“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.
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.
One of the interesting things I observed at our recently concluded FutureGov Summit was how enthusiastic government officials were to get their hands on technology.
At the HP booth I was pleasantly surprised to see that even the most senior government officials, generally without a background in ICT, were busy poking and prodding and asking lots of questions. This surprised me, as I have always tended to focus my attention on the magic that happens during the small-group conversations in the main conference room - but I realise that there’s a lot of magic that happens on the exhibition floor too.
It reminded me of a conversation I had about eight years ago with Dr Cheok Beng Teck, the then CIO of Singapore’s Ministry of Defence. As he was flicking through our print publication, I noticed him pausing at all the adverts, rather than all the beautifully written (by me) interviews with government executives in the region.
As I tried to steer him to my painstakingly written editorial, he said that he would get round to reading it later - but that for now, he wanted to see which technology companies were targeting government through the pages of FutureGov magazine, and what solutions they were focusing on: “As soon as you leave university, your technology exposure drops markedly,” Dr Cheok said at the time. “IT officers in government need to be reminded what the latest technology can do, otherwise our knowledge turns to stone.”
This was a bit of a revelation for me, and I thought to myself that maybe advertising works afterall.
These sentiments were echoed by Laurence Millar, the then GCIO of New Zealand, when on the fringes of one of our early conferences he said that one of the reasons he liked going to events was because it allowed him to interact with multiple vendors in a short space of time - as opposed to having companies constantly knocking on the door of his office requesting a meeting.
Seeing how government actually quite likes the opportunity to keep itself abreast of the latest developments through FutureGov’s platforms, this is going to inform some of the changes we intend to make to this online publication.
This is currently the third version of the web site (if you’re interested, here’s a snapshot of the first version), and frankly hasn’t seen many changes since 2009. But from March 2014, we will be moving to an entirely new platform which will allow us to provide new tools for government, new data services for technology companies, as well as more options for technology companies to partner with FutureGov and manage their relationship with the region’s public sector.
It’s clear that the region’s public sector is working its way through the implications of a number of intersecting technology trends - inexpensive cloud computing providing the capability to leverage the Big Data generated by the rapidly falling costs of remote sensors to provide ever more personalised services to an ‘always-on’ generation of mobile users.
What is also clear is that to deliver the level of service that citizens, businesses and civil servants expect, the public sector is going to have to work much more closely with its technology providers. The future of government is going to be more collaborative - across government, between government and its users, and not least between government and its suppliers.
So as FutureGov enters our second decade we will continue to work closely with government and industry to provide the best possible platform for engagement with the largest, most established, and most awarded community of government ICT officials in Asia Pacific.
Between now and early 2014 we’re going to be pretty busy working on a range of cool/shiok/ayos/gerek/attagasama/mast/darun/tuyệt/ku/sugoi new features - including subscription services for government, new benchmarking tools, an easier to use awards interface, the region’s biggest government projects directory, personalised alerts, RFPs, CXO mentoring … all this, along with a fancy new colour scheme.
The new features have very much grown out of feedback from our reader community, as well as from our technology partners - so if you have a question, or have a feature you’d like to see not already mentioned, do get in touch with myself and my colleagues. We’d love to hear from you.
I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of Hong Kong’s forthcoming Digital 21 Strategy when I popped in to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer on Monday and chatted with Daniel Lai, Hong Kong’s GCIO.
I’ll save going in to all the details for the full interview article next week (all I’ll say now is there’ll be more data, more sharing, more cloud, more personalisation, and more apps), but as this is now the third iteration of Hong Kong’s ICT masterplan that I’ve covered (there have been five in total) it is heartening to see Hong Kong’s continuing appetite for reinvention.
In a nut shell, Hong Kong Government’s first strategy focused in putting in place the infrastructure of e-government (1998), the second on e-business (2001), the third on ramping up e-government services (2004), the fourth on widening access to government services (2008). Now, with the foundations in place, there is an emphasis on leveraging ICT to drive innovation - in process, in services, and in the wider economy.
I found it encouraging that the approach being taken by OGCIO found an echo in the comments from officials across the breadth of Hong Kong’s public sector as I moderated discussions at the 5th annual FutureGov Forum there on Tuesday.
Hearing feedback from the Land Department, the Hong Kong Police, the Efficiency Unit, the Education Bureau, the Hospital Authority, as well as from technology companies that work with Hong Kong’s public sector, I’m hopeful that once the 2014 Digital Strategy is finalised and resourced in time for the new financial year (April) that it will reflect a genuine pan-government consensus.
Everyone now understands that Cloud, Big Data and Open Government are converging in a way that is going to accelerate change in how government operates. Increases in the scalability and agility of the underlying government platform, combined with definitions of data that now transcend individual agencies, and a commitment to opening up this treasure trove of Public Sector Information to the wider community - there is a sense that government is going through a genuinely transformative moment in time.
The challenge for the region’s governments is that awareness of these intersecting trends is pretty lumpy - the central IT agencies typically have a good weather eye for the way things are headed, but the larger monolithic spending agencies often take an age to modify their direction of travel. But perhaps as a result of Hong Kong’s unique politics - one country, two systems etc. - I got a sense of a lot of nervous energy, even anxiety, in the conversations I had with officials. Something needs to be done, they seemed to be saying - and as we near the end of the public consultation phase for the 2014 Digital 21 Strategy, it looks like Hong Kong will have a fitting document to put this energy to good use.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by cities. It started off with a love of their architecture - of how the built environment reflected usage. It helped that the nearest city to where I grew up was London, which is a pretty nice city to have on your doorstep.
Over time I realised that the architecture, and the cityscape of which it was a part, reflected the complex confluence of a range of competing pressures. All cities seek to reconcile transport, recreation, residential and workplace needs in a finite space. They are the original system of systems - and they’ve been on the rise for the past 10,000 years. Since 2008, the world has been predominantly urban.
My fascination with cities only grew when I came to Asia 15 years ago. Up until then, I’d imagined cities to be static things that endured. On seeing Manila, Singapore, Jakarta up close and personal, I realised that what man raises up, can be torn down quickly enough. I saw for the first time that cities were always in a state of flux - that the planning decision which made sense 10 years ago can quickly be overtaken by events on the ground. Seeing the city as a slate that can be wiped clean was a very different approach to the one that I had grown up with.
The City, London’s financial district, is hardly fit for purpose. The current road layout still follows the original medieval lanes, and the building lots are irregularly-shaped, with little scope for the large, open trading floors in vogue with the world’s big financial services companies. I can imagine that a Singaporean planner would have long since rebuilt the place - straightening out roads, regularising land parcels, and keeping everything clean.
This lack of sentimentality for the built environment is not without its social costs - we saw a tremendous outpouring from the citizens of Hong Kong when Queen’s Pier was demolished in 2008; Singaporeans increasingly bemoan the redevelopment of their old schools and neighbourhood landmarks; Tunku Park in Kuala Lumpur is to be turned in to a highrise development, much to the anguish of a number of KL-ites I know; and Beijing must surely regret tearing down its 600 year-old city walls in 1960.
