace of open source software
    • India’s plans to transform almost every facet of its public sector to make it more competitive
    • Japan’s efforts to increase connectivity in its health system
    • The Philippines’ work to become more resilient in the face of natural disasters
    • And even tiny Bhutan’s determination to democratise, improve educational standards and capitalise on its hydropower potential.

    I could continue, but we’re better off running separate stories on each (watch this space). Instead, please allow me to introduce myself, as the Rolling Stones once sang. I’m a journalist who’s closely covered the British public sector for the past four years, writing for an audience of senior officials and interviewing cabinet secretaries, agency chief executives, and government ministers.

    From these discussions, it increasingly became clear that western governments are looking eastwards for answers. Asia Pacific is the area with the greatest number of success stories to share, so I packed up my suitcase and headed out to join the team here at the earliest opportunity.

    It’s also clear that government, not politics, is the issue of the day - and this is the absolute focus of FutureGov’s coverage. As The Fourth Revolution puts it: “The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government.’’ Public servants across the world are facing a huge number of challenges that they quickly need to overcome. For example, they need to grapple with new technologies, the expectations these give to citizens, the opportunities they can provide, and the potential to set computers to work combining vast amounts of data to better inform service delivery.

    FutureGov has covered these issues since 2003 and, in doing so, always put public servants first. Our journalism isn’t in the business of catching people out, or commenting on supposed gaffes. It’s a serious analysis of the challenges faced by public officials, and how they’re overcoming those obstacles through innovation and reform.

    Occasionally we’ll mention problems that have arisen - because projects, like life, are never perfect - but we’re a friend to public servants, and we exist to showcase success and enable lessons to be learned.

    So please allow me to finish where I started. Public officials need to spread their good news! FutureGov is always very happy to help: do contact me with any and every success story you have.

    Thanks for reading,

    Joshua

    Joshua Chambers
    Editor
    FutureGov.Asia
    joshua.chambers@alphabet-media.com
    +65 6324 7631
    @chambersjosh

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    Don your eco-friendly party hats, because countries across the globe celebrated the World Environment Day last week. While I wasn’t out planting trees or collecting trash for recycling, I heard and discussed at length how sustainability and liveability have become an important yardstick for a city’s success.

    There is a competitive advantage for cities to market themselves as being liveable, Greg Clark, UK Minister of State for Cabinet Office (Cities & Constitution) told me. “Cities compete with other cities around the world to attract businesses, and part of that is having an attractive environment that employees will want to relocate to and work in.”

    Some might think that sustainability is a secondary priority once economic development is achieved. However, Clark said that sustainability should be equally important to both developing and advanced economies.

    “Energy is an expensive input. If energy is being wasted, then the costs of doing business in that city are increased. For example, it is much cheaper for growing and developing cities to have energy-efficient buildings from the outset than to retrofit them later,” he said.

    Carbon emission is a good litmus test for how efficient a city is, said Dr Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “Carbon emission shows how much energy is being wasted. High emission could be due to people spending too much time travelling in cars, for example.”

    Several second-tier cities have stood out in recent years for their success in creating liveable and vibrant cities. And behind these success stories, you’ll find mayors with the same vision to leverage sustainability and liveability as their city’s competitive advantage.

    Fukuoka City, Japan’s sixth largest city with a population of about 1.5 million, is renowned for its sustainability efforts. Ranked 12th of the world’s most liveable cities in 2013 by lifestyle magazine Monocle, the city has overcome its challenges of water shortage and increased waste.

    Mayor Soichiro Takashima said: “My vision is for Fukuoka City to be a forerunner in Asia in achieving the balance of people, environment and vitality. With technology, we managed to reduce water leakage rate to 2.6%, the lowest in the world. This April, we started a waste water treatment system that produces hydrogen that can be used to power vehicles.”

    Malmö City, the third largest city in Sweden with over 300,000 residents, aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 and for its energy use to be based entirely on 100% renewable energy by 2030.

    Ilmar Reepalu, former Mayor of Malmo City who is currently the Vice President of Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, advised city leaders to engage all stakeholders from the start. “You should include citizens and businesses early on as you are setting the vision. Don’t wait till you have the plan written out.”

