Wednesday, 21 May 2008

International conference on Digital Government

Currently, I am staying a couple of days in Canada for a conference on Digital Government. The basic idea is that eGovernment is out and we have to move to an information government. As within private business, the Internet will have a big impact for the government: they have to change processes and become user centric. This is the great challenge for government organizations for the next decay.

The government and society faces a number of issues to be solved. A first important issue is that the government has a lot of public information of citizens and companies. Although there are strict government policy rules with respect to publication in the context of Regulatory Privacy Policies, this might not be sufficient. Currently mashups like those that are possible with Google maps are feasible. Although the public information can be anonymous, mashup of that information may reveal relevant aspects of citizens and companies. Thus, Private Policy Rules mechanisms must be put in place and have to be maintained by each citizen/company: which public information allow they to reveal to whom.
Similar mechanisms can of course also be installed for applications like Hyvves, Facebook, and so on. The younger generation publishes lots of information on the web, which they later can regret. A Private Policy Rules mechanism might help. These developments are still new and it is not yet clear how they will work. Research is ongoing.

A second issue is also in this domain: identification and authentication. Lots of governments are seeking for the holy grail in this respect. US has the RealID program which requires to have a unique identification for all US citizens by 2017. In the meantime one of the basic problems is verification of such an ID. During Katerina, lots of government records on which an identification is based, were lost. The state of Maine decide to use the records of a trusted authority as a new basis, namely those of the Baptist church. This example indicates that federation of identity needs to be implemented. Liberty Alliance is looking into these aspects. Open standards are a necessity to get things started.
I have also seen a study which indicated that citizens were only interested in establishing their identity for simple services like applying for a drivers license. In case of complex services like tax declaration citizens and companies were not to worried about identity; they were moreover worried about correct data entry and data processing by the government.

A third aspect is innovation by governments. A number of talks were on this subject, e.g. collaboration of governments for development of software like in the open source community. Some municipalities drive these developments, although there are many forces against it (people in the government think they loose their jobs; the normal process is by RFPs whilst open source processes are evolutionary, and so on). Like always, in the US everyone is looking at a proper business case for these types of developments (there are 50 states and 20.000 municipalities, so currently high IT investments that are under pressure). A representative of the OECD however stated that government should do its job properly and leave these kinds of developments to others (the OECD?).

Like open source, also open standards were discussed. Furthermore, examples of business process re-engineering were given, e.g. in the Beer Lively Lab of Heineken were for a pilot situation, customs is looking at a pull mechanism instead of the current push (declaration) mechanism. Finally, I would say. This is a revolutionary change for customs: they need to have access to trader systems based on web service standards and have to audit those systems and the internal administration! There is still the aspect of risk management: which goods/containers have to be selected for inspection in for instance a port. The fraud with current procedures is still estimated in 2005 to be identical to the figures of 1985 for the EU: 1.5 BEuro per year.

Besides these more general presentations, there were also quite specific ones, e.g. text analysis and annotation by learning algorithms, how to organize regional for handling incidents, and so on. These types of presentations are not easily transferred into a Dutch situation.

Basically lacking in this conference, I would think, is a general overview of the state within several countries regarding Information Government. A number of stage models were presented to show how a government organization could move forward. Quite general aspects with respect to architecture were discussed; there is a lack of a common semantic model for government information and thus the development of application (web) services. I have presented a poster in this respect, which was especially with the Dutch delegation (a rather large one) good received.

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