But of course, if nostalgia and a love of old things doesn’t hold you back, then there is a lot to be said for knocking things down every few years. Population declining? Knock down some kindergartens, free up the land for more productive use. Collapse of an old industry? Pedestrianise the district, bring in a Starbucks, and maybe give it some fancy street art. Growing car population? Build a motorway or two. Change your mind? Knock it all down again.
This flexibility in land use enables capital to be redeployed relatively easily. I can’t say the results are always pretty, but it supports a dynamic city - and Asia is full of some of the world’s most dynamic cities. Manila’s population grows by 1 million every five years, so I guess they’re going to have to knock down a few more old buildings.
But while the wrecking ball can do wonders for urban vitality, there is, of course, a better way. As you might expect, technology plays a key role.
When circumstances change, land use has to change. But if you could do a better job of anticipating these changing circumstances, then the knock on benefit would be that you would need to knock down fewer buildings.
Quite apart from lost heritage, knocking down buildings is expensive, time consuming, and energy intensive. I’ve noticed how a lot of ‘eco cities’ seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to discarding their existing infrastructure.
So how do you do a better job of anticipating changing circumstances? You maximise your access to all available information to improve the quality of your decision-making. More and better data, results in more informed and better decisions. More and better data? Sounds like a job for the ICT Superhero of 2013: Big Data, only you can save us now!
Of course, don’t just take my word for it - FutureGov recently quizzed some of our friends (including the Mayor of Surabaya - click this link, then click the video to see how much she likes FutureGov) in the region’s biggest cities, to ask them whether better quality data, more rapidly processed, and effectively visualised, would make a difference to their city.
Of the 50 respondents, they said Big Data was key to public safety (36 per cent), liveability (54 per cent), economic development (62 per cent), urban planning (78 per cent) and transportation (84 per cent).
It’s a lot cheaper to build the infrastructure in anticipation of future demand, getting your predictions correct the first time, than it is to build in haste and repent at leisure. This is the absolutely crucial difference that Big Data makes - and this is the direction that we’re taking our third cities event, to be held in Singapore next April.
If, like me, you think that leveraging ever greater volumes of data is the kind of approach that smart cities need to take in order to build safer, successful, sustainable communities, then do get in touch - as I’m working on the conference agenda for Cities & Big Data Summit as we speak, and would like to get a broader range of inputs.
One of the many results of IT consumerisation is that citizens now have easy and instant access to media and information through their mobile devices, desktops and social media applications. The way individuals and organisations interact has been revolutionised, and this is not any less applicable to interactions between governments and citizens.
What are governments in Asia doing about this? This was one of the questions running through my mind during last week’s 10th annual FutureGov Summit 2013 in Phuket.
I had the opportunity to speak with more than 80 government officials about their citizen engagement initiatives while I and my editorial colleagues led a series of roundtable discussions on the subject of citizen engagement.
One of the challenges was that while jumping in to social media was easy - these days everyone is able to open a Facebook page or a Twitter account - but sustaining the level of communication expected by citizens was something that departments were not prepared for.
The depth of community engagement that takes place on social media remains shallow - many governments still view social media channels as a means of broadcasting updates, rather than engaging in conversations. Officials were very concerned about losing control over their information - reducing the impact of the citizen engagement activities.
Before the rise of new media, the main source of public information was the government. Governments could regulate the media if they wanted to and this meant that there was a very close alignment between citizens and government. The explosion of information availability from the internet has rebalanced the relationship, and removed forever citizens’ “information dependency” on government. This risks creating an ever larger gap between government action and public opinion.
Civil servants need to find a safe way to bridge this gap between departments and citizens, while maintaining the usual governance processes that enable impartial policymaking.
Adding to this, politics and policies no longer enjoy the primacy that they once did in popular media. More people follow their country’s sports teams and film stars than their tax agencies. But effective communication between citizens and their government is necessary in order to make good policies. This means that governments have to do things differently now in order to persuade citizens to give them their time - they have to take part in a new kind of conversation with citizens through social media.
Parallel to citizen feedback on policy-making, governments also have to manage citizens’ expectations and ensure that they have access to accurate information. Citizens are talking about government across various social media platforms - they’re sharing, posting, liking, tweeting, retweeting, blogging, pinning, instagramming. The government’s absence from these platforms means that it is not able to address concerns, respond in a timely manner and provide the right information to citizens. If this is where citizens chose to spend their time, then government needs to commit to being present if it is to remain relevant.
A delegate from Singapore pointed out that the Singapore government initially did not want to be active on social media, but it soon realised that the community was already talking about the government online and it had to be active on social media to be able to address those concerns. “More people are now using social media to access information rather than visiting websites,” he added.
Government officials I spoke to were concerned that they had little control over the information they shared on social media. Opening a Facebook page for an agency would mean that users could instantly provide feedback which is very often negative, and is public. The fact is that these criticisms would be taking place on social media even if the agency is not active on these platforms. Having an active social media presence provides government the opportunity to make its side of the argument heard in these conversations.
As a civil servant from the Maldives said - there needs to be clear ‘rules of engagement’ or “social media etiquette” to guide civil servants.
Many of the Asian government leaders I spoke to feel that most social media activity should be directed at the youth. While this is arguably true, circumstances are changing fast and governments now have the opportunity to prepare for this change.
Social media is no longer used just by the twenty-somethings, as usage amongst older demographics increases. I recently gave in and accepted my parents’ friend requests on Facebook, and my father is probably more active than many of my twenty-something friends.
Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is necessary but not sufficient. You need to have something to say, and you need to empower your team to say it. This means resourcing your communications team to provide the responsive feedback that citizens expect from social media - but just as importantly, providing your team with the authority to place content in the public domain, knowing that it may end up being argued over by netizens.
Graham Bell, London’s CIO, believes, “We need to embrace the fact that entering the arena of social media means we lose complete control over information sharing.”
So the powers that be in Washington have decided to kick the can down the road and let government get back to work for now. I’m not sure the last few weeks have been the greatest advert for liberal democracy - but it has been a great advert for the importance of government services.
While I’m no sweaty revolutionary, I did enjoy a succession of Republican Congressmen quickly switch from castigating “bloated government” to proclaiming that they’d never intended to suspend the work of accident investigators, Veteran Affairs, the National Parks, the Statue of Liberty etc. It turns out the Feds aren’t so useless after all.
Life’s tightrope is a much scarier place to be perched once the government safety net is taken away. There was a similar realisation back in 2008 when governments round the world stepped in to stabilise the global financial system as it teetered on the brink.