    So liveability’s a vital consideration for any city official. Minister Clark told me that liveability is also one of the secrets of Singapore’s economic success. Having lived and worked here for the past three decades, I can testify to the amazing green spaces, clean air, and energy-efficient buildings that keep me from moving anywhere else in the world.

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    It came to me in a moment of enlightenment that open data applies the logic of open source to solve the problem of public data availability. And by extension, the open source logic can be applied to solve a range of other public sector challenges, such as policy and technology. This realisation came against the backdrop of the first regional Open Government Partnership conference in Asia in May and a number of recent conversations I’ve had with governments and open source experts.

    Indonesia a leader in open government
    Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, highlighted at the conference that an open and transparent government is not enough if it lacks civic participation. “In my view, openness and transparency should stimulate their [citizens’] sense of ownership in open government.”

    Dr Alanna Simpson, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank-Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, told me that the Indonesian Government is a leader in making open data and open source available.

    Open source key for Jakarta hackathon success
    In April, Indonesia’s capital and the largest city in Southeast Asia, Jakarta, held its first open data challenge or hackathon, #HackJak. I caught up with Setiaji, Head of Information Development Planning Centre, Jakarta Regional Planning Board, who is leading the initiative, and he shared that 53 mobile apps were developed over the weekend of the hackathon - all trying to solve common urban challenges around budget management and public transportation.

    Open data initiatives such as #HackJak bring about deeper citizen engagement and more effective citizen services. “Only open source could have allowed the participants to create such innovative applications,” Setiaji noted.

    Government open source adoption
    In an interview with us last month, Ben Balter, Government Evangelist, GitHub, a social network for open source communities, highlighted that open source is no longer a fringe philosophy - it’s not something for just software developers with tie-and-dye laptops.

    Even if there may be source code that is sensitive and can’t be made fully public, there are varying degrees to which governments can adopt the open source philosophy. “So even if the code never leaves the firewall of the government agencies, you could let other departments and agencies within government see what you’re working on,” Balter advocated.

    The Philippines Government Open Data Task Force has taken this to heart - “it’s definitely open source and open standards all the way for us”, Richard Moya, Under Secretary and CIO, Department of Budget and Management, told us. The Philippine Government’s open data platform uses the open source content management platform Drupal, and houses over 600 datasets.

    How open source solves government challenges
    “Open source is a collaborative platform that gives governments the capability to make their open data initiatives more powerful. Since open data is all about unlocking the data, we have to practice what we preach,” Moya said about government open source adoption.

    As Moya hinted, open data is essentially the open source philosophy applied to government data or the idea that “we may not be able to all individually solve a problem, so let’s get together and try to solve a problem that’s bigger than any one of us”, as Balter put it. Availability of open data (like open source) lowers the barrier for everyone to participate and provide opportunities for partnerships you may not have predicted to have evolved, Simpson noted.

    Improving data and software with open source
    It also means that the government will do a better job of making data available, and citizens and businesses will play a deeper role in putting that data to action to solve problems that are common to both the government and the community. Open Knowledge Foundation’s Anders Pedersen described open data to government officials in the Philippines: “more eyes, better data”.

    Similarly, with open source you’re able to come up with a better piece of software. As Balter told us, when the US Government launched its data.gov open data portal in open source with over 165 issues, it meant that people were continously engaged with improving the portal, and it gave citizens an opportuity to try and fix one of those 165 issues already open, file a bug report to open another issue or simply request a potential feature.

    Take small steps toward open government
    Simpson recommends that governments should take it one step at a time when releasing data, keeping with Balter’s comments about adoption of open source - understandably, releasing large amounts of data and/or code for public scrutiny is a big step for any government to take.

    Simpson admits that these challenges are not restricted to governments of developing countries and are faced by developed countries as well. Perhaps, instead of sharing all the data with the public straightaway, governments can agree to share data among certain agencies. Following this, they can then make a subset of the data available for the public to view and download, she said.

