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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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The best thing about my job is you: getting to understand the successes and challenges faced by you and your public sector peers.

Over the last decade I’ve met a lot of highly motivated, hard working civil servants - and most of what FutureGov stands for is to share their successes, their KPIs, their benchmarks and their ‘how tos’ with the rest of the 360,000-strong (and growing) community.

Which is why I’m delighted to confirm that our next free webinar features a great advocate for public sector excellence, and close FutureGov friend - Alex Evans, Chief Information Officer of the Department of Local Government and Communities (DLG), Western Australia.

Alex is sharing the cloud computing journey of the DLG - specifically the rationale for moving to the cloud, how she and her team worked on the business case, and then (cue drumroll) the practicalities of how they managed the migration over a (relatively) stress-free weekend.

It’s going to be a great 30-minute insight, from one of the region’s most successful government departments (two-times winners of the FutureGov Awards) - and I hope you’ll join Alex and myself, along with registered attendees from government in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and even as far afield as Canada.

The format is a presentation, with the opportunity for Q&As at the end. Live participants will get a handout summarising DLG’s journey, as well as advance notice on our next webinar, or FutureGov Masterclass as I like to call them, which will focus on mitigating information security threats in Hong Kong’s public sector.

You can register here for Alex’s webinar - and the login details will be emailed to you subsequently. Look forward to connecting with you on 15th April (2pm Hong Kong/KL/Singapore/Perth time)!

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I’m currently on leave in Indonesia, but in between stocking up on more batik shirts and sampling the local nasi pedas, or ‘spicy rice’, I managed to listen live to a keynote presentation 2900 miles (4700 km) away in Canberra, from David Crosbie (@davidcrosbie2 on Twitter), the Chief Executive of the Community Council of Australia (@ComCouncil).

Contrasting the questions we ask before making personal investment decisions, with the lack of questions we ask before committing public sector funds, he said that when he made funding bids “I have never been asked about the quality of my management team, my capital reserves, whether I’ve successfully delivered a project before.”

Instead of asking the important questions that might determine value for money and a project’s risk profile, Crosbie said that in the past “I could get funded on the basis of putting in a good bid. People would say to me ‘you put in the prettiest bid document - here’s the money’.”

He was talking about the challenges facing the voluntary sector in Australia, but without twisting his meaning, he could have been talking about those of us working in public service.

We don’t talk about our success very well, or measure it very well. We tend to express our needs in negative values - here’s the problem, isn’t it terrible - instead of here’s the solution,” he continued, as I listened on from a balcony somewhere in Bali.

A critical point he made was the importance of doing a better job of measuring the performance of publicly funded projects. Doing good is necessary, but not sufficient - measuring the impact is the only way to sustain good work for the long term: “Measurement is critical at all levels - without measurement, how can you reward success?”

The streaming of live events like yesterday’s, with speakers of the calibre of David Crosbie, has certainly transformed our ability to connect, learn and be inspired.

With this in mind, and conscious of the fact that FutureGov cannot organise face-to-face events everywhere, we are starting from April a regular series of Free Webinars - which we’re calling ‘FutureGov Masterclasses’. (The first of these - focusing on how an award-winning agency successfully migrated to the cloud - is at 2pm Hong Kong/KL/Singapore/Perth time, or GMT+8, on 15th April - click here for more details.)

Each FutureGov Masterclass will feature expert perspective from a serving, or recently retired, senior government official on a ‘How To’ issue affecting FutureGov readers. Running for around 30 minutes, this is the opposite of a longwinded conference presentation - short, sharp, sweet and delivered direct to your desktop/laptop/smartphone/tablet/phablet/fridge etc.

It’s only by engaging with your counterparts around the world, and industry experts, that you can develop the benchmarks and KPIs that enable effective management.

Doing good is not enough. We need to know how to do better.

FutureGov Masterclass:
“How to Successfully Migrate a Government Agency to the Cloud”
2pm-2.30pm (GMT+8) 15 April 2014
Featuring Alex Evans, CIO, Department of Local Government, Western Australia.

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While many government organisations have adopted cloud for agility and cost efficiency, others still have questions around the security of their data in the cloud.

US National Security Agency’s whistleblower Edward Snowden created even more doubts in people’s minds after The Guardian reported (incorrectly, as it turned out) last July on NSA’s supposed direct access to data stored in data centres of the biggest technology players, such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon Web Services and Apple.

During that time, I started having second thoughts about storing all my personal photos, financial records and personal files in Google Drive. Perhaps my trusty portable hard disk is the better solution.

Jeff Bullwinkel, Microsoft’s Associate General Counsel and Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs for the Asia Pacific & Japan region, helped clear the air in a recent interview (look out for the full article in Futures soon).

“There were significant inaccuracies in the early reporting on the programme referred to as ‘PRISM’. As we said at that time, Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. We comply only with lawful demands by governments to turn over content for specific accounts, in accordance with a search warrant or court order,” he clarified.

Another common and somewhat related misconception is that it is safer to store data with a local cloud provider without an overseas presence, so that all of its data is sitting within the country. Some think that this keeps their data safe from other governments.

So does the country the cloud provider comes from matter? According to Dr Chaowei Phil Yang, Former Chief Architect of NASA Goddard Cloud Computing in USA, it matters to some degree.

“If it’s public data, it does not matter. But if it is data of sensitivity or higher security, then [the cloud provider] has to be in the country,” said Yang.

On the other hand, Bullwinkel said that organisations are not necessarily any better or worse off by choosing a cloud provider with a regional or international presence. He explained that there are established channels and processes which enable governments to share information - whether it is physical or digital data - for crime or terrorism investigations.

I guess I’ll only need to worry if I’m doing something illegal.

Yang suggested asking questions such as: What is the security level of the data? What is the security level of the data hosting system? Who is using the data? Who produced the data? What is the data quality and applicability?

“Answers to these questions will somewhat define or change the security level of data,” he explained.

Bullwinkel added that the issue of free flow of data has surfaced during the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement among 12 Asia Pacific countries including the USA.