The truth is that it’s in the moments of crisis, both personal and national, that the essential nature of government fully reveals itself. Head over to Bohol and Cebu, and you will find a lot of people absolutely convinced of the importance of government, as it helps with the rescue and rehabilitation of communities affected by Tuesday’s earthquake. Ditto that for communities in eastern India hit by typhoon Phailan (same size as Hurricane Katrina) at the beginning of the week, and today’s Typhoon Nari in Vietnam.
Waves lashing palm trees and winds ripping roofs from buildings certainly makes for gripping news - but at the other end of the spectrum, governments spend most of their time on prevention. How do you create a news headline around a disaster that never happened? How many TV minutes get allocated to stories about the people that didn’t die of Malaria, who did go to school, who were able to access regional markets on roads that weren’t washed away?
It speaks volumes about the service mindset of government officials that you have so many great stories where you either prevented a problem, or fixed a crisis - yet place so little emphasis on getting these successes out in the public eye. It’s the greatest story never told, and I am wagging my finger at you: you must do a better job of promoting the essential work of government.
You can’t take it for granted that your citizens will keep the good things you do front of mind. Nobody likes government when it’s time to pay their taxes - not unless they can recall something amazing that government did for them. If you’re going to go to all the effort to be amazing, on a daily basis, make sure your taxpayers know about it.
Certainly myself and my editorial colleagues will be doing our bit to sing your praises when we head off to Thailand next week for the 10th annual FutureGov Summit. We’ll be debating, scribbling and dishing out awards - and all the while, we’ll be quietly in awe of the impact of your work on millions of people in the region.
A decade seems like a significant amount of time for me to have been covering the work of you and your colleagues. In that time I must have interviewed over 1000 public servants, of all shapes and sizes - and successive FutureGov journalists have collectively interviewed many more times that amount. The golden thread linking each and every one of these interviews has been your desire to make a difference. Give your corporate communications team a kick in the backside, and start spreading the news.
The digital generation is used to being surrounded by multiple devices and rich-media content. This exciting cyber world, however, stops at school gates and classroom doors, and is replaced by traditional static blackboard and textbooks.
This widening digital gap between their personal and school life is not a new problem. You could throw money at the issue, roll out infrastructure and the latest devices overnight, but these are just tools. When devices are switched on, what content will the children consume and where will it come from?
I visited Brunei for the first time last week under the invitation of the Ministry of Education to witness its launch of the Media and In-Service Centre or MiSC. I had the opportunity to speak with Education Minister Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong after the event. He described his difficulty relating to education materials he used to learn English as a student.
“When I was a student in the 1950s, English language was taught with materials from England. I read about meadows, winter, autumn, etc - things I do not understand. I had to use my imagination to understand a small phrase and memorise words by heart,” described Yang Berhomat Pehin Abu Bakar.
MiSC was set up to meet the increasing need to provide locally-relevant rich-media educational content that teachers can use in the classroom.
“Instead of studying the Amazon Forest, young Bruneians can learn about the pristine rainforest that covers most of the eastern part of Brunei. We could also create engaging digital content that teaches them about their own famous water village Kampong Ayer, or pass on folk tales that inculcate values that we treasure,” said Cheryl Ong, Consultant at globalSOF Holdings, a key partner in MiSC and the wider e-Hijrah education masterplan.
At the opening of MiSC, the Ministry shared some early works of the teachers and staff. One of which was an entertaining animation of the legend of Nakhoda Manis - or ‘Captain Manis’ in Malay - of how an unfilial son turned to a rock known today as ‘Jong Batu’, located in the Brunei River.
According to Samir Patel, Principal Consultant and Project Manager of globalSOF Holdings, buying content is a quick and easy solution to obtaining content, but it is an expensive business model which is vendor-dependent and not sustainable. “New Zealand spends approximately B$20 million (US$16 million) a year licensing third party content, mostly from Australia. Singapore schools spend an average of B$55 (US$44) per student per month, and that is separate from what the ministry spends,” he said. “Moreover, licensing content means you don’t own the intellectual property and you cannot change any of the content.”
With internet, young Bruneians have been consuming a lot of content that is not aligned with Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), the national philosophy of Brunei. It has become a real concern that their values are at risk. MIB is a blend of Malay language, culture and customs, the teaching of Islamic laws and values, and the monarchy system. MiSC gives the Ministry control over educational content and the platform to create resources with unique MIB values.
So, even with the large volume of content now readily available - and sometimes free - on the internet, Brunei has helped me to see why they have chosen this path.
Today, cities account for more than 50 per cent of the world’s population and produce 80 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. These figures are expected to increase in the coming years as cities develop, harness new technologies and become ‘smarter’.
The paradigm has shifted from the conventional wisdom that economic growth is solely driven by central governments. Now, cities are economic powerhouses vying to attract talent, create industries, and facilitate innovation which will then pave the way for a knowledge-based economy.
Senior city officials from some of the region’s most dynamic and liveable cities attended a cities conference organised by FutureGov. We had Chief Executives, CIOs, CFOs and Heads of Planning from cities like Jakarta, Delhi, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, Wellington, Auckland, and others. 54 per cent of the delegates said efficiency was their city administration’s biggest focus.
According to Tim Williamson, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Sydney, for the longest time, cities have been focusing on improving their infrastructure, with little attention given to community engagement. This is exacerbated by a silo mentality in many government departments resulting to inefficiencies in public service delivery.
“It’s time to nurture living breathing communities rather than sterile compounds or research silos,” he said.
Williamson’s thoughts rippled through the rest of the high-level delegates, with Raj Mack, Head of Digital in the Birmingham City Council, United Kingdom, saying that it is important to emphasise the importance of moving away from isolation and start collaborating to achieve efficiency and better outcomes.
“A true smart city will enable the interoperability and integration of siloed city systems, and has a genuine commitment to enhance digital-enabled services,” Mack stated.
As with any organisation, the political will and leadership can either drive its success or stagnation. True enough, 75 per cent of our delegates said political issues are their biggest constraints in achieving a “Best Run City” status. This contrasts with only 15 per cent who considered “financial constraints” to be the primary obstacle.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of our delegates said economic development is their city administration’s main area of focus. Followed by transportation (30 per cent), citizen services (5 per cent) and urban planning (5 per cent).
While economic development is achieved by combining several drivers such as technology, talent, and infrastructure, at the end of the day, it relies heavily on political will and the right leadership, to orchestrate and manage all these elements in order to truly achieve be considered a ‘Best Run City’.
As a journalist, I’ve met many modernisers whose early ICT initiatives were dampened by misplaced priorities and lack of political will, and yet, they continued to push for change and greater efficiency by engaging other high-level stakeholders to be involved in their projects.
In fact, just yesterday I was catching up with William Artajo, Director of the Management Information Systems division from the city government of Cebu, who said that the government should strike a balance between governance, accountability and responsibility so as not to stifle innovation.
“If good governance drives a city, you’ll immediately notice it when simple things like opening up a business is simple and convenient for entrepreneurs. Additionally businesses and the people have confidence in the city’s resilience.”
