by Andrea Di Maio | March 19, 2014 | 4 Comments
In my country today is Father’s Day . This morning my 17-year old son and my 20-year old daughter handed me their handwritten wishes. They were wonderful as usual, and made me feel their love. Shortly after I read from a Facebook friend that his younger daughters had sent their wishes via WhatsApp, and I could sense some pride in his words.
I am happy for him he felt that way, but I would not. There are certain things that won’t be replaced by digital assets, and those two tender handwritten notes are the perfect example. Father’s Day would not be the same without the gesture of handing over those little notes or making me find them somewhere, pretty much like I did with my father: under the dish or under the pillow or in the inside pocket of his jacket. Touching that paper, looking at the different handwriting, at those discontinuities that show when they had second thoughts about the choice of a word, comparing those notes year over year to just see how their handwriting has changed and they have grown into teenagers and beyond. These emotions will be lost when all we’ll be left with will be a bunch of digital cards, messages sent and received among hundreds of others, lost in the background noise of social media.
Does this make me a luddite? Does the fact that I still feel the importance of a physical contact with the written words mean I am a dinosaur who is ready for extinction? Or are there emotions that cannot be replaced by anything digital?
As people around the world cry for more digital economy, digital business, digital government, digital education, we should take a deep breath and reflect about the long term implications of these changes in many aspects of our lives.
When I was a kid I used to accompany my mother for some errands at the local stores: the grocery, the bakery, the butcher. In each of those there was an opportunity to chat and get to know people living in the neighborhood. Me and my wife shop in large malls where we get in and get out without meeting anybody we actually know. My kids will have merchandise talk to them and smart shopping even anticipating their needs, most likely without moving from their couch.
When I was a kid I would go to the restaurant with parents or friends to have a good time and a good conversation. Today as I look around at people sitting at restaurants they are all having virtual conversations with people who are not at their table or – at most – looking for other restaurants’ ratings to compare. My kids will probably have meals at their place in a virtual environment with other folks, without sharing the same place and time.
Indeed we’ll achieve wonderful things and the quality of life for many of us will improve. Preventative health care, better emergency services, more personalized education, much more information and much more relevant for any decision we need to take. But inevitably we will be losing a few things. The magic of a letter at Father’s Day is one of them. The real question is whether we know which kind of people we’ll become when they are all gone.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: digital business, digital government
by Andrea Di Maio | February 5, 2014 | 2 Comments
Yesterday I read an interesting news about the UK government planning to move decisively toward open source in order to reduce both software cost and dependency on specific vendors, such as Microsoft.
This reminds me of a flurry of announcements in the early part of the last decade, when cities, regions and entire countries decided for positive discrimination in favor of open source. At the time, most of the discussion was centered around the need to adopt an open standard in order to increase choice and reduce lock-in :Open Document Format (ODF) was the only one available and it was supported only by open source software such as openOffice. Since then, Microsoft succeeded in getting its own OfficeOpenXML through the standardization process, and at the same it decided to allow ODF documents to be read and saved in Office. Open source replacements of Microsoft products had different rates of success: some organizations, such as the French Police or the Singapore Ministry of Defense, were entirely successful while for others there have been different viewpoint on success (like for the City of Munich or the City of Vienna).
Over the last few years, the battleground has moved to the cloud and the main contestants remain Microsoft (with Office 365) and Google (with Google Apps).
In 2004 the UK government published a quite balanced policy, where it required to consider open source alternatives, but to choose them only if they were delivering better value for money. Other countries, such as Brazil or some parts of Europe, have continued pursuing positive discrimination, mandating the ues of open source wherever possible. A few years later, in 2008, the UK government issues a new policy that was more in favor of open source ( the link is not available at the original address the cabinet office site, but here is my research note published at the time). This third step looks even more aggressive, although I have not yet seen the details of the new policy.
As they strive to look for more savings, governments around the world rightly look at how to use the procurement lever to reduce their cost base, cut unnecessary spending and squeeze more efficiency from their relationships with technology suppliers. Alternative sourcing models, including cloud, open source, crowdsourcing and new forms of partnerships will become increasingly popular. On the downside though they will require different and new skills in the public sector: dealing with multiple short-term cloud-like contracts with smaller vendors, managing interoperability and integration across a broader variety of services and products, gaining the necessary expertise about and involvement in selected open source communities, while pushing for agile development methods and continuous innovation in a traditionally risk-averse environment can be a daunting challenge.