I’ll definitely be watching the progress of this agreement and its impact on the discussion around data sovereignty in the cloud. If you have any thoughts in this space, do share your perspective in our FutureGov LinkedIn discussion group.

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I taught in a Primary School for a couple of months during my undergraduate days. Besides learning that it’s not really a career for anyone (particularly me), I realised how time-challenged most teachers are.

Edutech solutions have long promised to make teachers’ work easier and improve learning outcomes - but what’s new is the enthusiasm that higher education CIOs and administrators express for Big Data analytics. (You know you’re nearing the top of the hype cycle when non-technical types start asking for your opinion on the ‘next hot technology’.)

Here are three key areas that tertiary campuses are focusing their attention on as they seek to harness their digital assets using Big Data analytics:

1. Student Engagement
The University of Tasmania (UTAS), a public Australian university with a student population of 26,800, has recently deployed a Learning Management System (LMS) that tracks learning engagement.

“The LMS allows us to monitor how often a student logs on to the system, which pages were visited, how much time was spent on each page and the individual’s progress over time,” UTAS CIO Jeff Murray told me.

Data on students’ online behaviour can provide educators with important insights, such as if a student requires more attention, the class’ understanding of a topic is not clear, or if the course has to be modified.

Last week, I visited Temasek Polytechnic (TP), a tertiary education institution in Singapore with over 16,000 students, to catch up with Dr Choon Meng Yin, Assistant Director, Academic & Technology Development.

Yin said that analytics has helped lecturers better prepare for classes, especially with the flipped classroom model (a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online, then discuss and assess their knowledge during class time).

“Students are required to answer accompanying questions as they go through the set of online content before class. By tracking the number of students that have completed the online module, the time taken and accuracy of their answers, a lecturer can be better informed of the profile of his students and modify the lesson plan accordingly.”

When it comes to Big Data analytics, the real value is realised in Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs, Dr Andy Chun, CIO, City University of Hong Kong (CityU) told me.

MOOCs are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. Its open nature means that total enrolment numbers can reach well over a million for MOOC platforms.

“When dealing with hundreds of thousands of students, you definitely need those tools to figure out how students are doing so you can manage and improve your content and assessment,” Chun explained.

2. Holistic Student Profiles
Looking into the future, measuring student engagement extends outside of the LMS, said Murray.

“There is much more data that we can tap into to deepen our understanding of how each student learns. For example, when and where does a student log on to the campus network? How often does the student visit the library? What books is the student borrowing?”

UTAS’ next step is to connect disparate sources of data to give a more complete view of students.

TP has similar plans to make better use of sensors and the Internet of Things to transform itself into a Smart Campus.

“If students can be uniquely identified by their personal laptops, tablets and smartphones, these devices can enable voting, surveys, purchases, requests for content and more. Over time, a more accurate profile of students can even allow us to push relevant content and services to individuals,” said Yin.

3. Organisational Management
CityU has identified around seven outcomes on an institutional level which it wants to monitor and improve. “These translate into 40 to 50 key performance indicators, such as: ‘Are we admitting and generating high quality students?’ ‘Are we creating new knowledge?’ ‘Are we using our funds wisely?’” Chun revealed.

The University’s analytics tool churns through large volumes of data to answer these questions and more.

“Our management and each department has access to these performance data. The system allows you to compare data over time and with other departments. It generates a dashboard so our President and Vice President gets a bird’s eye view of every department’s performance. The data serves as a feedback for the annual budget exercise,” he added.

The conversations I had with these edutech leaders in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore ended on the same high note. They all agree that the opportunities Big Data analytics can bring to higher education institutions are ample, and we have just started scratching the surface.

Murray will be in Southeast Asia next month to host a discussion on ‘Learning Analytics’ at our FutureCampus Forum. I’ll be there in the audience and quizzing the speakers, and will share what I learn with you.

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I never need much of an excuse to go for a curry, but when my friend Mohamed Shareef, Government CIO of the Maldives, said he was in town - we popped over to a nice South Indian banana leaf restaurant to catch up and shoot the breeze.

He’s a fellow Mini fan - so we talked about cars for a bit - but it wasn’t long before the conversation came round to e-government, and what he had to say was interesting. He’d been part of a discussion earlier in the day where someone had told him about the latest innovation in passport delivery in Singapore.

Singaporeans are able to collect their passports from special vending machines, registering their biometrics at the point of collection - imprinting them upon the chip in the passport seconds before it gets delivered to the vending machine’s tray. But how long does it take for the passport to get to the vending machine, following the initial submission of the passport application details? 7-10 days was the answer.

A government official from Bahrain said that it only took a few days for their citizens to wait to receive their passports - and an official from another country explained that with their new system, citizens only had to wait for two hours!

As a Brit, who has to wait 4-6 weeks, I couldn’t help but feel a little hard done by. And it got me thinking.

One hundred years ago the British civil service was the most sophisticated, technologically savvy public administration in the world. It was at the forefront of harnessing new communications tools, and also in the transformation of process and hierarchy to promote more effective decision making across the machinery of government.

There’s a wonderful document dating from 1918 - the Report of the Machinery of Government Committee - which sought to propose improvements to the structure of public administration. It first flagged the tension between structuring government around users, or structuring government around the services to be delivered.

The UK civil service still does a very impressive job, all the more so considering the stringent cost-cutting they’re undertaking - but it carries a tremendous legacy of thinking, and process and precedent. This necessarily makes it difficult to reimagine service delivery. A century’s worth of entrenched interest, political axioms, and sunk investment all encourage an incremental approach to change.

The question is - are we now going to see the same happen to countries like Singapore, which has for the last decade been a byword for cutting edge service delivery and value-for-money outcomes.

I believe Singapore finds itself increasingly saddled with the ‘Achiever’s Curse’ - where the reasons for previous success become part of a well understood institutional narrative that then fosters a linear approach to change, rather than a transformational one.

It is certainly interesting to see e-government upstarts snapping at the heels of established e-government leaders, and there is nothing pre-ordained about Singaporean administrative effectiveness. What’s been achieved to date has been the result of considerable effort, and considerable effort will be required to sustain and build on those achievements.