John Merrit, Chief Executive Officer at the Environmental Protection Authority in Victoria, Australia, commented that for places where corruption is rampant, good governance is something people are really asking for because they crave for development outcomes that are close to heart such as better airports, accessible public services, etc.
Today’s emerging technology platforms are giving cities the opportunity to transform how they work and how they serve and engage their constituents. Leveraging it would not only allow cities to improve services, but it is also essential in cutting down the bureaucracy and red tape that stifles growth and innovation in the organisation.
After two years of conference production work, I’m happy to be officially back in the Editorial team. I now go to work with a (renewed) spring in my step, wondering what exciting public sector projects and plans I can sniff out and learn more about today.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak witth several Singapore government organisations in the last few weeks. Among the conversations I’ve had, the use of analytics and enterprise social networking came up frequently.
Analytics is not new. But it’s interesting to see the increasing number of successful projects, and hear how it is a priority for most of the organisations I’ve met recently.
In the last few weeks, for example, I’ve written three articles on how National Library Board has used analytics. It has successfully improved accuracy in forecasting patrons’ demand and eased users’ search on its web sites and portals. Sentiment analysis is also used to identify suitable blogs for the national Singapore Memory Project.
Group Chief Financial Officer Ho Tuck Chuen told me when I visited Jurong Town Corporation last month that a pilot is underway to use data analytics to screen for irregularities in procurement to lower its risks. He commented that the use of analytics will expand to other departments. “Today, organisations with a good set of data analytics tool will have a competitive advantage. It enables you to model your data, to generate useful information that can help manage the business,” Ho added.
A higher education institution is also looking to use predictive analytics to quickly identify students who are falling behind in their progress. This will reduce the cost of academic failure to the university and increase the rate of success of students.
Enterprise Social Networking
Deloitte predicts that by the end of 2013 more than 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies will have partially or fully implemented an Enterprise Social Network. Within FutureGov, we use Salesforce’s Chatter to share team and personal successes, interesting content, and opportunities. Having benefited from the improved communication and collaboration, it doesn’t surprise me that Singapore government has implemented one.
Since May this year, Singapore public officers can exchange ideas, share knowledge, spur collaboration, spark innovation and discuss issues of interest to them on the new social intranet, called Cube. This project was rolled out by the Public Service Division, Ministry of Finance and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.
I have also heard of other organisations - in education, healthcare and government - that are looking into cloud-based collaborative platforms to support teamwork and communication.
There are many more exciting projects I have been hearing from Singapore public sector, so do keep a lookout in our News section!
It’s Civil Service Day in the Philippines tomorrow, and I wanted to add a few words of my own to this public celebration of the contribution of Filipino public servants.
I have always found the Philippines to be a heady mix of legislative logjam, tightly circumscribed agency responsibilities, threadbare public finances, directed by a polity that is unencumbered by ideology, mission or conviction.
To add extra spice, efforts to leverage ICT within the public sector have taken two steps back, and only one step forward with the disbanding of the Commission on ICT, which had previously taken the lead in driving the country’s e-government endeavours.
Combine all of the above with a beautiful but messy geography that hinders economic development, which is prone to a never-ending sequence of natural disaster – well, I think you will agree that the men and women of the Philippines’ public sector deserve their day each year, and much more besides.
And still they perform wonders. In spite of all I’ve described (perhaps because of it), the Filipino civil servants I know shrug their shoulders, giggle self consciously, and rise to the occasion time and time again.
Just as Filipinos are used to having to pick up the pieces after each typhoon, landslide, flood – so do Filipino civil servants after each abrupt policy shift, judicial intervention and leaky budgetary allocation. Look at what they have achieved.
Alongside India, they are world leaders in e-voting. Their Bureau of Internal Revenue (the tax man) is home to one of the most sophisticated business intelligence operations in Asia. Their national home development fund, Pag-IBIG, runs one of the world’s largest SAP databases, and is also at the leading edge of deploying kiosk-based services throughout the country. Back in the days of King Nokia, the Philippines public sector was the world leader in mobile government – and as smart phone penetration rises there, I wouldn’t bet against them being world leader again.
As my Nana used to tell me (normally before clipping me round the ear), ‘necessity is the Mother of invention’. Did ever less promising circumstances result in such incredible public sector innovation?
Lest I be accused of being hopelessly partisan, I believe that the special achievements of the Philippines’ public sector find their echo throughout the region.
This is the reason I travel – so that I can see at first hand how Hong Kong’s Immigration Department handles the incredible volumes of visitors across their land border with mainland China; how Malaysia’s MAMPU embraces rapid prototyping to mobile app development; how Australian agencies have grown accustomed to the cloud; how Indonesia’s Ministry of Finance is consolidating financial management across its fractured public sector; and how little Singapore commands the heights of e-government rankings with its robust, transactional service delivery.
None of the above is a technology success – it’s a civil servant success. Civil servants made these projects work. Civil servants put technology to new and better use. Civil servants made the difference.
On behalf of the FutureGov team, happy Civil Service Day to you wherever you live.
September is always a busy month at FutureGov - we’re either running or preparing to run our two big annual events, the FutureGov Summit and FutureGov Summit Australia, as well as evaluating nominations for the FutureGov Awards.
Now in its seventh year (seems like yesterday that we launched them in Phuket) the FutureGov Awards are a great celebration of the hard work that goes both in to keeping the lights on in government, and on improving the quality of citizen services. The enthusiasm of the nominating agencies is infectious, and there is always a buzz in the FutureGov office when the winning agencies are announced to the team.
Not every nominating agency gets to win an award (obviously), but there is a second tier of nominating agencies that get to feature in the FutureGov50. This represents our annual assessment of the most forward-looking public sector programmes in Asia Pacific. It is certainly one of the highlights of my year when we are able to let agencies know that they have made it to the FutureGov50 - and so, without further ado, I give you this year’s FutureGov50.
NB. We can only review and select agencies that have submitted the details of a project with the FutureGov editorial team. If you think you should be on this list in future - be sure to nominate yourselves!
The FutureGov50 in 2013
Adelaide City Council
Department of Local Government, Western Australia
Department of Treasury and Trade, Queensland
Environment Protection Authority, Victoria
Office of the Chief Information Officer, Government of South Australia
Public Service Commission, Queensland
City University of Hong Kong
Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority
Office of the Government Chief Information Officer
Anand Agricultural University
National Informatics Centre
National Institute for Smart Government
Department of Communication and Informatics of Surabaya
Directorate General of Taxes, Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Communications and Information
Ministry of State for Research and Technology
Cooperative College of Malaysia
Implementation Coordination Unit, Prime Minister Department of Malaysia
Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia
Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit
Ministry Of Education
Royal Malaysian Police
Land Information New Zealand
Local Government Online
New Zealand Police
Department of Internal Affairs
Karachi Port Trust
Department of Science & Technology
Department of Social Welfare & Development
Department of Trade
Agency of Science and Technology
Central Provident Fund Board
Housing and Development Board
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore
Ministry Of Education
National Environment Agency
National Heritage Board
National Library Board
Singapore Prison Service
Seoul Metropolitan Government
Seoul Metropolitan Infrastructure Headquarters
ICT Agency of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Immigration & Emigration
Institute for Information Industry
National Archives Administration
National Centre for Information Technology
Taiwan Coast Guard
Ministry of Education
Ministry of ICT
Reading the political runes is one of my favourite pastimes - I love a good gossip about which party or politician is on the up, and which are slipping back down the slippery pole. It helps that I’m in a privileged position where I get to chat off the record with informed observers from within the government machine, and certainly 2013 has been a very good year for me so far.