    Open sourcing problems for a better government
    When governments expand the open source philosophy beyond its traditional use for software and start thinking in terms of “open sourcing problems”, they start moving beyond ‘open government’ to a more ‘collaborative government’. Open data is just one example of this, and it can be applied to try and solve many more public sector challenges. Balter confessed that helping governments make this happen is the most exciting part of his job.

    Driving a more open and collaborative government - whether through open data or open source - is a slow and iterative process, Simpson reflected. Which means that governments, agencies and officials need to be able to reflect on actions they’ve taken so far and learn from what has worked and what hasn’t. Following this, every small step in the right direction is a significant move towards a better government.

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    What an interesting few weeks it’s been.

    Last week Thailand’s generals saw red and sent in the tanks in the name of the ‘National Council for Peace and Order‘ (I feel safer already). That’s the 12th military coup in Thailand since 1932 - they occur with such regularity (every six and a half years) that you can almost set your watch by them.

    In other news, most of the planet continues to trust its citizens to make political decisions for themselves, enabling the political pendulum to swing without playing soldiers. In the last month alone 22 per cent of the world’s population - Indonesia and India - saw free and fair elections.

    In Indonesia Joko Widodo, Jakarta’s popular governor and previous winner of a FutureGov Award (surely no coincidence), has edged closer to the Presidential Palace following the success of his party in the legislative elections.

    There’s still some way to go for my friend Jokowi - Indonesia’s political system is actually designed to encourage political dealmaking in kretek-smoke filled rooms. But it is likely that come the 9th July the former furniture retailer will be introducing an aggressive approach to ICT - continuing his focus on ‘smart infrastructure’, supporting Indonesia’s trailblazing work in the field of Open Government, and leveraging sensors to tackle the urban planning challenges of Southeast Asia’s largest country.

    But the thing which has me hunched over my laptop this evening tapping away excitedly is the transformation of the political landscape in the world’s biggest democracy. Make no mistake - today’s inauguration of Narendra Modi as India’s 18th Prime Minister since independence from Britain in 1947, will transform e-governance - and in doing so, transform the relationship between government and governed.

    The previous Congress administration always struggled with technology. Technology was always treated as being incidental to the priorities of the day - development, redistribution, social equity - when it should have been seen as the most solid foundation for progress towards these goals.

    It was entirely in keeping with their uncertain grasp of technology that, as my colleague Medha Basu reported, one of the last decisions of the outgoing administration was to archive the Twitter postings of the Prime Minister’s Office - thereby deleting 1.24 million followers. The only way from here is up.

    But there is more to my optimism than a dead cat bounce. Those of us with long enough memories will recall that it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of 1999-2004 which kickstarted Indian e-governance in the first place - and I believe that the BJP is well placed to finish what it began.

    With a healthy parliamentary majority, Modi has the mandate he needs to tackle India’s endemic misgovernance - the petty corruption and inefficiency which clogs the arteries of national life. His own track record, and the party’s manifesto, make it very clear that there will be nothing incidental about the role of technology in achieving government objectives in the coming five years.

    All government work is to be digitised in order to improve transparency, speed up transactions and prevent corruption - and the National e-Governance Action Plan will be extended to cover every government office, down to the level of panchayats (village government).

    If you think this is overly ambitious - it is only what Modi has delivered in Gujarat since 2008 with the ‘E-Gram, Vishwa Gram‘ project.

    But more than the individual steps that will be taken to implement government ICT, it is the direction of travel which has the greatest significance.

    As Modi said during the election campaign, India needs “minimum government, maximum governance”. With 70 Cabinet and Junior Ministers in the previous administration there’s certainly a lot of government to minimise.

    The BJP has a right-of-centre worldview, with key elements in common with the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, Canada’s Progressive Conservatives, Australia’s Liberal Party, and the Reaganite tendency of America’s Republican Party. Perhaps the most significant of these is the belief that government needs to be restrained from crowding out private initiative.

    Yesterday Modi announced that there would be changes to the structure of the Indian government, calling it a “rationalisation” in order to deliver better coordination, efficiency and decision-making, and as a first step towards smart governance.

    An outbreak of rationality in the use of government technology is precisely what India needs.

