President Obama will surely go down in history for a number of things. Amongst many things, he was the first one to use the power of social networking so effectively which led him to win the Presidential elections decisively. He appointed Vivek Kundra as CIO in his administration and Aneesh Chopra as a CTO. Surprisingly they are not marquee names as one would have expected, but people who have blazed a new trail defying conventional practices. Some prefer to call them the iconoclasts.
Vivek Kundra, the CIO for the Obama Administration launched a new website called Data.gov which for all its radical breakthroughs was announced quietly. I hope it gets the publicity it so rightfully deserves. The intent of the website is to release vast amounts of raw data so that tax payers can see what’s happening in the government and buraucracy.
The new site has 50 feeds and is intended to grow to about 240,000 feeds next month itself. It will be a one-stop shop for free access to data that will be generated across all federal government agencies.
This is a paradigm shift and in some sense unparalleled in the history of Government IT. First, it establishes beyond doubt the credentials of President Obama to be as transparent as possible. Second, ingenious entreprenuers can quickly develop Web applications more easily (with mash-ups becoming so common) using government data and take it to market. Finally, interested citizens can provide ideas to the government’s problems, now that they have access to better, reliable and immediate data. Finally, it also goes to show that the government is prepared to accept that it may not have all the answers to its problems and that crowdsourcing must be encouraged.
The Singapore government has been not just an early but a staunch user of IT. It has in the past, pioneered effective applications and can rightfully claim credit for the high level of IT penetration in Singapore. Yet, in recent years it seems to have lost both the momentum and direction. The Government IT directions are managed in a hybrid model with the Government CIO being part of the IDA. One look at the Government CIO mandate here shows it is inwardly focused, tactically driven and continues to o continues to operate from a traditional mindset.
At this stage of IT maturity merely notching up some incremental percentage points on the efficiency scale is not going to help either the Government or the citizens. It needs a more forward looking radical approach if it has to remain relevant and regain the respect that it once had. It needs a President Obama philosophy and a Kundra’s impetus for action.
If what is stopping this leap is imagination, it needs new blood; a set of iconoclasts. If however they believe that the government knows best and that there is no wisdom in the crowd, then sadly, only a serious failure will force a rethink. If the Government does not want to be more transparent, it is only inhibiting the natural empowerment and evolution of the citizens. If the government needs a role model, President Obama has accepted to be one.
Let’s not forget that one constant dimension of the various developments in the IT world is empowerment. This has happened not just within the firewall but as part of the extended enterprise. Choosing to ignore the philosophical underpinnings of empowerment is choosing to ignore the true potential of IT and in a way also choosing to ignore true progress.
I will have the opportunity to speak on Government 2.0 at a National IT conference very soon and this gives me a lot to conceptualize things better.