Category: Europe and IT open source in government Tags: UK government
by Andrea Di Maio | January 21, 2014 | 3 Comments
The recent case of two students at Yale, who used university data to build a web site that allowed students to plan their schedules while comparing class evaluations and teacher ratings for the past three semesters. shows that unintended uses of data can have a profound impact on organizations, both in the private and in public sector. In this particular case it does not look like the University made course data available as open data, and there was some data scraping work that the students’ application had to perform to provide the intended functionalities.
However the growing availability of open data as well as the ability of people to exchange their own data via social networks is definitely challenging whomever owns and provides data for specific constituencies.
The challenge is two-fold. On the one hand different ways of presenting, combining and analyzing open data lead to new customer attitudes, different expectations and behavioral patterns as well as reputation shifts that can be difficult to intercept and influence. On the other hand, customers and other stakeholders post and share data about their own views and experiences with their service providers: customer reviews on web sites as well as customer comments on social media are already a well know major influencer of customer behavior.
However, while commercial enterprises are more used to deal with this form of competition, government organizations and other public sector institutions are having a harder time. There is an assumption that they hold trusted information and that they are the single source of truth when it comes to the data they own and administer. Unfortunately trust is shifting from established organizations to people. While this is happening at different pace in different jurisdictions – mostly related to how much citizens trust their current government as well as government-owned or funded academic institutions and school districts – it is a fact that nit is happening everywhere.
The irony is that most governments are embarking in open data policies and strategies, based on the assumption that data will contribute to economic development in their region. This will certainly happen in the long run, but before that public sector organizations will have to bear the cost of providing open data and of dealing with their unplanned or unintended use, which can and will challenges established policies and processes. It is probably time for not only opening date, but also being open about how to deal with the inevitable change that the use of open data will drive: yet another reason why open government should not be perceived – as it is now – as a separate initiative, but should become the normal course of business, entrenched in everything governments do.
Category: open government data Tags: higher education, open data, open government
by Andrea Di Maio | January 15, 2014 | 3 Comments
I have not being blogging for quite some time, but a lot has happened in Gartner government research over the last few months. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement has been the redesign of our research agenda to align with the digital government priorities that many of our clients are dealing or are about to deal with.
There is no doubt that there is still a fair amount of confusion in the marketplace about what constitutes digital. While I received some pointed criticism when I said that there is a risk that digital government looks pretty much like e-government, client conversations over the last few months clearly show that there is no single definition of what digital means and that the risk of turning it into more of the same is clear and present to several people.
Now, to set the record straight, I do believe digital government is profoundly different from e-government as well as from government 2.0 (although in some jurisdictions the latter terms still looks more relevant than “digital”). Whereas there are many differences as far as technologies and what they make possible,political will, and evolving citizen demand, my contention is that the single most fundamental difference is in the relevance of data and how new and unforeseen uses of data can truly transform the way governments deliver their services and perform their operations.
This is not at all just about government as a platform or open government, where government is primarily a provider of data that constituents – be they citizens, business or intermediaries – use and mash up in new ways. It is also about government themselves inventing new ways to user their own as well as constituents’ data. It is only by striking the right balance between being a data provider and being a data broker and consumer that governments will find the right path to being truly digital.
During the Gartner Symposia I attended last fall, I had numerous interesting conversations with people who are exploring very innovative ways of using its own data, such as:
- tax authorities contemplating to use up-to-date financial information about taxpayers to proactively suggest investments that may provide tax breaks,
- education institutions leveraging data about student location from their original purpose (giving parents information about students’ whereabouts) to providing new tools for teachers to understand behavioral patterns and relate those to more personalized learning
- immigration authorities leveraging data coming from video analysis, whose role is to flag suspicious immigrants for secondary inspection, to inform public safety authorities or the hospitality sector about specific issues and opportunities with tourists.
In the second half of 2013, Gartner government analysts focused on distilling the fundamental components of a digital government initiative, in order to be able to shape our research and advice in ways that hit the most important issues that client face. The new government research agenda has just been published (see Agenda Overview for Government, 2014) and eight key issues, grouped in three distinct areas, that need to be addressed to successfully transform into a digital government organization.
- Service Delivery Innovation: How will governments use technology to support innovative services that produce better results for society?