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    I remember that when the bomb went off in a neighbouring city several years ago - the emergency services received the first call after about 90 seconds. This was 70 seconds later than the first tweet.

    In the age of smart phones, real time footage and social media updates - meeting the expectations of citizens, and harnessing all available information during a disaster is becoming increasingly complex.

    I discussed this challenge with Alphonzo Albright, former CIO of the Office of IT at New York City, and now the Global Head of Public Sector for unified communications vendor Polycom: “Social media is a double-edged sword. I have to follow a process. I wait for the call. It then goes to dispatch. So we’re always going to be behind the curve initially.”

    This was amply demonstrated earlier this year when much of southern England was inundated with floods as rivers burst their banks. Affected communities quickly grew frustrated to see fire and rescue assets being deployed to the ‘wrong’ places.

    As the waters ebbed and flowed, the pattern of flooding shifted - the previous day’s threat would recede in one location, to be replaced with a new focus of operations. In these circumstances the emergency services struggled to match the situational awareness of the community - and the information gap affected public confidence.

    Never before has there been so much potentially valuable information available from the community - but leveraging this to improve first responders’ situational awareness raises other challenges.

    Even as Albright demonstrated what a new generation of unified communications and videoconferencing tools could do, he stressed the importance of good governance for there to be an adequate emergency response: “There needs to be a very clear line of command - and there needs to be clarity in who has the expertise, and how that expertise can be called upon in an emergency.”

    When Hurricane Sandy struck - elected officials oversaw the response, but the crisis management infrastructure was able to tap in to expertise from transit, power companies, municipal workers, as well as emergency services and city hall. The communications platform was a key enabler - but it would have been ineffective without a strong emergency management governance framework being in place.

    Sadly we saw what happens when a formal structure for assigning responsibility isn’t in place, or respected, in the Manila Hostage Crisis of August 2010. Eight Hong Kong tourists died because of a hijacker with a gun - but also because of a command and control paralysis.

    As technology places more information in the hands of the community, and provides first responders with opportunities to access this information, we need to relook emergency response governance in order to ensure that the right information gets in to the right hands at the right time in order to make the right judgement calls.

    Google

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    The 11th annual FutureGov Forum Singapore last month brought together over 240 public sector leaders to share their successes and discuss the pressing challenges that government agencies in Singapore and the region are facing today.

    Setting the stage for the day, Zaqy Mohamad, Member of Parliament and Chairman for the Government Parliamentary Committee, Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore, in his opening keynote highlighted the Government’s focus on Big Data, open data, cloud and cybersecurity to improve productivity and citizen services.

    I had the chance to flit between great interviews with government leaders to listen in on the engaging discussions on the conference floor and on the stage to hear about the issues on the forefront for government leaders.

    1. Big Data
    Alberto Di Meglio, Chief Technology Officer of the CERN Openlab in Switzerland, shared that the detectors on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN have 150 million sensors and collect a few petabytes of data per second. This data is then filtered, stored, reconstructed and distributed to tens of universities and research centres worldwide through the LHC computing grid - think of this as a gigantic data centre.

    Reflecting on his discussions with government IT leaders through the day, Klaus Felsche, Director, Intent Management and Analytics Section, Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia, noted, “Most Singapore Government leaders see policy, legal and cultural barriers to effective Big Data work. There is recognition that organisations’ cultural settings need to change to make best use of opportunities offered by Big Data and analytics. [Agencies] must be prepared to experiment.”

    Another key issue highlighted by discussion leader Claire Foo, Chief Information Officer of Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia, is the size of the talent pool with the capabilities to do “true analytics and with deep information management expertise”.

    2. Collaboration
    “One of the big challenges here (Singapore) is resistance to sharing data between agencies. Some is policy and law related, but a lot of resistance is personal and political,” said Ewan Perrin, Chief Information Officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

    Establishing standards and frameworks to ensure data is interoperable across agencies, particularly for unstructured data, is essential, added Foo.

    In a crucial step toward creating a culture of collaboration, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore has launched the IDA Labs initiative, which provides the physical environment for government, industries and citizens to collaborate, said Mark Lim, Deputy Director of Government Digital Services at IDA.