Yet the very language of ‘building on those achievements’ carries with it an implied drag on performance - “Singapore is an e-government leader,” said Mohamed before tucking in to a nice piece of tandoori pomfret, “which means that it now has a lot of legacy systems.”

Nobody would argue that Singapore is wobbling at the summit of public service excellence - but much as we’ve seen this season in the English Premier League football, there’s a general flattening of performance between governments. Everyone is Manchester United these days. So this means that there is a lot to play for in the various bi-annual rankings of e-government effectiveness, and in public sector benchmarks like the FutureGov Awards.

It should be remembered that a decade ago Canada was the undisputed leader in government service delivery, not Singapore. It will be interesting to see which countries top the pile in the coming years - and even more interesting, to see why.


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Last Saturday, 22 February 2014, was the International Open Data Hackathon or what organisers dubbed as Open Data Day.

The event aims to gather citizens in cities around the world to develop applications, liberate data, create visualisations and publish analyses using publicly available information in a bid to support and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local and central governments.

I’ve been following similar events lately, and reading about the unique applications developed in such events makes me wish I had a knack for coding (and I’m sure I’m not the only bystander who feels this way).

Events like Open Data Day saw the development of meaningful applications that are designed to take advantage of today’s cutting edge technologies to provide citizens with information relevant for day-to-day decision making.

For an open data champion like Richard Moya, the CIO and the Under Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management in the Philippines, hackathons are their way of spreading public awareness about their recently launched Through such events, they hope to build a demand that will compel the next batch of leaders to build on the current administration’s transparency achievements and publish more datasets.

My conversation with Moya, made me think about an interview I had a few weeks ago with two experts from a mapping agency’s cartographic design team, and Sandra Jameson, am Australian caregiver to a 75 year old arthritis patient.

I wanted to get their perspectives on what they think about their local online arthritis map, which their local health authority designed to help users easily locate a range of health and recreation services, public infrastructure and healthcare practitioners nearest to them.

Though the perspectives from the technical experts were a very good learning experience, I found Sandra Jameson’s feedback quite interesting.

She said: “I was a little intimidated when I first opened the map. I didn’t quite know where to look or start. I was close to clicking the ‘exit’ button because the interface was quite overwhelming.” but of course after encouraging her to navigate her way around the portal, she quickly got a hang of it. In fact, she told me that: “I can now find services that are in our neighbourhood quickly for my patient. It has saved me hours from making calls and surfing the web.”

Open data champions like Moya and the tech community envision grand outcomes out of opening up data. This includes greater public engagement, improved transparency and accountability, and the creation of innovative ideas. In order to make this a reality, it is important to consider how public information is translated and communicated to citizens like Sandra Jameson.

In addition, governments, NGOs, the private sector and the academe should work together to not only spread the awareness of open data, but to also bring to light the many ways citizens can use the data. By doing so, not only spurs the demand for more data to be published by governments but it also allows them to adopt different perspectives of analysing the world around them.

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The current wave of digitisation in the public sector has made privacy controls more available, but also more complex. Fundamentally, privacy has implications for public trust in the government, and makes a difference on how the digital government provides better services.

The government has to be concerned with privacy implications from the data it collects itself, and also the data it authorises other organisations to collect and that collected by unauthorised organisations - and how all this data is stored and used.

Violation of privacy can expose governments and citizens to severe risks and recent revelations on this mean that it is high on the agenda of all countries now. Privacy is not new on their agendas however - Australia’s Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan told me that Australia has had a Privacy Commissioner for over 20 years now. But since 2010, Australia has brought the functions of privacy, freedom of information and information management together under a single coherent scheme.

Governments are now concerned with the implications of technology and information management on privacy. The laws that are administered today were created in a world of paper records - governments have sensed an urgency to adjust policies and frameworks to reflect the current and future technology landscape.

Are citizens clear about the trade-offs between surrendering control over personal information and access to new services? Catherine Mkude, PhD researcher in e-government at the Institute of Information Systems, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, suggested, “We need models of privacy where the compromise that is required can be made clear to the users. Additionally, more methods are required to inform and allow citizens to still have power over their own information.”

In recent weeks countries from Europe, America and Asia Pacific have announced plans to reform policies looking to better regulate the collection, storage and use of their citizens’ data. Australia is due to release major privacy reforms in March this year. “We strongly advocate the principle that ‘good privacy is good business’. It is very much in the interest of both government and industry to have strong privacy practices,” Professor McMillan noted.

In November last year, New Zealand created a Government Chief Privacy Officer role to lead an all-of-government approach to privacy, and provide assurance and advice on privacy issues. Last week, the government announced the establishment of the New Zealand Data Futures Forum - a working group of government and industry experts to incorporate more detailed feedback on how personal information is used.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed developing a communication network within Europe so that any information exchanged between citizens is subject to European levels of data protection, instead of being routed across the Atlantic.

There have been reports in Indian local media that the National Security Council has proposed setting up a similar network within the country. The Indian Government has also announced plans to release an email policy requiring all public sector employees to use the email domain managed by the National Informatics Centre.

Across the globe at the White House, John Podesta, Counsellor to the President, blogged about a review on ‘Big Data and the Future of Privacy’. This review is expected to “serve as the foundation for a robust and forward-looking plan of action” on privacy protection.

During a recent catch up with Glenn Ashe, former CIO at the Australian Attorney-General’s Department, he highlighted that digitisation of government and privacy are also tied together in a sense that while governments are going through the process of digitisation, they also need to update the information they have to deliver better digital services. Sound privacy laws and their enforcement play a key role in getting citizens online to update their information and enabling the government to do a better job.

Olli-Pekka Rissanen, Special Advisor in Public Sector ICT to Finance Ministry in Finland, pointed out to me, “Digitisation of government means that we can combine and connect information from different sources. The challenge here is that we have to be very careful with how we do this because one might accidentally violate an individual’s privacy. Open data is a specific example where this implies.”