- Open Government: How will governments create and sustain a digital ecosystem that citizens can trust and want to participate in?
- New Digital Business Models: What data-driven business models will emerge to meet the growing needs for adequate and sustainable public services?
- Joint Governance: How will governance coordinate IT and service decisions across independent public and private organizations?
- Scalable Interoperability: How much interoperability is needed to support connected government services and at what cost?
- Workforce Innovation: How will the IT organization and role transform to support government workforce innovation?
- Adaptive Sourcing: How will government IT organizations expand their sourcing strategies to take advantage of competitive cloud-based and consumer-grade solutions?
- Sustainable Financing: How will government IT organizations obtain and manage the financial resources required to connect government and engage citizens?
This agenda is meant to both answer immediate questions about whether and how to deploy cloud solutions, how to deal with mobile service delivery, how to better leverage data, how to make shared services more successful, and so forth. But it also aims at looking beyond the obvious, at challenging the common wisdom, at warning our clients about jumping into the future without absorbing the lessons from the past. As usual, our research will reassure clients in certain areas and challenge them in others. We do not write research to please but to help.
I wholeheartedly hope that our effort will help the government community – both technology users and providers – find effective ways to advance the digital agenda, optimize the use of limited financial resources and skills, and set the pace for a transformation where digital becomes business as usual and second nature to government business leaders, IT executives and ultimately every single civil servant.
Category: Uncategorized Tags:
by Andrea Di Maio | October 15, 2013 | Comments Off
Two nights ago one of the most esteemed Italian Internet experts and pioneers, Marco Zamperini, passed away. With a long career as a CTO and Chief Innovation Officer in technology companies and academa, he was one of the seminal figures that carried on the Web innovation in his country. I never had the chance of meeting or working with him, but I was touched by the number of heartfelt eulogies that filled most social media yesterday, remembering Marco. He was clearly a very nice person well beyond his professional history and charisma. Most people described him as always smiling, witty, and capable of finding something good also in the least favorable situations.
The use of social media in Italy is often confrontational: people challenge each other on pretty much anything, from political views to football, from digital agendas to fashion. It is difficult to find value at the bottom of zillions of conversations whose sole purpose seems to be for somebody to prevail on somebody else in a heated discussion. Yesterday the web was different. Those same people who fill social media with controversy were mourning Marco. It felt like a choir, with different voices offering their memories, creating an unusual sense of warmth that I had never experienced before.
Somebody observed that although Marco was often surrounded by rather controversial individuals, he was always able to find something good in them, something to learn and enrich himself. This was certainly one if his greatest gifts when he was alive.
But today maybe he left us with his greatest gift. Thousands of people stopped quarreling and shouting on the web and spoke with a single voice to remember him. In Italy, something close to a miracle.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: Italy
by Andrea Di Maio | October 11, 2013 | 2 Comments
Almost 28 years ago, when I officially entered the IT workforce, I found myself working on a research and development project about the use of the Ada programming language (does anybody remember it?) in distributed computing settings. The project was funded under the Multi Annual Program that the the European Commission had instituted to provide financial support to the cooperation of industries, research institutions and universities from different European countries. This program morphed into ESPRIT, which was the IT arm of the First Framework Program for Research and Technology Development. We are now close to the end of the Seventh Framework Program, and the next one (renamed Horizon 2020) is about to start.
These huge programs cover a number of areas of science and technology, ICT being only one. Also, they provide a variety of types of projects or funding schemes, depending on how upstream or downstream the research and development is. Of course the basic principle behind these programs remains that research must be of a pre-competitive nature, to prevent any government intervention in how markets operate. At times, EU-funded projects have come very close to this boundary, or have overlapped with neighboring programs to establish cooperation among countries or industries on common actions and standards.
What strikes me about these mechanisms is that they have not changed in almost 30 years. But if we look at the face of the IT industry, especially in Europe, it has radically changed. There are no longer the huge hardware manufacturers that tended to dominate those programs in the early days, and also the software and services market is fundamentally different. Consumer technology has become increasingly important, and that’s a market dominated by non-European players. Infrastructure and quasi-commodity applications are increasingly available via cloud, and also here the key players are non-European, Innovation in application development and data usage has emerged with very different mechanisms, such as crowsourcing, crowdfunding, hackatons, application contests and so forth. Many of the small-and-medium sized technology companies that thrived in many of these projects have either disappeared, or have been acquired, or have become something very different.