    Delegates recognise that cloud services play a part in making it easier for agencies in the region to share data on common platforms without extensive rebuilds, revealed Jim Smith, Chief Information Officer of the State of Maine, United States.

    In a blog post on cloud computing in January, I asked if there are prospects for programmes similar to United States’ FedRAMP in Asia Pacific. Singapore Government IT leaders certainly do recognise the benefits of such a standardised certification programme, as they expressed potential for such a service to accelerate cloud adoption among governments in the region.

    3. Security
    Surprise, surprise! Security is still an important issue that even the most advanced governments are tackling. What’s interesting is to see how governments continuously revamp security needs to keep up with the evolution of technology.

    Sharing the key takeaways on information security for delegates, Siim Sikkut, National ICT Policy Adviser, Government Office of Estonia, said that “security can and has to be geared to enablement” - it should be guided by and support business objectives, not obstruct them. “Governments cannot afford to be reactive in security - and government agencies actually desire to be more active. Only question is how,” he continued.

    Arnold Shimo, Chief Technologist at NextGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Centre, Lockheed Martin, advocates an “intelligence driven defence” approach to cybersecurity. This involves collecting and filtering data related to cyber attacks, and using experience and context to gain a comprehensive understanding of this information. Agencies can then use this information to defend themselves against future attacks, instead of reacting to threats coming into their environment, Shimo explained.

    These trends and challenges are driving governments out of their comfort zones and pushing the limits on what had been taken to be the norm - whether it’s in public service delivery, policy administration or the day-to-day running of the public sector business.

    These dynamics create a unique environment for the public sector to operate in today. In his keynote, Michael DeAngelo, Deputy Chief Information Officer of State of Washington, United States, urged public sector leaders to grab this opportunity to fundamentally change the way governments think about IT and deliver services.

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    They say you should never work with children (or animals), so you can imagine that the life of an education CIO is fraught with challenges (and I shudder to imagine what a veterinary school CIO’s life must be like). P2P downloads, spyware, IPR, hacks, phishing, provisioning, helpdesk, network availability and security - combined with the most technically savvy generation of ‘young adults’ that there’s ever been.

    Certainly it’s a great real world environment to see the rapid evolution of Information Security management - which is why I’m pleased that FutureGov’s next online training session features one of the region’s leading education IT leaders: Andy Chun, CIO of City University of Hong Kong.

    Last month’s webinar with Alex Evans was a great success, and drew together officials from seven countries in the region, as well as a couple of night owls from North America. With acute awareness of the growing threat environment, now is a great time to learn what a world class university is doing to mitigate and manage these threats - and ask questions in a safe, FutureGov-hosted conversation.

    And the fact that Andy is one of very few CIOs to win two FutureGov Awards, making him a much sought after speaker at our FutureGov events in Hong Kong, is another good reason to register today and mark your diaries.

    You can register here for Andy’s webinar - and the login details will be emailed to you separately. Look forward to connecting with you on 14th May (2pm Hong Kong/KL/Singapore/Perth time)!

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    FutureGov brought more than 130 city leaders on a virtual world tour spanning 16 countries last week at the regional 3rd annual Cities and Big Data Summit. Judging from the wide smiles at the end of the day, I’m pretty certain FutureGov will do well if we ever want to go into the tourism business.

    From the bustling streets of Danang Vietnam to the beautiful waterfront of Toronto Canada, we learnt how cities around the globe are using Big Data analytics to solve urban challenges.

    Besides the roaring start (and I agree with City of Chicago’s Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk Jr. that all conferences should begin like this), there were many memorable conversations and fruitful takeaways on how Big Data can create more liveable and safer cities, enhance citizen services and develop vibrant economies.

    You will read more about discussions in the coming days, but here’s a quick summary of some of the key issues that surfaced:

    1. Inter-agency access to data is essential
    Big Data depends on cross-agency sharing and that remains a major challenge for many agencies. Colin Fairweather, CIO, City of Melbourne, Australia said: “We have many agencies with different data about how the city operates. Data sits in silos, and in each of the silos, there are probably more silos of data. The real challenge is getting access to data.”

