The past year has been an exploratory phase for many technologies that have already hit the private sector. For government, 2008 will be about using new tools and technologies to change the way it interacts and collaborates with citizens – in a way that should save a few bucks at the same time.
Government is accountable to the public and is constantly under pressure to reduce costs – and the good news is that a lot of these cost-cutting opportunities are actually positive for the environment. “We’re seeing green as a big theme, and the trend is how you actually do this but at the same time save money,” said Andy Woyzbun, lead analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.
With the amount of energy consumed in both running and cooling data centres from a server and storage perspective, there’s no question that one of the ways in which government can reduce its own energy consumption is to look at its data centres, he said. A technology behind that is virtualization, which reduces the total number of servers by virtualizing the server environment. Many of the tier-one server vendors are also working towards reducing the energy consumption of their servers.
Government agencies have been pretty good at leveraging the Internet to facilitate traffic between citizens and the government, but that’s starting to get somewhat traditional, said Woyzbun. The fact that you can fill out a form and print it off in PDF format means you’ve just automated an old forms-driven process.
There’s an opportunity for governments to improve the service levels they deliver to citizens by going beyond Web sites to Web 2.0, moving closer to real-time collaboration as opposed to the store-and-forward approach that generally defines government today. “And that’s going to be tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in senior positions in government who still think of government processes the old way as opposed to the new way.”
The next-generation workforce will force the Web 2.0 issue, said Alison Brooks, senior analyst for government insights with IDC Canada. There’s already a lot of uptake in collaboration, as governments start moving from voice-over-IP to integrated unified communications offerings.
Many thought social networking was a waste of time. “The applications have to be more internal,” Brooks said. “If it’s used correctly, people will embrace it a bit more.”
Collaborative tools are getting much better, whether it’s the next-generation of IP-based videoconferencing or tele-presence technology, and this will be pushed by lifestyle and environmental requirements, said Kim Devooght, vice-president for public sector with IBM Canada.
Governments are going to have to deal with social networking, both in terms of business operations and policies.
“As demographics push the population along, our kids are pretty familiar with these tools and expect to be able to use them in a professional way and not just in a personal way,” he said. “The whole idea of social networking is something that’s going to be top-of-mind in 2008, certainly more than this year.”
This social networking phenomenon is evolving into Government 2.0.
“From a technological perspective service delivery in a Web 2.0 environment is not new to business but it’s a relatively a new challenge for government,” said Kevin D’Entremont, executive director with CMP Technology.
Governments are talking less about online tools for service delivery and more about social marketing, social trends and demographics and how the loosely knit collaborative environment of Web 2.0 is going to affect government.
At the federal level, many departments are starting to explore the concept of collaborative systems and approaches, discussing what information and processes can be open to collaboration.
Some departments have experience in launching wikis and initiating Web 2.0 collaborative tools at a departmental level. Library and Archives Canada, for example, is working on the development of a Google-like cataloguing system.
In the municipal level, the City of Ottawa is doing collaborative work through different service centres to collect information from the public and proactively display services.
But these types of initiatives are just getting out of the gate, and platforms related to collaboration are still new for many of these departments.
People are so used to engaging with products or vendors that they use without thinking about social marketing or how that vendor is tailoring its approach to their needs, said D’Entremont.
Now when we go to government, we have the same level of expectation. “This is the challenge for government,” he said.
Government is going to be increasingly involved in projects that require data sharing across a variety of special interest groups, and this involves middleware and service-oriented architecture.
Ontario, for example, is attempting to create integrated medical records for citizens. From a technology point of view, this requires a different approach to the development process. At this particular point, SOA is the technology that holds out the most promise for this, said Woyzbun.
A key issue in the health-care sector in 2008 will be the integration of systems, and being able to move information seamlessly from one system to another, said Gary Folker, managing director of business development with xwave, a division of Bell Aliant.
“In 2008, one of the key components will be addressing how we can appropriately utilize technologies to affect positive patient outcomes, specifically in the area of chronic disease,” he said. But we’re still faced with a significant hurdle in that a tremendous amount of information still resides on paper, and physicians are still struggling to adopt technology that would allow the information to be dealt with in electronic format.
This, however, is becoming a necessity. The Canadian Institute for Health Information recently reported that health-care spending is now hitting $160 billion a year, which is an increase year-over-year of about 6.6 per cent.
In an age of trying to create savings, a shared services model allows multiple departments to work together, said John Reid, president of CATAAlliance.
The CIOs’ role is to understand how technology evolution in government can address shared needs among departments. If they can accomplish that, they can significantly reduce the cost of delivering services to citizens.
(Vawn Himmelsbach is a