The final result plays out from how the new frameworks, laws and policies are implemented down to the individual level. Educating employees is the key message that Privacy Expert, Frank Ahearn, would like to give to governments to better protect their agencies and citizens.

Australia has released a ‘Better Practice Guide’ for mobile privacy recommending app developers to take a ‘privacy by design’ approach and use brief privacy notices, privacy dashboards and in-text notices to tell users what will happen with their information in real time.

As a citizen, I think this is a great way of using technology to give users clearer information and more control over how their data is used. And I’m excited to see what other innovative approaches countries in Asia Pacific will take to protect their citizens’ privacy.

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FutureGov recently crossed 1000 likes on Facebook during the Christmas break. The entire editorial team did a little victory dance around the office and high-fived our new Community Manager. In the spirit of celebration, I think it’s timely to recognise some of the successful public sector social media initiatives, particularly by police agencies.

Last month, I visited Singapore Police Force (SPF) Headquarters for the first time. I was completely blown away by the level of engagement and activities the agency has achieved on the key social media channels.

Today, the agency has garnered huge followings online, putting them among the top five government social media sites in the country. It has over 353,000 fans on Facebook, more than 17,000 followers on Twitter and exceeding 6000 subscribers on YouTube! And they have plans to launch an Instagram account this year.

“We are pleased with the high engagement we are seeing on these channels. Our Facebook posts usually receive over 100 likes each. The videos on our YouTube page are also very popular with the people, it currently has more than 5 million views,” says Fong Weng Kiong, Assistant Director (Policy & Development), Public Affairs Department of SPF. (read the full interview here)

Looks like FutureGov has a long journey ahead of us - their success truly inspired me. And they weren’t the only law enforcement agency to do that.

Yesterday was Safer Internet Day and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Acting Deputy Commissioner Close Operational Support Tim Morris announced the expansion of its ThinkUKnow internet safety programme.

When I last spoke to Federal Agent James Braithwaite, Team Leader - Crime Prevention, High Tech Crime Operations at AFP about the ThinkUKnow programme, he said that YouTube has been an effective channel to reach its audience.

The channel has 1,330 subscribers and over 1.4 million views. One of the most popular video on sexting (sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs via mobile phones) called Megan’s Story, took A$250 (US$235) to produce and has received over 760,000 views.

Many other police forces are joining the party. Just this week, Kerala Police officially launched its Facebook and Twitter accounts. It has been experimenting the use of Facebook since last October.

Its latest post this afternoon calls for eyewitness accounts of police corruption and invites citizens to send in photographs, videos or audio recordings of incidents. It’ll be interesting to see the response of its 36,000 Facebook fans. In the first 40 minutes of the post, it has already attracted over 90 likes, 48 shares and 7 comments.

There are lots more success stories out there and if you’d like to share yours, do get in touch with me.

While we celebrate these victories, I know there are still many struggles around engaging citizens in the new media environment. Fong told me some of the challenges SPF faced in navigating the new social media space and how they have adapted new styles and strategies. Do look out for the interview later this month.

In the meantime, if you have not joined our social media communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram - how about doing that today?

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Thanks to old (but not old) FutureGov hand Laurence Millar, Editor-at-Large, emeritus, I came across my online doppelganger the other day at this blog.

I found JS2’s post about ‘Open Democracy’ very interesting. Read for yourself, but ‘James Smith-the-Younger’ was sharing his burgeoning interest in new social, collaborative tools to get involved in the political process. I’m sure all of you reading this would like your citizens to feel equally keen to participate. I have always believed that a broad sense of ownership of the political process is essential for a flourishing community.

Of course, government is about governance - about accountability and responsibility. So it can’t be left to an enthusiastic few to dictate what does and doesn’t happen. I don’t think my father has any less right than I, or James Smith II, to be involved in decision making - and as my father doesn’t use the internet very much, policymakers can’t give themselves wholly over to online policymaking. But neither should we throw the baby out with the bath water - we need to explore how new tools can help government work better.

What follows is my response to my namesake’s blog post; I’d be interested to hear what you think.

I think the thing to understand about politics in an era of mass media is that manifestos are marketing pitches - and just like any marketing pitch, they are principally intended to show a political party off to best effect. For marketing to have a recurring positive impact, the message should of course correspond with the product - which is why George Bush (senior) got in to trouble when after declaring “Read my lips: no new taxes” he raised tax. However there is not a causal relationship between sugar-coated, high-level and really rather abstract statements of belief - and actual policymaking. No plan survives first contact with reality, as they say, and certainly not marketing plans.

Secondly, regarding constitutions - well the United Kingdom, along with many other countries around the world, has one. The fact that it’s not a written constitution does not mean it’s not “proper”. Think about what the difference between written and unwritten means. Let’s take the United States - their constitution, beautifully phrased, was hammered out by slave-owning gentry in the late 18th century - and continues to inform how Washington DC operates to this day.

In fact, in the last session of Congress - House Republicans dutifully gathered on the first morning to read through the entire constitution - an example of constitutional literalism to do America’s Founding Fathers proud. Yet it is this same constitution that is largely responsible for the legislative and policy making gridlock.

A written constitution is a statement of faith that what it puts in black and white will largely hold true for all time - and of course we know that 18th century views of how the world should be run are unlikely to be able to reflect the complexity of the world we live in now. Look at the US courts and how they’ve struck down the net neutrality policy of the US government - all according to constitutional precedent, from a constitution written in 1787. It might be the right decision - but I wouldn’t base it on principles laid down by 18th century, male, protestant, white, slave owners.

Contrast this with an unwritten constitution - which basically holds that legal precedent (evolving legal interpretation and subsequent legislative enactments) dictates how we should view the world at any point in time. This helps explain why slave owning was abolished in the UK in 1833, and not in the US until 1865 (following a war which cost the lives of 750,000 people).

With all our good intentions, it is not self evident that everything we think about how the world should work in 2014 should constrain our grandchildren’s children in 2114. I love my Nana - but her outlook on the world was informed by a very different worldview to mine. If you believe that a constitution should be able to respond organically to changing circumstances - that’s why it should be unwritten. It enables every generation to legislate and live according to their own circumstances.