    “For example, if you need public transportation data in Melbourne, you have to go to three different agencies that are running the city’s transport system. There is a huge opportunity to share data, to make data available across agencies,” he continued.

    2. How to protect citizen privacy
    According to Herve Feuillien, Director General, Brussels Regional Informatics Centre, convincing the city’s residents of its CCTV surveillance project was not easy.

    “It is difficult to reconcile privacy and security. But we have implemented tools to ensure that the privacy of citizens is protected as we roll out 3000 cameras across the City,” said Feuillien. “For example, we set up an independent commission that answers directly to the parliament. Any citizen can file a complaint and take legal action against any entity that fails to follow the rules that govern the use of the CCTV network.”

    He added that if a complaint is found to be valid, the entity will be suspended for a period of time from accessing the video-sharing platform.

    3. How to succeed even without big budgets
    Danang City is the third largest city in Vietnam with approximately 1 million residents. Like many emerging cities, it is faced with a massive growth in roads, motorcycles and cars. In order to encourage residents to take public transportation, the City needed to first improve its transport services and traffic information.

    “Using GPS tracking devices attached to buses, the City collects and monitors real-time data. Performance of bus drivers has since dramatically improved. Besides stopping at the right bus stops, there are now fewer accounts of speeding. Residents also have access to bus arrival times via mobile applications or SMS,” said Nguyen Hoai Duc, Head of Smart City Programme, Department of Information and Communications.

    4. Maps help to visualise Big Data
    “80 per cent of all activities we do have a location component,” said Leonard Jayamohan, General Manager, Asia Pacific, Esri. “Maps help city leaders and administrators to make sense of Big Data, in all four dimensions - volume, velocity, variety and veracity.”

    Jayamohan added that spatial analytics can help governments and cities to provide the next generation of services, such as crime mapping, social media analytics, real-time traffic or carpark availability and more.

    He also cited an example from the private sector: “A bank wanted to map out 20 years of flood history, overlay the current land development and rainfall prediction, so it can remove its ATMs from the areas that are likely to be affected by floods.”

    5. Leadership support goes a long way
    Since data sharing across agencies is important, top government executives need to push for cooperation among the different data owners. Maripin J Faulan, Director III, Office of the Assistant General Manager for Planning, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) of the Philippines understands this principle well.

    MMDA works with 17 local government units (LGU). Our governing board and policy making body, the Metro Manila Council, includes the mayors of the 16 cities and one municipality. Our Chairman Atty Francis Tolentino, who believes in the power of Big Data and understands the importance of the LGUs’ support, has been instrumental in the success of our Big Data initiatives,” she said.

    Faulan and her team plans to develop a common platform to allow every LGU to upload their data into a unified database.

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    A Megacity is defined as a metropolitan area with a total population of more than ten million people. Among the 25 densest global cities, 17 are in Asia, and with urbanisation happening at an unprecedented scale, imagine these numbers swelling further at breakneck speed.

    The past years have been challenging for some of Asia’s megacities. Apart from the effects of rural-urban migration on infrastructure and services, climate change is also playing a huge part. In fact, just the past two years alone, the world has seen Metro Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok all suffer significant economic losses when they were brought to a standstill after torrential rains caused most of Asia’s bustling Capitals submerged in chest-deep floods for several days.

    Fast forward to 2030, what would our cities look like? How much would public housing cost? Would traffic be ten times worse? What about public transport and waste management? What about crimes? Will they be more sophisticated?

    These are real-world problems, now what does Big Data and technologies like GIS have to do with it?

    City Managers deal with spatial information on a day-to-day basis, from parcels and land use, housing and transportation networks in order to develop sound policies and well-informed decisions that have an impact on city’s overall liveability.

    While Mayors and City Managers struggle to employ new and modern management and operation methods, they must remember that data and information are only the means to an end and not the end-goal itself.

    So how can cities bring data to life?

    During last year’s FutureGov Summit in Phuket, Richard Leadbeater, Esri’s Global Manager for State Government & Trade Associations Industries, said: “If data is our natural resource, then our next task should rightfully be leveraging it and making full benefits of it.