Xi Jinping assumed office as President of the People’s Republic of China in March - and it has been interesting to see the ripple effects, particularly at the provincial and municipal level. We’ve seen a decided shift in emphasis towards citizen engagement via social media starting at the top. The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China - on Instagram and Weibo (Weibo = Twitter clone)?
Xi’s recent declaration of war on “rumour mongers” and call for “a strong army to seize ground of new media” at least demonstrates the level of importance the Chinese authorities place on social media. China’s population has never been so aware of itself, and that’s a challenge for an unelected government. Look at the unprecedented publication of the (edited) transcripts from the courtroom where Bo Xilai, formerly a rising political star, is being tried for corruption and abuse of power. The Chinese authorities are wrestling with the Dragon’s tail.
Closer to (my) home, I particularly enjoyed experiencing Malaysia’s general election earlier this year. I drove from Penang to Singapore, via Ipoh, the Cameron Highlands, KL and Malacca on election day itself - the last time I’d experienced anything of this political intensity was when the United Kingdom beat Argentina in the Falklands War. There were flags carrying the symbols of each political party by the thousand - and that was in every town and kampung that I passed through.
In Malaysia we saw the election turn on a sixpence - with the opposition winning the popular vote for the first time, but Prime Minister Najib’s government retaining power thanks to strong support in rural constituencies. Expect to see a raft of digital inclusion programmes soon, particularly around distance learning, rural connectivity and telehealth.
It’s probably no coincidence that Prime Minister Najib has overseen one of the most remarkable pan-government commitments to social media of any country in Southeast Asia. Again, government departments have embraced social media because it received direction from the top. Like President Xi, Prime Minister Najib is also on Instagram, along with his Chief Secretary, and is similarly active on Twitter and Facebook. In fact all of Malaysia’s key agencies are on Facebook; I may be one of their biggest fans.
Next up, with an election on Saturday, is Australia - or rather the federal government. While we won’t know the results until next week, I think we can make some predictions for how the public sector ICT landscape will look after all the dust has settled. The Coalition’s Policy for E-Government and the Digital Economy is a pretty good starting point, judging from the polls.
This time next week, the issues likely to be front of mind for civil servants in Canberra, Australia’s seat of government, will include the following:
A New Approach to Managing Complexity, Autonomy & Accountability in Government
Agile Government - Evaluating Shared Services vs the Cloud
Open by Default - Public Sector Data and Government Transparency
Government 2.0: - Accelerating Citizen Engagement
New Procurement Models for Achieving Whole-of-Government ICT Goals
Securing Online Identity, Digital Mail & Payment Systems in the Digital Economy
By a happy coincidence, these are precisely the topics that we will be covering at our annual gathering of government ICT leaders in Canberra, FutureGov Summit Australia (2-3 December, National Convention Centre).
But what will these fine sounding words mean in practice? Well, I believe that if you want to know where Canberra is headed for the next three years, take a closer look at what has been going on in Queensland
The 2012 Queensland state election led to a change of Government, and incoming Premier Campbell Newman announced major changes to the structure and operation of government, and declared that his administration “is determined to change the culture of the Queensland Government to be more open by allowing more public access to Government information collected in all regions, in all kinds of formats, for all kinds of reasons.”
Some of the immediate changes involved putting in place clearer reporting lines, and ensuring that each department of government was overseen by an individual minister. Another departure was the decision to appoint a politician to a specific e-government role: the Leader of the House in the Legislative Assembly, Ray Stevens, was made Assistant Minister to the Premier on E-Government.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Ray when he visited Singapore earlier this year on a fact-finding trip. His role is to oversee the development of Queensland’s Open Government web site, supported by the Director-Generals of all Queensland Government Departments.
The speed with which changes have been implemented has ruffled feathers, as is to be expected. Australia, bizarrely, has three-year terms for its state and federal government - which means that haste is required in order to get anything done within the electoral cycle. But we’re already seeing results, and will be discussing them in Brisbane in a couple of weeks at FutureGov Forum Queensland.
Queensland is a little behind the curve when it comes to core aspects of e-government - only around a third of government transactions can be performed online, some way short of the 50 per cent target the government had set itself. But overall, there is a refreshing clarity of vision.
“Data is becoming the currency of our society. By making government data available to the public we will allow Queenslanders to develop innovative services and solutions. The open data revolution is a key part of the government’s agenda to drive growth and job creation in Queensland,” Premier Newman declared when outlining his administration’s approach to public sector data.
This strong vision from the top is being matched by execution. By next month, all statutory bodies will have published an open data strategy, including a roadmap to release datasets - with a pan-government review to assess results at the end of the year. Already there are a few public-facing government ICT dashboards up and running and charting the activity of government projects, with more to come.
As the Assistant Minister for E-Government, Ray Stevens, says: “In Queensland we really want to make sure we’re achieving the highest standards of public sector information reuse. The process has got to be ongoing.”
Yes, I’ll admit that ‘Identity Intelligence’ was a new term for me too - but it seems increasingly the way the wind is blowing, if we’re to boost the security of our systems.
I was in Hong Kong recently, enjoying and the bracing air of Typhoon Utor and catching up with government officials as we count down to our 7th FutureGov Forum there. In the course of our conversations we got round to the latest wave of information security attacks to afflict certain bureaux - and over the increasing complexity of securing processes and data. With the external threat environment getting ever more hostile, there was much wringing of hands.
The irony was that during my time in Hong Kong I stayed at the Hotel Mira in Kowloon, the very same hotel that Edward Snowden had stayed at, before running off to Russia. Formerly a contractor with Booz Allen working at the National Security Agency, Snowden is now a fugitive from US justice after having leaked details of the interception of telephone and internet data as part of a number of secret surveillance programmes. In other words it wasn’t the Syrians, Al-Qaeda or Professor Moriarty - it was one of their own.
The ease with which Snowden was able to access sensitive information well above his pay grade has prompted a lot of ‘how was this possible?’ conversations. The answer is pretty obvious to any government CIO: the fragmentation of the data centre.