To follow through on your analogies - an unwritten constitution is open to reiteration by consensus, whereas a written constitution is proprietary and comes with hard to change licensing conditions developed in a previous era.

What I do think is very interesting is the question of whether, and if so - how, politics will be affected in an era of micro media (distributed, highly social media). I’d like to think that it will help refocus a plurality of discussion on the issues that make the biggest impact on all of us on a day-to-day basis: local politics. This would certainly help reduce the affective divide between younger generations of citizens (like yourself) who are interested in forming tightly-defined, short-lived, communities of interest to solve particular problems, and ‘traditional politics’.

I completely get the fact that a democratisation of media is enabling ‘non-experts’ to have their voice heard across the spectrum of issues; in the internet, talk has gone from being cheap - to being free. Many younger people find it strange to see that in an ever more collaborative, participatory world - politics and politicians belong to another era (which they do - they’re digital immigrants rather than digital natives). But rather than trying to tackle the biggest, most complex issues - the kind of small interest groups enabled by the internet that you’re interested in are probably best deployed at the local level. These days context is king.

Creating self-help groups for the marginalised (single mothers, the disabled, the elderly, ethnic minorities, longterm unemployed) to effect change in their community and get their voice heard; determining the right balance in land use - green space vs low cost housing; school policy; these are all issues to be addressed with commitment, and passion, which can be better harnessed and directed with the many group-formation and organisation tools available.

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For someone who has been covering the Government GIS space for more than three years, I’ve come to enjoy the perks of having the perfect vantage point to watch how government decision makers are leveraging what I consider as one of the world’s most powerful technology.

As part of our continued efforts to spread awareness and appreciation for GIS, we at FutureGov are curious to know what you feel are the next big trends in the government spatial community.

This curiosity was sparked by a discussion posted by Ben Searle, the former General Manager of the Australian Office of Spatial Data Management, in the Public Sector GIS Linkedin group which I started last month.

In his post, he said: “My thinking is that the governments’ traditional uses of spatial capabilities will continue in the traditional areas of environment, land administration etc. However, a spatial or location focus is now being applied across other areas such as health, transport, city management, urban design, waste and in the building and construction sectors.”

True enough, more and more healthcare organisations are looking at GIS to help them provide the best quality care and treatment to their patients.

While a lion’s share of hospital budget is usually targeted at the building of new facilities and latest diagnostic equipments, investing in GIS allows healthcare practitioners to have a precise understanding of the links between a patient’s health and where he lives and works.

“The linking of location to any government data will bring benefits, but the key is in ensuring that the ‘spatial’ concept is not ‘sold’ as the solution. It should be part of the solution, but only a part.” (To view his complete response please visit the Public Sector GIS LinkedIn page)

Ben’s post and the responses that followed, inspired me to get in touch with my network of contacts for their perspectives. With that, please refer below for the trends they said are shaping and influencing their spatial journey:

  • Open data/Linked data
  • Big data
  • Location analytics and Business Intelligence
  • Promoting spatial awareness to build up local supply of geospatial professionals the industry requires to develop
  • Both indoor and outdoor 3D data will become the norm
  • Internal personal location services/Indoor GPS (prison, healthcare services, etc.)
  • Shared services
  • End user focus on self-service tools
  • Introduction of socio-economic information within a location framework
  • Place-based Policing/ Intelligence-led policing
  • Greater integration of statistics and geospatial information
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Internet of things
  • Real-time summarisation/statistics
  • Privacy
  • Open Source GIS

According to Prof. Abbas Rajabifard, past President of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association, the trends mentioned above reflects the fact that governments are all seeking to establish more efficient and effective societies.

“These trends have implications for technology, applications and innovation. However, I also believe key transformations will be around the realisation that organisations will need to connect and collaborate across industry and sectors to better integrate GIS and Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the whole land development process to support future cities, and incorporate crowd-sourced and social media networks,” he said.

The Government GIS channel of FutureGov aims to bring together a close knit community of GIS champions (as what I like to call them) in the region. I would like to thank those who took time to help us identify the topics and trends most relevant to the community. We’ll definitely keep these trends in mind in future conversations and interviews with the region’s top decision makers so that we can give you content that matters.

One last thing, If you’re a senior decision maker in a government agency with goals to meet and issues to address and have little clue as to what GIS is, talk to your GIS/IT department and explore what this technology can do for you and your entire organisation.

Do you want to add anything to the trends listed above? Feel free to do so by commenting below or in the Public Sector GIS LinkedIn page so we can continue this discussion with the rest of the FutureGov community!

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When I first started using Dropbox and Google Drive, I wasn’t thinking about where all my data and information was going. It was great for me - I could access my documents from any device, easily collaborate with others and I wasn’t paying anything for it. (And I didn’t think anyone wanted my freshman year research papers.)

At the FutureGov Summit 2013 in October, Agus Pudjijono, Head of Application and Data Processing Centre at Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works, shared with me his team’s experience with deploying a private cloud for the Ministry.

“The main challenge was the IT culture in Indonesian government agencies. If an application is built, people want a physical server where they can store the application out of concern for security,” he said.

At the same time, once the private cloud was announced, officials couldn’t wait to get their hands on it to benefit from the simplified IT and reduced costs, Pudjijono added. How did they reconcile the threats with the benefits of cloud?

When we visited the Indonesian Ministry of Finance, their Chief of Data Centres shared a similar story. The departments had temporarily migrated to the cloud while their data centres were being consolidated. But when the time came to go back to the data centres, he and his team faced resistance to migrating out of the cloud.

At a workshop during the Summit, Ray Teske, APAC Leader of Avaya’s Cloud Services and Solutions, pointed out that the underlying issue with cloud adoption among the participants was the transition from legacy IT systems to cloud rather than the technology itself. And this was based on the experiences of 30 government leaders from 12 countries across Asia Pacific.

At last week’s NEC Innovative Solutions Fair 2014, I met up with Shinya Kukita, Chief Engineer at NEC’s Global Business Unit. He believes that the transition to cloud doesn’t have to be done overnight and economic forces will in time weigh out the differences.