Four years ago, in the early days of the 7th Framework Program, I said that the program needed fundamental changes to have the expected impact. I am not sure much has changed though, and in light of how different the IT landscape is today, I would argue that maybe these vast resources should be used differently. Millions of euros – this is the average size of a project – could be better used to improve health and education, to train people who have lost their job, to subsidize young people’s first employment, to provide support to those who are knocking at the EU’s doors in search of better living conditions. Or, if we want to stay in the realm of technology reserach, let’s bet on paradigm-shifting, more upstream research.
I wonder why those who have such a strong faith in the power of digital technology of creating wealth and jobs do also keep asking for financial support from government organizations: digital agendas are often considered more a budget item than a coherent series of policies, and those believers are usually much more vocal when budgets are downsized or programs delayed than when other policy measures get passed or otherwise.
I seriously doubt that Europe will strengthen its competitiveness by using schemes that are just modest variations of a great idea that was conceived over 30 years ago. Mechanisms such as competitions and outcome-based rewards should replace the pay-upfront or pay-as-you-go schemes that some enterprises have become so good at managing that they have turned them into profits rather than contribution to expenses. Let’s all the digital experts put their money (and not ours) where their mouth is.
Category: Europe and IT Tags: EU, European Commission
by Andrea Di Maio | October 8, 2013 | 4 Comments
The convergence of consumer, enterprise and operational technologies; the pervasiveness of connected devices among people and objects; the confluence of mobile, cloud, social and big data; emerging digital strategies in major corporation and governments. All these signals and trends justify the strongly held belief that the digital economy era we are entering in will be a period of unprecedented change and limitless opportunities, where entire industries will be transformed, their boundaries will be blurred, new jobs will be created and the economy will return to grow fueled by digital information.
The technology industry for one is an early witness of the level of change that is coming. During his opening keynote at the Gartner US Symposium in Orlando, Peter Sondergaard highlighted how some of the key players and technologies in today’s’ market were not even on the radar screen a few years ago, and reminded that enterprise in all industry may find themselves facing competitors that are simply unimaginable today.
Government organizations, consulting firms, university professors forecast trillions of dollars coming from the digital economy, and this is creating huge expectations in economies that are either just coming back to growth or still struggling with flat or receding GDPs. Most likely their predictions will ultimately come true, but I am not entirely sure many have reflected about at what cost.
Jobs will certainly be created, but how many will be destroyed? Massive automation of manual as well as increasingly knowledge-intensive tasks on an unprecedented scale, from truck drivers to police officers, from bank tellers to workers in publishing companies, from workers in the entertainment in industry to travel agent, from consultants to teachers, will create inevitable social tensions even in the most stable societies and best developed economies. The effectiveness of existing welfare and lifelong learning mechanisms will be questioned by the sheer number of people who will not have the right skills for new jobs and by the simple truth that computers will be replacing humans at a pace and on a scale that only science fiction work had originally suggested.
Similarly to how accelerated technology evolution makes today’s technology legacy in a matter of a few years, so entire generations of workers, experts, skilled people will find themselves in urgent need of changing their skill set and reinventing their career path. In the last couple of decades we have seen disruptions to economies and specific jobs coming from globalization and the rising economies in the East and the South of the world, where lower costs and greater scale have proven unbeatable for many traditional jobs. No wonder that automotive workers in the US or tile producers in Italy or toy manufacturers in the UK have seen their jobs taken away. While entire jurisdictions still struggle with how to compensate for these losses and have invested on new programs to stimulate local entrepreneurship, it is quite possible that the skills that are being developed are either already dated or will be so soon. The accelerated pace of change driven by the digitalization of all industries may send shock waves through high-unemployment regions, leading some of their welfare safety nets beyond the breaking point. New generations of students that have applied for schools and faculties that were expected to give them better chances to find a job may struggle even before getting the degree they have been working for.
At the same time, new opportunities will arise, but in ways and in places that we cannot anticipate. Whether seed money or other positive actions that many governments are taking to encourage startups will have any impact is hard to say. Whether new school curricula aimed at earlier, hands-on experience will give young people a better chance to succeed remains to be seen.