    Our urban environment is increasingly becoming a sensor environment. The real-time data derived from remote sensors and analytics are generating insights that can potentially help city managers discover new opportunities and as well as risks.

    Technologies like GIS, Business Intelligence and Analytics are helping decision makers refine their understanding of data like never before.

    For cities employing such technologies, addressing issues like public housing is not as simple as looking at the land where to build the whole complex. By using GIS and analytics, they get a holistic view of the issue and the factors at play allowing them to address questions like: Is the location suitable for good effective public housing? do they have access to community resources? how about health? Would the new location have any impact on the lifestyle and health of the community?

    The way we run our cities today will determine how well – or how badly – our cities will do tomorrow.

    Today’s Cities and Big Data Summit in Singapore will gather over a hundred senior IT decision makers from some of Asia’s fastest growing cities to discuss how Big Data is being used to address pressing urban challenges and create next-generation services today and for the years to come.

    Do watch this space as we try to uncover the secrets behind their successes, the principles that guide their decision making, the solutions they used and their takeaways from their journey.

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    I visited the Nanjing Municipal Intelligent Operations Centre (IOC) last month to learn what happens behind the scenes of this city of 8 million in China. The IOC aggregates 200 million items of information from 15 city government departments.

    This urban dashboard is the centre of the Nanjing Smart City programme. I was lucky to get a live demo of how this is used to ensure resource optimisation and public safety, especially at large events such as the Youth Olympic Games which the city will host this year.

    One of the biggest achievements of the IOC I was told is the delivery of the citizen smart card in Nanjing which is the first citizen card in China to be linked to banking activities. This is a prime example of what a command and control centre can achieve - integrating and analysing data across different sources to improve citizens’ lives.

    This month I caught up with the Head of Urban Development of Makati City Government, Merlina Panganiban. I was glad to hear how Makati in The Philippines was improving management of its urban challenges - I’ve had the bad fortune of experiencing peak hour traffic in the city. Earlier this year, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which manages traffic across the National Capital Region, set up its new command and control centre set up in Makati.

    One of the foremost challenges that command and control centres face is interoperability. Government agencies are today more sensitive to the need for infrastructure to be more agnostic and less dependent on proprietary components. “When the MMDA set up its new traffic operations centre, it specified open technologies to permit the command centres of city government in the metropolis to link with the MMDA facility,” Panganiban shared.

    Another way to address the interoperability challenge Hong-Eng Koh, Global Lead, Justice and Public Safety at Oracle Public Sector, told me is creating data standards across agencies and countries. For instance, the United States Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security developed the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), an XML-based information exchange framework, he noted.

    It is a community-driven, standards-based approach to exchanging information. The idea behind NIEM is “letting your system and my system speak, even if they’ve never spoken before”, its website says. The NIEM is now being used by all 50 US states and other countries.

    While city governments improve how their systems work together, urbanisation continues. Everyday, city managers need to be able to get better insights from the data fed into command and control centres. Besides feeding information onto a screen, how can agencies get good insights from municipal data?

    Koh highlighted, “In today’s context, it’s not just about feeding information onto a screen. It’s about providing the right intelligence to the right officer at the right time to prevent, detect, respond and recover from threats.”

    Semantic analysis and business intelligence are some of the predictive technology that are being used today to identify locations where crimes are most likely to occur in cities, helping officers to strategically deploy their resources, Koh said.

    “A pressing concern in Metro Manila is the simultaneous construction of flagship road and transport projects across the National Capital Region. Over the next few years these will amplify the traffic conditions that the citizens must negotiate daily,” Panganiban added.

    Analytics and predictive technology would go a long way to help all stakeholders not just in monitoring the traffic rerouting plans in the short term, but also in evaluating the efficiency and thresholds of the new projects after their completion. This would allow authorities to employ solutions long before a potential problem matures into a crisis, Panganiban emphasised.

    My Editorial colleagues and I are busy preparing for exciting interviews with city leaders from across the world at the Cities & Big Data Summit in Singapore next week. Look out here over the coming days and weeks to learn how some of the smartest and fastest growing cities in the world are managing their urban challenges.

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