“As long as government agencies feel uncomfortable about moving into the cloud environment, they will keep their existing systems up and running. Eventually, there will come a time when it will become difficult to maintain the old system and a decision to move to the new environment or continue with the old systems will have to be made based on the economic benefits,” Kukita noted.

In recent news we’ve seen Hong Kong and India roll out their government cloud. They have different levels of economic prosperity and IT culture in government, but the positive impact of cloud led them both to overcome the resistance and reconcile with the shortcomings.

The United States’ FedRAMP is a great example of a government-wide standardised approach to security assessment, authorisation and continuous monitoring of cloud service providers, allowing agencies to take advantage of public cloud based on their individual needs.

Are there prospects for similar central government programmes in Asia Pacific? Can governments enjoy the best of both public and private clouds with a hybrid cloud? And how can the message of cloud be taken down to the state and local government level? These are only a few of the issues that I look forward to delving into with government IT leaders this year.

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I live on mobile apps. A day doesn’t pass without using one - booking a taxi, converting currencies when I’m overseas, posting interesting articles on LinkedIn and Twitter, managing my schedule, mobile banking and more.

Last week at the Apps4SG competition organised by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), I met the top 12 finalists who have created innovative apps using government datasets to improve the way we live, work and play in Singapore.

As a committed foodie, my favourite of the 12 was definitely ‘Hawkeree’, an app that helps you navigate the city’s massive treasure trove of good hawker (street food) delights. So before you join that long queue for the award-winning chicken rice or travel the extra mile to a remote hawker centre, you can check in with the Hawkeree community.

“The Singapore government has been aggressively opening up its data since the programme was launched in 2011. It started out with 5000 datasets and today has grown to almost 8700 datasets,” said James Kang, Assistant Chief Executive of IDA. “And we hope to continue in this direction.”

Singapore’s open data journey has seen a lot of success, triggering innovation in the infocomm industry and more interestingly, among citizens.

Great innovation can come from the people, Kang noted. “A lot of ideas and new apps are coming from people from all walks of life, sometimes without any technical or application development experience or knowledge,” he said.

The Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan also highlighted the power of releasing data to the people, in a recent conversation with FutureGov.

While big data brings great benefits to the government, McMillan said that the value of data is fully realised if it is made available to the people. Australia is now working closely with the community, industry and all levels of government to develop a national action plan for open government.

Two months ago, the Philippines’ government launched the portal, making public sector datasets available to citizens.

When we met up with the Commission on Higher Education’s Open Data Champion Maria Teresita Semana, Director III, Policy, Planning, Research and Information before the launch, she was busy identifying datasets that would bring the greatest benefits if made open.

“Data is power. The more we leverage it, the more we are able to sustainably plan for our future,” said Semana. She spoke with so much passion that I knew in my gut she was a real believer.

Our conversations with regional open government leaders hit home the fact that public agencies around the world must continue the good work of releasing data to citizens and businesses. This year, we should see this movement continue with an additional focus on converting those datasets into formats that people need.

“At least 99 per cent of datasets on both and OneMap are in machine-readable formats, and we are working hard to make the remaining 1 per cent machine-readable,” Lim Soo Hoon, Permanent Secretary (Finance)(Performance), Ministry of Finance Singapore, said at the Apps4SG competition.

I’m certainly inspired to contribute to the government-citizen co-creation process after seeing all the amazing apps these finalists have created. What other types of public sector data will be useful? With the current available datasets, what problem can I solve or how can I enhance our lives? What apps have you and your organisation used, or supported the development of, recently? This is definitely something I will be keeping an eye on this year.

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I was very happy to attend a small gathering celebrating Siong Guan Lim’s career in the Singapore Civil Service. Frankly he’s been there, done that - and has now also written a book about it all (‘The Leader, The Teacher & You’, 2014, Imperial College Press) - having been Permanent Secretary in turn at Defence, Education, Prime Minister’s Office and Finance, Head of the Singapore Civil Service, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board, a Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and currently President of the country’s government investment company, managing US$100 billion of foreign currency reserves. His Curriculum Vitae made me feel rather inadequate, I must say.

Happily Mr Lim is a very friendly, down-to-earth man, and was willing to share his thoughts on how the nature of public service had changed in his time, and was now set to change further in the coming years.

Lim says that of all the roles that government serves - controller, regulator, nurturer, facilitator, convenor - the last of these is the most discomfiting because “the outcomes are not predictable and the government can easily find itself in a dilemma of showing it is prepared to listen and gather ideas, and yet is unprepared to actually act on them”.

He believes that governments that do not become more active in this last role of convenor or ‘aggregator’ risk losing popular support, irrespective of how successful they are in the other areas of responsibility.

In order to successfully build on the shifting sands of changing citizen expectations, Lim stresses the need to build an organisational culture that is forward-looking and receptive to change. During his time he was responsible for implementing the ‘Public Service for the 21st Century’ (PS21) vision - which sought to enshrine the principle that the need for change is a permanent state of being.

PS21 aimed to achieve this by grooming a generation of leaders and future leaders who embodied an attitude of service excellence, and oversaw modern management techniques for cost-effectiveness and efficiency - as well as staff wellbeing, and commitment to continuous learning.

The results are there for all to see, and I would say that while the achievements are world class, challenges remain. On the one hand the Singapore public sector regularly tops global rankings for impartiality and the absence of corruption. At the same time Singapore continues to dazzle the rest of the world with its combination of the rule of law, public safety and economic performance.

But despite this strong track record, the government’s share of the vote has fallen in successive elections, and new online forums for public discourse have enabled the disaffected to find their voice, and find one another. These are challenging times to be in public service, and as Lim said - the outcomes are not predictable.

Perhaps one challenge facing the highly meritocratic culture of Singapore’s civil service is its emphasis on the country’s scholar-elite. Many civil services around the world have a ‘fast track’ for the talented, so Singapore’s practice is not unnatural - but I wonder whether a culture of streaming talent fully equips civil servant leaders with the skills to negotiate an ever more democratic, and opinionated, public arena. These days for every policy initiative there is a loud social media response - it’s a minefield.