In the good old days you knew where your data was - it was in the basement, next to the janitor’s office. Back in 2009 I remember chatting with someone at Hong Kong’s Inland Revenue Department, and he said that his data would leave his premises “over my dead body”. I’m not sure where he is now - but the fact is, the data left anyway. Mobile is a channel, cloud is a channel, home is a channel. There’s no going back to managing access stringently to a single source of data.
As government data passes between agencies, and in to the cloud, the challenge of ensuring whether the right person is accessing the right data, for the right reason, at the right time, in the right place, on the right device has grown more complex. Which is why user identity is becoming the new perimeter or firewall.
“Location can be spoofed, so identity is becoming the only thing - the final point of control for every interaction,” said Vic Mankotia, Vice President, Solution Strategy, for CA Technologies in Asia Pacific and Japan, at a recent catch-up.
This cropped up in another conversation I had yesterday with Dr Sridhar Muppidi, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technology Officer for Identity & Access Management Solutions at IBM Security Systems.
The proliferation of personas across multiple devices and social media platforms provides an opportunity for what Muppidi called ‘identity intelligence’ - that the more complex the individual context, the harder it is to spoof identity.
“Inferring from social media updates becomes another layer,” he explained. “It comes down to understanding what is normal and what is anomalous.”
Identity is one thing which remains consistent across multiple channels - but identity depends on context. For example, my persona varies depending on device (laptop, tablet, desktop, smartphone), the time of day, my location, and the nature of the transaction itself. In essence, we’re shifting to a more ‘behavioural’ approach to identity.
Drawing upon LinkedIn updates, recent tweet activity, FourSquare logins - the more detailed the individual fingerprint, the higher the confidence that I am who I am meant to be, and not a contractor with a hard drive full of secrets clutching a one-way ticket to Moscow.
Once upon a time you knew you were getting old when police officers started seeming ‘young’ rather than ‘old’. I think the new litmus test for how far up/over the hill you are is social media.
Do you know your SnapChat from your Vine? Your Path from your Instagram? If you don’t, and especially if you don’t really care, then you’re probably a ‘middle-aged smug married’, like myself.
There’s certainly something rather suspect about someone in their thirties or older busying themselves across a wide range of social media sites. Like the balding man with a comb-over, I’d say they’re trying too hard. Sometimes it’s best to accept that you’ll never be the captain of the football team, head prefect, or prom queen - positions that tend to come from peer status, rather than intrinsic merit.
Chasing the Will-o-the-Wisp of popularity is a young person’s game - and the ‘popularity contest’ nature of social media is something that turns a lot of mature adults off. I’m really only active on a few social networks: Facebook (my friends are there), FourSquare (good restaurant recommendations), Instagram (pretty pictures), and LinkedIn (work).
Even my most reactionary, Luddite friends are on LinkedIn - because in many ways it is the ‘safe’ entry point to the world of social media. It allows us to dip our toe in to the waters of the worldwide web, and confirm that it’s all very nice, without having to wade in further and get out of our depth. After all, the internet is a strange world where trolls, bots, spiders, crawlers, flamers and all manner of strange beasts lurk.
So it came as a bit of a shock when I found out earlier this week that the kids are about to encroach on what I had though was safely untrendy adult territory. Children as young as 13 are now set to get their own LinkedIn accounts for the first time.
Apparently children today don’t spend their early teens dressing up dolls, riding bikes or even playing computer games - instead they’re worried about polishing up their CVs in order to land future jobs. So much for them being disaffected slackers.
After an initial tut-tutting at the strangeness of it all, I came round to seeing as a form of progress. A spate of teen suicides as a result of cyberbullying, and sexist abuse on Twitter indicate that social media can easily be put to anti-social uses. But the fact is, the tragedy of teen suicides and the disgrace of sexist abuse isn’t new. Social media has made the instances more visible, and traceable. This is a step forward.
More than this, the ability of people to build their own networks of likeminded people, freed from constraints of the place where they live, is a huge leap forward. Self-realisation is a primal human urge - and today’s social media landscape points to what the future will look like: more choice.
It is impossible to imagine that future generations, with a ‘choice-by-default’ mindset, will fit easily within today’s rigid organisational hierarchies. There will be a difficult transition period, and it will be a painful learning curve as we try to accommodate governance with new forms of employee and citizen choice. The way forward will be to preserve the policy-making silos that provide accountability, but make them more transparent to a broader range of stakeholders. Make your silos out of glass.
Opening up the governance process to more internal and external stakeholders can only improve legitimacy, and should make the end result better. Increased transparency, the disintermediation of the middleman, a more perfect flow of information - not everyone is going to be comfortable, but then that is the point. You may feel like you’re a goldfish in a bowl, but then so does everyone else. When you replace walls with windows, you let in more light.
“Gentlemen, we have run out of money; now we have to think.” - Sir Winston Churchill
Governments don’t have their own money - when they need to fund themselves, they dip their hands in to the pockets of citizens and businesses.
Cambodia takes 8 per cent of GDP through income and business taxes; the average for the rest of ASEAN is 14 per cent, not much different to India’s 17.7 and China’s 17 per cent total tax take. Elsewhere in the region, Australia takes just under 31 per cent, relative to 34.5 per cent in New Zealand, and 28 per cent in Japan. [Numbers taken from the Heritage Foundation’s rankings of economic freedom.]
Naturally there’s a limit to how much money citizens and businesses want to hand over to their government, and over the years that tolerance for taxation seems to have diminished. The average tax take has fallen globally since 2000.
Faced with a declining share of the public’s purse, government needs to embrace frugality as the ‘new normal’ - in fact there is even a term for cost-conscious innovation: frugal engineering. The term was coined by Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan car companies: “frugal engineering is achieving more with fewer resources.”
Being tasked to do more with less is not new for most government departments, especially in the United Kingdom, Europe, and much of North America. But what is new is the belief that rather than being an obstacle to negotiate, straitened circumstances may actually be a taut springboard ready to catapult government services through transformation - that necessity really is the mother of (re)invention.
Don’t believe me? Just look at how Open Government has taken off since President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (21 January 2009), and in the wake of the European Union’s Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment (18 November 2009).
These were explicit responses to the dilemma of Churchill’s opening quote; listen to the opening words of the European Union’s Malmo declaration: “We recognise that Europe is currently facing serious economic, social and environmental challenges. As our governments move to face and overcome these challenges, there is a growing expectation from European citizens and businesses for their governments to be more open … We will encourage the reuse of public data by third parties to develop enriched services that maximise the value for the public.” (My emphasis)
More recently, again in response to belt tightening, the Australian federal government is moving ahead with a new parliamentary workflow system to manage the flow of information from ministries to ministers to support greater scrutiny of the executive. The cost of taking apart the existing fragmented system, and reassembling it on a single, automated platform that connects together 41 key agencies - US$10 million. The expected savings are US$30 million, but the real transformation is in how the legislature operates.
