September 30, 2012 By Bill Schrier
We usually think of champions in the context of the Olympics or boxing (“heavyweight champion of the world”) or others who are victorious after a hard-fought competition. CIOs are not usually considered to be competing or fighting, although, really, they do a lot of both).
This past week the White House honored 13 people for being “Local Innovators” of Change in their communities. I’m proud that eight of those folks are CIOs or Information Technology leaders in their communities: Phil Bertolini, Adel Ebeid, Carolyn Hogg, Michele Hovet, Nigel Jacob, Jay Nath, Chris Osgood and John Tolva. Every one of these eight has been acknowledged here in the pages of Government Technology or Public CIO magazine for the great work they’ve been doing in places ranging from Boston to Fresno, and San Francisco to Chicago to Philadelphia, with a stopover in Oakland County, Michigan.
Coincidentally this week, the Ash Institute at Harvard named 111 “Bright Ideas” for innovation in government. These range from tracking government departments’ performance online (TrackDC) to Allegheny County’s Music Festival fund to “Blightstat” in New Orleans.
We talk a lot about “change”. We hear a lot about “change” from every manner of political candidate from far right to far left to far bizarre.
But, frankly, “some” change is good, but most of us want and need a stable, unchanging, base of government and life. In other words, we need to be “grounded” and have a safety net. With that, we can make selective, and sometimes radical changes using information technology in our governments thereby improving our quality of life and the quality of life for the citizens we serve.
Take cloud computing as an example - we could ignore it, or actively oppose running software and services in externally hosted data centers. Phil Bertolini of Oakland County took a different approach - the County is building its own cloud, partnering with its city governments and the state of Michigan, thereby saving money and embracing this new trend.
Think of web content management systems (CMS) - which allow dozens or hundreds of non-technical government employees to share responsibility for a website. Such software can be expensive and hard to manage. Michele Hovet of Arvada County, Colorado (the second best County website in the Center for Digital Government's annual "Best of the Web" contest) took a different approach. She adopted open source software, supported by a community of developers around the world, and adapted it for Arvada. Then she went further and enlisted other governments in the project, starting with Boulder. She also caused it to be adapted for Digital Education in Colorado Schools. See the story of XPRESS CMS here.
That’s why I’m so proud of this crop of eight local government leaders (as well as the other five, who I don’t know personally). They make wise but bold changes happen. They help bring broadband to California's rural farming area breadbasket (Carolyn Hogg), give citizens tools to tackle crime and other quality of life issues in their own neighborhoods ("Philly Rising" and Adel Ebeid), establish civic innovation incubators, partnerships with technology startups, and much more.
They know the capacity of their employees and elected officials and constituents to tolerate change, and they push that bubble a bit. Sometimes quite a bit.
And I’m really really proud and happy that the Obama Administration – and specifically its Office of Science and Technology Policy – recognize these champions, these heros, and hold them up as examples for the rest of us to follow (thank you Todd Park and Chris Vein).
Read more about these “Champions of Change” and their specific accomplishments on the White House blog here.
September 9, 2012 By Bill Schrier
What’s a "Datapalooza" and Why is the White House having One?
The last four years have seen an explosion in government “open data” with thousands of datasets posted online for public use. The city of Washington D.C., under the leadership of then-CTO Vivek Kundra, was the first to post such data online in a “data catalog.” The effort vastly expanded when President Obama took office and, as one of his very first acts, directed the federal government to be open and transparent. Data.gov now has 172 participating agencies and tens of thousands of datasets.
Cities, counties and states have gotten into this “open data” act too – as of this writing 34 states and at least 15 cities and counties have open data sites. And the effort has gone international, with at least 30 nations and other entities posting data.
Data which has been hard to get in the past is now freely available – government employee salaries, crimes, restaurant inspections and even White House visitor logs are now on these websites. Some datasets are updated in real time – in Seattle if you hear a fire engine screaming past your house, chances are the call is already posted to Fire 911 Calls at data.seattle.gov.
Have you ever looked at these datasets? Kinda like big spreadsheets. Sometimes with indecipherable pieces of data like “latitude” and “longitude” instead of street addresses. Useful in research, I guess, and also if you are a data or tech geek and majoring in geography is helpful too.
How do most people really consume their information these days?
Apps, of course! And not just smartphone apps, but also table apps, laptop apps, Web apps and even TV apps.
The missing link between open data and usable apps is developers. They create the apps which take the open datasets, make them into apps usable for the typical citizen, and perhaps even mash the data up with other information which might be useful, such as a map (plotting those pesky latitudes and longitudes) or traffic information.
Now that data.gov and related sites are online, the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House is actively trying to encourage developing such apps by businesses, government employees and, really, anyone with a bit of skill in coding.
Enter the “datapalooza.”
The White House sponsors events they call "datapaloozas" to highlight cool apps which use open data to create information and value for citizens. The next datapalooza is scheduled for Friday September 14th at the White House. It will highlight “public safety” in the broad sense – not just law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical – but also public health, product safety, transportation and disaster readiness. It will include not just an “expo” of apps which have already been developed, but also an announcement of new safety data resources about natural disasters and to improve preparedness and emergency response.
A lot of these apps exist already, of course, as a result of apps contests in Washington, D.C. (Apps for Democracy), New York City (Big Apps 3.0) and elsewhere. In fact, I’m presently judging the Evergreen Apps Challenge here in Washington state, with $75,000 in prizes offered by Seattle, King County and the state of Washington – results of that contest will be announced on October 1st.
It will be fascinating to watch results from the “datapalooza” on Friday (alas, I don’t know if it will be live-streamed or not, yet).
And I’ll be blogging more about these results, hoping to see apps not just with a major coolness factor, but also ones useful to keeping you safe every day (think restaurant inspections) as well as during disasters.
If you know of such an app, or have an idea for one looking for development, make a comment to this blog or drop me a line.
Who knows, maybe a “killer government app” is “somewhere, out there.”
Note: Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer Chris Vein spearheads the White House effort. He’s uniquely positioned for this work, as he brought the open data site for the City/County of San Franciso online in his previous position as CIO of the City by the Bay.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.