More broadly, I think that politics is becoming more pluralistic globally. Recent results in Malaysia and Delhi, the clamour for universal franchise in Hong Kong, the breakdown of the civil compact in Thailand, the proliferation of parties in Indonesia, even the rise of fringe parties and caucuses in Europe and the United States. Elections increasingly have a ‘long tail’, with the share of the vote at the political margins growing fast at the expense of the political centre ground. This shift to the margins probably favours consensus over bold policy initiatives, and certainly poses new challenges for civil service leaders.

The predictability of outcomes that, according to Lim, is government’s natural preference is not the world we operate in today. We live in more interesting times.

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This Christmas I’m on a mission to help my Mom (Ed. Mum), a businesswoman managing the family’s corporate logistics business, learn how to use and appreciate the value of a map - more specifically the Philippine government’s geoportal.

My family runs a corporate logistics business in Manila. For over a decade, banks, IT companies and several other MNCs have trusted us to ship, relocate and transport their servers, mainframe computers, ATMs and various other semiconductor equipments safely to their intended destination in the Philippines.

So if you happen to be in Boracay island and see an ATM right next to you, there’s a very high possibility that our crew put it there.

For a business engaged in logistics, updated maps of cities and provinces are not only crucial for operations but even more so for business continuity. While they do have them in the office, they’ve been depending on the same worn out sheets of provincial road maps for almost 10 years. This adds little value in their decision making and planning for their future directions.

End-users like my Mom (Ed. Mum) have this aversion to anything that is considered “too high-tech”. In fact, last Christmas, I noticed her preference for using her old dumb phone over her iPhone. She complained about how complicated the interface looked and insisted that all she needed were the basic call and SMS functions and nothing more. However, after teaching her the wonders of Instagram, the iTunes appstore and instant messaging apps like BBM, Whatsapp, Viber and Facetime, she slowly but surely adapted to new and easier way of doing things that matter to her and her job.

The same thing happened when I told her to access the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ geohazard map. I was trying to convince her to move the company’s warehouse facility somewhere that isn’t vulnerable to floods or potential storm surges from future Super Typhoons akin to Haiyan.

Since the current warehouse is located right next to a creek and about ten minutes away from the coastal area, it is imperative that they move the whole warehouse - and perhaps the whole office - to higher ground given the increasing incidences of flooding around the neighbouring areas.

She encountered difficulty navigating around the geohazard portal, telling me she couldn’t understand what a base layer meant or how she was supposed to see the areas around our city that are vulnerable to floods.

I often write about the benefits of GIS and the value users can derive from leveraging geoportals and other similar initiatives. However, sometimes I find myself wondering why these efforts are underappreciated. Is it a question of marketing? Is it the platform? The language?

Companies like Google have helped liberalise geospatial information. Google Maps is so pervasive that citizens use it more than their own national mapping authority’s geospatial information. They rely on it for their day-to-day decision making so that they can avoid traffic and choose the best route to take to get to their destination at the shortest possible time.

Having this kind of information is empowering, and it gets even better and more powerful when you have very detailed and authoritative geospatial information about things that not only matter to you, but also for your family, your business and your community.

Since its not in Google’s commercial interest to release authoritative information on what areas are classified as “unfit for dwelling” and are prone to natural hazards such as floods, landslides and earthquakes, this gives governments the opportunity to provide citizens like my Mom (Ed. Mum) crucial information to help her save her business.

Having the means and the power to understand the physical and cultural patterns of where you live is critically important. As governments move towards openness by releasing various data sets to facilitate innovation, it is important to consider how public information is translated and communicated to citizens, especially at the grassroots level.

With that said, how can governments or mapping organisations provide a good and meaningful user experience to citizens accessing their geoportals? How can they encourage more citizens to use their existing applications? How can they make it more inclusive?

In 2014, I will continue to be focused on sharing the perspectives and best practices of how governments are making location information matter to citizens. I can’t wait!

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My recent trip to Canberra had many firsts - first time in Australia, first interview with a Minister (more on this coming up soon) and first ‘selfie’ (it’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ for ‘self-portrait’, so my Editor made me take one).

I was the lucky journalist from our Singapore office to attend the company’s 4th annual FutureGov Summit Australia in Canberra at the beginning of the month. A new Australian government, with a strong focus on digital engagement, and the usual restructuring of agencies and ICT budgets that go hand in hand with government transition, meant that I was in the right place at the right time.

This FutureGov Summit brought together more than 300 government ICT leaders and technology experts to engage in intensive discussions around the latest ICT developments impacting government service delivery in Australia.

Starting with Minister of Communications Malcolm Turnbull’s welcome address, down to my last conversation with Peter Alexander, Chief Information Officer of the Australian Treasury two days later, there was a consistent emphasis on the need for innovation in the public sector to deliver better services.

Minister Turnbull called for a change in attitude towards innovation in digital government. The critical objective is not just saving costs, but making it easier for the community to interact with government through a more engaged and responsive digital platform, he highlighted.

Competition drives innovation in the private sector - but where does the drive for innovation come from in government? How should government ICT officials be thinking about innovation?

Glenn Archer, Government CIO for Australia said that ICT is more than just about efficiency - it’s about transforming the way government functions. Happily for Archer this was echoed by every other CIO from Australia and New Zealand that I spoke to.

CIOs need to go beyond running IT operations and get involved in how technology can innovate and improve business processes, said the Treasury’s Alexander.

Part of this is investing in the right ICT portfolio for the agency and its needs - one of the key steps is knowing when to kill a project, as pointed out by Charles Palmer, Director of Information Integrity at ACT Government.

Graham Clewes, Chief Executive Officer at Medway Youth Trust, in the United Kingdom, said that Australian public sector officials have often viewed efficiency and innovation interchangeably - something that does not always hold true.

