Science or Fiction: ICT in the future of government service delivery
Last week, I spoke to the FutureGov conference in Canberra about government service delivery, in particular, the role in that delivery of ICT. Rightly, much is made of the advantages ICT can bring to this and other aspects of modern government. However, as Dr Francis Collins of the Human Genome project observed, we tend to overestimate the short term impact of technology and underestimate the long term impact. Some things about the future are quite sure (and, foolishly as it turns out, at this stage I made a prediction about the Rugby World Cup). Others are not. My presentation touched on several of these: mobility, simplicity, security, privacy, social media, ubiquity and accessibility.
I noted the growth in mobile connectivity within Australia where smartphone penetration had reached 35% of online Australians. The need for simplicity is also clear. Online attention spans are low, common interfaces are preferred and even Google makes a point of not setting out to create feature rich products. Security concerns remain pressing, as evidenced by the just launched discussion paper on cyber security.
Privacy is the counterpart of security and is equally important in the design and delivery of online services. In Finance’s work with agencies on the ‘Tell Us Once’ technical pilot, we are being careful to ensure that the privacy of citizens is assured. One of the design factors is that information can only be shared between agencies at the express request of the citizen involved.
Reusing the infographic I created for an earlier presentation, I discussed the growth of social media approaches across government. While there is still away to go, such approaches are now regularly discussed as part of new policy proposals. Despite being increasingly common, such references don’t yet mirror the ubiquitous nature that is now required of government services. People expect such services to be always on and available everywhere. In the future, the need for device independence, open source and multi-lingual capability will also become mandatory. Such applications could well be supported by cloud computing. I mused that in developing the cloud, the industry was relying too much on private cloud arrangements and not exploring sufficiently the possibility of using cryptography to make the public cloud secure.
Finally, government services will continue to need to be accessible to all those who need them, online or off. The requirements of the National Transition Strategy to WCAG 2.0 will guide online accessibility but we can’t forget to support those on the wrong side of the digital divide.
I finished the talk as I started – with a quote. While encouraging those responsible for online service delivery to pursue innovation, I warned of the challenges of pursuing government directed research. The quote, which I heard on “The West Wing” was attributed to Samuel Broder, former director of the US National Cancer Institute. He is quoted as saying “If it was up to [government] to cure polio through a centrally directed program instead of an independent investigator driven discovery, you’d have the best iron lung in the world, but not a polio vaccine.” In government ICT, we need to keep up with the technology – not try to tell it where to go.
The slides from my talk are attached below. As always, your comments are welcome.