Subba’s Serendipitous moments

July 1, 2009

The U.S. Government’s dashboard — Elegant and simple

After Vivek Kundra launched the open access to U.S. government data he has now launched a new U.S. government dashboard that tracks the U.S. government spending.. This tracks government spending with charts and lists ranking the largest government contractors (Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, etc.) and assistance recipients (Department of Healthcare Services, New York State Dept. of Health, Texas Health & Human Services Commission, etc.). Well, the site design is neat, user friendly but what took my breath away was the way the various trends that were displayed. Certainly they got inspired from gapminder.

This site has been built on Drupal– a open source content management software.

This clearly shows that the U.S. leads in transparency and even the Governments can innovate if they have the right leadership.

I strongly suggest all the Government CIOs visit the site.

Which other government will follow next?

May 27, 2009

Will Singapore usher in Government 2.0?

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 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.

November 7, 2008

President Obama exploits social networking

Barrack Obama’s huge victory in the recently concluded U.S Presidential elections will be analyzed for years to come. It has been one of the most successful campaigns from a relatively unknown senator to the White House.

One of the lesser known strategies that he embarked upon was how he built a very innovation mechanism using the Internet technology and more specifically the social networking model, which his opponent John McCain failed to exploit.

At each rally, his organizers collected the email, zip code and telephone numbers of all the attendees. These people received regular news and updates, thus paving the way for building a community.

The next step was building the community into a social networking site called MyBo with half a million members and 35000 affinity groups who went on a grass root campaign creating over 150,000 campaign related events over the course of the campaign. Every constituency– from professors and pastors to union organizers were roped into the campaign and fund raising. This bottom up approach was in stark contrast to the campaigns run by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain who led top-down campaigns. It even developed  the iPhone and iTouch applications that enabled owners to mobilize their friends and contacts in battleground states through the Apple devices.

The results clearly attest to the success of the effort. More than 3 million people donated for Obama, almost twice as any other presidential candidate in history. He collected $639 million the largest fund raising effort in the history of the US Presidential elections, and most of it came through small donations through online donation.

Further, Obama dominated the social media activity and was the first to exploit them and in a far better manner than his opponent. Statistics bear this out:

Obama: 2,379,102 supporters
McCain: 620,359 supporters

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain. (In the 18 days before Nov. 4, Mr. Obama’s online fan base grew at a rate of more than 10,000 per day)

Obama: Friends: 833,161
McCain: Friends: 217,811

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain

Obama: 1792 videos uploaded since Nov 2006, Subscribers: 114,559 (uploads about 4 a day), Channel Views: 18,413,110
McCain: 329 videos uploaded since Feb 2007 (uploads about 2 a day), Subscribers: 28,419, Channel Views: 2,032,993

Obama has 403% more subscribers than McCain
Obama has 905% more viewers than McCain

Obama: @barackobama has 112,474 followers
McCain: @JohnMcCain (is it real?) 4,603 followers

Obama has 240 times more followers in Twitter than McCain


With such a huge advantage in the social media sector, is it any surprise that the young voted for him overwhelmingly.

The Obama victory has conclusively proven that technology has a vital role to play in any  election campaigns. I can’t help but recall how President Estrada of Philippines lost power in 2001 due to the smart mob. A million residents in Manila organized and coordinated their actions through text messaging. More recently, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdul Badawi said that he regrets that his governing party ignored alternative media like SMS in the recent elections. He said “It was a serious misjudgment. We made the biggest mistake in thinking that it was not important. We thought that the newspapers, the print media, the television was supposed to be important, but the young people were looking at SMS and blogs.” The use of SMS and alternative media is largely credited with helping the opposition party to dramatically increase its seats in the Parliament. The ruling BN party in 2008 won just over 60% of the federal parliament seats, significantly less than the 90% of the seats that they won in the 2004 elections.

If in Philippines in 2001 people united through their cell phones both the Malaysian elections and the US elections, supporters united through the social networking platform and social media.

It only goes to prove the significance of new technology mediums both in developing economies and in mature democracies

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