Frugal engineering (or frugal innovation as it’s sometimes called) is not about cutting costs - it’s about thinking imaginatively about why processes are structured the way they are. Imagine breaking down a process in to its smallest constituent parts, and then reassembling it to achieve the same result - but with some of the parts left over. Government carries more ‘legacy’, in terms of hand-me-down infrastructure and processes, than anyone else - and is therefore the sector in which we can expect to see the greatest ‘frugal’ windfall.
Tied in to the concept of frugal engineering is the belief that the maximum amount of creativity comes from the bottom of the economic pyramid - that organisations which are able to tap in to the creative breadth of their teams, and more importantly of their customers/citizenry, are more likely to reassemble their services optimally.
So returning to the opening quote, the “we” no longer refers to government employees - it’s everyone. We’re all in it together. Of course it’s easier to write about than to do, so I’m very interested to hear of what you make of ‘frugal innovation’ in a public sector context, and whether you’ve found success of failure with the idea.
In a cost-conscious global economy, the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is undergoing a quiet, but important transformation. This transformation underscores moves toward fiscal austerity, while gaining a deeper understanding of technologies that drive the business of government.
Finance chiefs are under pressure to do “more with less” at all levels of government. Increasingly, the CFO is seen as the “voice of IT” across boardrooms. And, being IT-savvy is seen as a sound career move for managers within financial circles.
Facing a 7 September 2013 election, the Australian government has stepped up its cost reduction programme, while taking a closer look at how the ICT dollar is spent.
New cost-control measures place added pressures on CFOs to work within tight budgetary and regulatory guidelines. They must also bridge the divide with CIOs and fully appreciate how the technology dollar is carved up.
The Australian government’s blueprint for fiscal responsibility, “Driving Efficiency in the Australian Government,” offers insights about delivering a leaner ICT backbone. This roadmap, shared last year by the Minister for Finance, Penny Wong, targets savings of up to AU $2 billion through to 2016 through an astute use of technology.
As a result, finance heads are also under pressure to gain a better appreciation of technology, before giving the green light for big-ticket spending items.
The Australian government is targeting cost savings by leveraging agencies’ ability to negotiate better terms for the supply of ICT goods and services.
From a CFO perspective, delivering across-the-board cost savings involves gaining a deeper understanding of disruptive and traditional technology platforms
Among these, clarity is needed about cost savings from cloud computing, mobile communications, data centre consolidation, e-procurement, integrated portals and gateways, and digital information management.
e-Procurement across the Tasman
Across the Tasman, the New Zealand government is taking the lead with e-procurement reforms. The administration plans to migrate 70 per cent of common transactions to an electronic environment.
Among the initiatives, a dedicated web site is enabling agencies to procure goods and services on-line, with the direct participation of CFOs. Agencies can also connect more easily with suppliers using a dedicated portal service.
On the e-procurement front, the challenge is to ensure that rolling out e-payment systems is consistent and fully integrates work across the finance and procurement divisions.
Using purchasing cards or PCards is seen as a step in the right direction, enabling goods and services to be procured without using a traditional purchasing process.
Despite the benefits of e-procurement, CFOs caution that electronic purchasing needs to be considered using a staged approach.
In New Zealand, e-procurement is not mandated by government. Regardless, agencies are getting there through e-government and other on-line initiatives.
To fully embrace e-procurement across organisations, there also needs to be a change in behaviour and perception. The challenge is aligning the work of finance with ICT procurement. These groups, previously working as separate entities, now see shared benefits through the integration of CFO-CIO portfolios.
For government enterprises, the idea is to optimise existing investments in technology. Moreover, a recent survey shows that less than 5 per cent of an organisation’s budget is spent on financial management technology. The focus now is on adding value across the eco-system.
Share CFO insights at the GovCFO Forum Australia 2013 being held Monday 2 December 2013 in Canberra.
In the last decade the region’s public sector has seen a complete transformation in what it means to deliver citizen services, manage public sector information, and get on with the increasingly tricky business of governing. FutureGov has seen this at first hand, discussing the transition with civil servants and reporting on it for the magazine. But nowhere have the changes been more apparent than than at our FutureGov Summit - now in its 10th year.
When I first gathered with the readers of FutureGov back in 2004, in Singapore’s Fullerton Hotel, the conversation centred on ‘citizen relationship management’. We’ve come a long way. I’m not sure citizens much like the idea of being ‘managed’, and with the consumerisation of IT, the boot is now on the other foot. At the same event a senior Hong Kong official explained the rationale for outsourcing the territory’s e-government portal to a private sector consortium - channel management was a “non core” activity.
Certainly looking across a decade’s worth of conversations with top government officials, the shift has been pronounced - from a top-down, command-and-control approach; through the distracting thicket of ‘mass customisation’; and on to the sunlit uplands of participatory governance. I’m not saying that civil servants and citizens have reached journey’s end - but we’ve certainly crossed a point of no return. Once you shift to ‘open government’, the future can only be collaborative, and the value created by harnessing public, people and private sectors can only build exponentially.
So this inflection point adds extra interest to what was always going to be a very special occasion - the 10th FutureGov Summit. Ten years of hosting the Asia Pacific’s most senior gathering of government technologists is a major mile stone in the life of the company, and frankly I sometimes pinch myself to imagine how we’ve grown from that first business plan and Excel spreadsheet in the public bar of The Crooked Billet.
And grown we have. This morning we received confirmation that the CIO of Texas, Karen Robinson, will be joining us, along with the First Assistant Secretary of Australia’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the CIOs of London and Barcelona, the CTOs of Arkansas and Maine, the CIO of Australia’s Treasury, Estonia’s national ICT policy adviser, and many more besides.
As for the VIP participants from Asia itself, it always puts a smile on my face to know I’ll be catching up with good friends like Malaysia’s GCIO, Maldives’ GCIO, the Group CIO of Singapore’s IHIS, the Undersecretary for Agrarian Reform in the Philippines, the Executive Vice Chairman of Indonesia’s National ICT Council, the CIO of Surabaya, and the CIO of Indonesia’s Ministry of Finance (there’s a reason why I wear so much batik these days) - along with another 120 or so of their regional peers.
Familiarity leads to understanding, and I know I’m looking forward to the ‘start of school term’ atmosphere of the event - as we all gather together again to discuss their trials and triumphs of the past 12 months. Happily the ‘iron rice bowl’ nature of public sector employment means that there are still three government officials attending who were present at that first event in Singapore, and many more who, having risen to positions of seniority within their agencies, are regular attendees.
This collegiate atmosphere is important because it creates the right frame of mind to talk candidly about where we’re at, and where we’re headed. It’s been a fantastic ride over the past 10 years, with real change and demonstrable progress. But I firmly believe that the best is yet to come.
I was in the right place at the right time at our gathering of city managers yesterday. We had representatives from Singapore, Delhi, Bhopal, Jakarta, Makati, Perth, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Wellington, Auckland, Beijing, Tokyo and another dozen or so cities, great and small from around Asia Pacific, and from further afield. But there was one city with no representative at the conference, but who was very much the centre of attention: Detroit.