I caught up with Les Pall, Master Strategist for Cloud and Big Data, Enterprise Group, HP South Pacific, and Paul Muller, Vice President of Global Strategic Marketing, HP Software, during one of the networking breaks at the Summit. “Everybody we have spoken to is very aware of the possibilities that technology brings to the table. They know what citizens expect,” Muller said. From his conversations as an IDT leader, Pall shared that technology seemed to be the “last inhibitor” to digital transformation - many are inhibited by structure, culture or legal framework in the agencies.

Given the speed at which the IT sector is innovating, change in attitude towards innovation is inevitable in the public sector. The question remains as to how this change will come about. Will it be driven by political leadership, legal framework, management and restructuring of agencies, or public private partnerships? Probably a combination of these.

My thoughts were echoed by Clewes when he said at the close of the two days of conversations, he sensed a high level of nervousness but also a high degree of optimism in the room as everyone grappled with the implications of a digital government.

As to whether the ‘I’ in CIO is innovation or information, I think that no single person can be in charge of driving innovation in an organisation - innovation needs to be broadly supported to avoid the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (the temptation to cut down anything that rises above the rest).

It is, however, a useful reminder that ICT is one of the critical enablers of innovation within an organisation. CIOs and their teams play a crucial role in assisting transformation by ensuring that legacy systems, as well as legacy thinking, doesn’t stand in the way of change.

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“When I was elected Mayor, they told me that one of the most important things you have to do is to gather data. So I gathered data,” Mary Jane Ortega, former Mayor of San Fernando City of the Province of La Union, The Philippines told me when we caught up last month.

During her term as Mayor in 1998 to 2007, the City with a population of 115,000 became an economic hub and one of the most dynamic cities in The Philippines.

More impressively, she had an unprecedented approval rating of 92.5 per cent. (American presidents have an average approval rating of 54 per cent.)

“It wasn’t an easy journey for me,” she continued. “I discovered we had five ‘Jurassic’ computers in the city, none of which are capable of the data collection task. So we upgraded them. And after we collected the data, I realised we didn’t have anyone who could analyse the data.”

In other words, the bottleneck in Big Data is not technology - but human capacity. If I had a dollar for every occasion I’ve heard this said over the last seven years, I’d be typing this blog from a luxury resort in the Bahamas. I’d have also been a dollar better off a week ago when I caught up with Stefan Sjostrom, Vice President Public Sector Asia, Microsoft.

“There really is a shortage of people who are able to analyse, interpret and use data. It is a challenge that cuts across the public and private sector,” said Sjostrom.

I know that other cities struggle with data collection too. Seoul Metropolitan Government’s former CIO Jong-Sung Hwang said that despite investing millions of dollars in sensors embedded into roads, the city failed many times to capture accurate and usable real-time traffic data.

After years of trial and error, the city finally found a cheaper workaround last year by installing touchcard payment system which uses GPS technology in the city’s 25,000 taxis.

Ortega understood the pain of not having data. “One of the first things I did as Mayor was to go through personnel files of my team. If I had all that data digitised, I wouldn’t have to spend sleepless nights doing that manually,” she said.

After a very successful term, Ortega is now Special Adviser of the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements – CITYNET.

CITYNET and Microsoft City Next signed a Memorandum of Understanding last month to collaborate in helping cities across Asia tackle many of their biggest challenges, such as urban migration and decreased budgetary resources.

Sjostrom highlighted the importance of the mayor’s role in modernising a city. “Until now, we have had long and successful dialogues with city CIOs, pragmatically solving infrastructure issues as they strive towards becoming future cities. Today, across Asia, we are seeing the baton being passed to mayors, who now understand the technology language and are solving real problems and achieving their visions.”

“Mayors are troubleshooters, they are pragmatic problem solvers. They can negotiate, bring people together to solve problems, even people who are not in their jurisdiction,” added Sjostrom.

Meeting a really successful female Mayor made my day, but listening to her speak passionately about Big Data and the role of technology in modernising cities really topped that.

I look forward to meeting more of these inspiring public sector officials at our next Cities and Big Data Summit.

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Public sector ICT infrastructure is going through a phase of tremendous change: 2014 will set a new record for public sector ICT spending in the region, but also for the number of ICT projects that fail.

On the one hand there is a wave of consolidation throughout the region as unsustainable legacy infrastructure is phased out. As a new free FutureGov Report - ‘Asian Government ICT Project Priorities 2014’ - indicates, IT departments are taking the time to review their strategic use of ICT, opening up new opportunities for vendors.

At the same time, a number of new technologies are intersecting to fundamentally change the capabilities, roles and responsibilities of public sector ICT.

(Now’s a good time to take a deep breath)

Cloud computing is providing the inexpensive, scalable capacity to process and store ever larger amounts of information being generated by increasingly pervasive remote sensors which are part of an expanding ‘internet of everything’ fuelled by Machine to Machine (M2M) communication which is being leveraged by Big Data solutions to understand and manage heightened levels of complexity in public sector planning and policymaking.

These tectonic shifts in the ICT landscape create tremendous opportunities for government agencies to change the way they provide services to citizens, businesses and civil servants themselves - but all of this is playing out against a backdrop of the consumerisation of ICT within the enterprise. These are challenging times for government IT departments. Although public sector CIOs in the region are typically resisting the trend towards BYOD, it is happening anyway.

The world of ICT is becoming much more complex, with big changes to the external ICT environment and the needs of users are changing at a faster rate. As a result expect increased emphasis on agile software development, where agencies break down larger ICT projects into their constituent elements with a view to delivering services faster, and with less risk. The alternative is to be overwhelmed by the growing complexity of the ICT environment.

As Singapore’s GCIO, James Kang, said earlier this year: “We can no longer wait nine months or more for the delivery of projects, the world is moving too fast. There has been a tendency for agencies to list their maximal requirements, including things they did not need. This can lead to very complex programmes where the risk and magnitude of failure increases. What we want to move towards is a more disciplined approach, where the most important functions are prioritised and the emphasis is on going live as quickly as possible.”

All of which goes to underline that, for government departments, it is not business as usual. We are going through a period of acute stress - so expect the incidence of project failures to increase, as as mentioned in last week’s blog, expect government departments to enter in to much more collaborative working relationships with their ICT suppliers.

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