Like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth, the presence of Detroit, with its astoundingly poor management over the past 50 years, was powerfully felt.
To recap, the American city of Detroit filed the biggest ever municipal bankruptcy last week - to the tune of US$18 billion. Nicknamed ‘Motown’ on account of its central place in the history of the American car manufacturing industry, the city now has 80,000 derelict buildings in the downtown, an unemployment rate of 18 per cent (twice the US average), the highest murder rate of any big city in the US, and a police response time of over an hour to emergency calls.
And yet, almost impossible to imagine now, but Detroit was once the future.
Rewind to the 1960s and it had a population of 2 million, the highest per capita income of any American city, when America was by far the richest country in the world. With its booming car industry, Detroit was home to the largest technology cluster in the world - and the art collection built up during this heyday of municipal pride is reckoned now to be worth US$2.5 billion. So what happened?
Poor planning, poor governance, poor economic performance. And these were precisely the three areas identified by one of our speakers Sean Patrick O’Brien, VP (Global) Urban Matters & Public Security with SAP, and subsequently reiterated in the rest of the day’s conversations.
Poor planning resulted in inadequate provision of housing for Detroit’s booming population, which particularly impacted black Americans migrating from the south of the country who had been attracted by the promise of quality jobs.
Poor governance contributed to heavy-handed policing and the building up of racial tensions in the city, which boiled over in race riots in 1967, and promoted two decades of ‘white flight’ which saw the depopulation of the downtown, and the erosion of the taxpayer base.
With less money to go around, the municipal government started to borrow heavily, and the interest payments on its fast-growing mountain of municipal bonds further restricted the ability of the city’s leadership to invest in the infrastructure to create and retain knowledge workers, even as the American car manufacturing industry started to see its market share eroded by a wave of competitive cars from Japan. And then they just ran out of money.
As one of our delegates, John Merritt, Chief Executive Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency of Victoria, remarked “Detroit may have declared itself bankrupt last week, but it has been socially bankrupt for years. How do you more than halve a city’s population?”
Detroit’s bankruptcy was certainly a powerful reminder that in an age of rapid urbanisation, there’s nothing predetermined about the success of any individual city - that the decisions taken by city managers really do matter.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. At our Best Run Cities Forum in Singapore, the emphasis was very much on opportunity: building a culture of responsible decision-making, widening participation to municipal governance, accepting that we’re now in the era of the ‘social licence’ to operate, and creating a municipal architecture that balances effective planning with agile decision making.
One of the reasons I’ve personally been so interested in urban development (I used to be the Editor of Urban Development Asia magazine) is simply that cities are the original engines of human collaboration. Innovation doesn’t occur in isolation; we build on the work of our neighbours. This was a point echoed by Dr Tim Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Committee for Sydney - “successful cities collaborate, and as their density increases, there’s a correlation with the number of patents generated”.
Sri Budi Santoso, CIO of Pekalongan City in Java, also picked up on this point. In the region’s developing countries, where the municipal institutions are still at a relatively early stage of maturity, Budi made the case to consider the role of the tertiary education sector: “we are talking about the importance of collaboration - but universities have been actively harnessing the talents of the private and people sectors in order strengthen city government.”
As we embark on the latest, greatest, penultimate wave of urban development, the future of best run cities will be tied to finding internal balance when it comes to governance; investing in the social, physical and technological infrastructure to deliver sustainable growth; and driving longterm liveability by harnessing the potential of all residents, as opposed to a select few. What’s clear from yesterday’s conversations is the importance for the region’s cities to keep the lines of communication open with one another.
People talk about ‘megacities’, but what I believe we’re seeing is the development of ‘metacities’ - an era of collaborative city governance that crosses national boundaries, creating complex urban value chains that are as much social as economic. Think London-New York; Singapore-Hong Kong; Sydney-Melbourne. In other words, a shift from geographic proximity to more values-driven communities of interest.
Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, but I’m excited and looking forward to keeping this conversation going and to working with our city management friends in the weeks and months ahead.
During last week’s Esri International User Conference in San Diego, Esri President Jack Dangermond underscored this year’s theme, “GIS: Transforming Our World.”
“Our world is facing serious challenges, and it’s clear to me that we fundamentally and collectively need to create a better future for our families, organisations and the planet,” he said.
While it is true that GIS is indeed a powerful tool for decision making, exactly how does one transform the world with GIS? My friend asked this as she sought to absorb the idea of using maps and technology to meet development goals and outcomes.
For those in the know or those who have already been “converted”, articulating the value proposition of investing in GIS is peanuts. They know its potential and the benefits organisations can derive by simply adopting a location-based perspective to information.
But for those not aware or have yet to be “converted”, GIS adoption for them involves a relatively large investment for an unknown and sometimes hard to determine return potential.
For starters, GIS is not the world’s panacea.
Using it does not promise an immediate end to the world’s socio-economic problems, rather it functions as an enabling mechanism that can make significant contributions to improve the quality of decisions made and curb the effects of problems posed by lack of transparency and accountability.
Understanding the geographic relationships about key resources upon which so many lives depend on is a crucial factor in sustainability. Project management maps for example, can easily show geotagged projects to inform decision makers what projects have been implemented, their exact location and how they are progressing. By doing so, they are able to match and confirm projects stated in their database to those on the ground.
This is especially useful for multilateral and bilateral organisations, civil services organisations and government agencies implementing their various development activities.
The Government of Nepal for example, launched an official online database of foreign-assistance funded projects and programs which provides details on development projects, and visualises all development activities on a map.
By having technologies such as GIS incorporated in development work, project completion or evaluation reports are no longer collecting dust in the libraries of the donor agencies and implementing agencies while they address the same problems and gaps during project implementations.
With GIS, decision makers have better situational clarity, thus enabling them to properly orchestrate the projects from various international donors so as to avoid fragmented investments and duplication of projects.
At present, as many governments move towards embracing a culture of openness and transparency, this in turn requires better tools and improved capabilities to deliver that vision.
Well, the good news is that we’re better equipped now than we’ve ever been. Location-based information served through GIS is a common language that public sector organisations can use to deliver better services and achieve better results and outcomes.
If you want to be “in the know” and have yet to embrace a location-based perspective, I urge you to consider it and embrace it as part of your organisation’s culture and as part of your core delivery strategy.
It will serve you well. I can assure you that targeted outcomes will be met and a myriad of opportunities will open up as a result.
In the next couple of days we will be sharing with you how public sector organisations such as the State Government of Karnataka in India increased their revenue collection by 300 per cent just by using GIS! Meanwhile, we’ll also share details on how the Sarawak State Government in Malaysia drastically reduced the time it takes to to accomplish the registration of titles and land instruments from 33 days to one day!
These are just some of the stories we have in store for you so watch this space! For those “not in the know” I hope our GIS channel “converts” you!