However, if we accept that there will be uncertainty, if we accept that the actual shape of the digital economy is hard to predict, then the only skill that really matters is our ability to embrace change. But, oddly enough, this may call for different measures than those we see today. As far as education, is it really more important to have an early experience in an industry that is about to disappear, or should our kids actually spend time studying more theoretical subjects, even philosophy, ancient Latin or basic maths, to be better thinkers rather than quicker doers? As far as government subsidies, should they be directed at sustaining defunct industries or should they help accelerate their death and even preempt their economies from depending too much from those? As far as welfare or health care, should individuals be more rewarded for how much their employer pays for them or for how much they individually contribute to their economy and society?
I appreciate these are fundamental questions that do not ask for a mundane answer, nor am I qualified to suggest any solution. The purpose of this post is just to help reflect on what “digutal transformation” may actually imply. We tend to look at the half (or even three-quarter) full glass of digitalization, but we may be denying that it will take our economies, our societies, our families and ourselves in places that are more difficult to predict and tougher to live in than we actually think.
Category: Gartner events Tags: digital government, digital society
by Andrea Di Maio | October 1, 2013 | 2 Comments
A few weeks ago I was in Madrid, discussing about the consolidation and cost containment program that the national government has in place, not unlike those in other European countries. As soon as I landed, I went to a lovely dinner with the then-CIO of the tax agency, Domingo Molina. The Spanish Tax Agency has been historically quite advanced in the use of IT and they were among the first to launch an on-line tax filing service. Little wonder that now that Spain is looking for somebody to take the rein of government IT across the country, the choice has fallen on Domingo Molina himself. During dinner I was favorably impressed by his ability to listen, his very concrete views about the challenges ahead and a tendency not to brag about himself, something that other people in such positions tend to do. As the Spain-wide CIO had not yet appointed, I asked whether he would consider that, and he gave me a diplomatic answer confirming he was happy with his current job. What I told him makes me smile now: I suggested to stay where he was, as the whole-of-government job is tough and sometimes short-tenured, especially when the exact boundaries of his authority are not clear. However Domingo struck me as a person who would not give up on a challenge, so I am pretty confident he is a very good choice for the country.
The evening after I had dinner in Lisbon with Paulo Neves, the President of AMA, an organization that is responsible for overseeing IT in the public administration. He was appointed over a year ago, coming from the private sector, and has been put in charge of implementing a 25-point program for cost containment (Council of Ministers Resolution n.º 12/2012 - Global Strategic Plan to Rationalize and Decrease ICT Costs in Public Administration), which is quite tough and urgent. Paulo too is a person who accepts to be challenged, who listens and ponders before explaining his strategy and tactics. While he has been given significant powers in vetting IT spending across the whole government, he has taken more of an advisory approach, to help different departments better understand and articulate their priorities.
Both these professionals, with significant careers respectively in the public and the private sector, have raised to a major challenge. It is quite clear to me that they are driven by a genuine desire to do the right thing and help their respective countries at a difficult time. There is little political consideration or careful planning of their next step, but the willingness to make a difference.
I wish them both the best in their important and challenging endeavors.
Category: e-government Europe and IT Tags: CIO, digital government
by Andrea Di Maio | September 18, 2013 | 7 Comments
Almost every day I either read an article, or hear from a client or discuss with a colleague about “digital government”. Every single jurisdiction has or is in the process of cranking up a digital plan of some sort, or is in the middle (or better the beginning) of its implementation.
As I sift through countless documents, statements, white and green papers, I can’t help notice the parallel between digital government and what used to be called e-government. Verbiage like “citizen-centric”, bridging the digital divide, enhancing collaboration and joined activity in the back office are all areas that we saw in well-reputed e-government plans and that we are seeing again in digital plans.
There are different reasons for this.
The most mundane is that the generation of “new kids on the blocks” who are put in charge of “digital” in some jurisdiction were still at college or high school during the eGov days, and they are living this adventure as if it were all new.
Another, more serious reason might be that technology is pervasive today among citizens and businesses, and principles like “digital first” make much more sense than 10 years ago.
A third reason is a recognition that e-government has failed or at least fell short of expectations, and must be re-branded, with new roles that may have a better time than their predecessors to achieve the desired outcomes.
Whichever the driver, it is important to avoid wheel reinvention. It is true that today we have cloud, big data, pervasive mobility. However the fundamental reasons why some of those earlier endeavors failed are still there, in the cross-agency and cross-tier governance challenges, in the lack of maturity in managing an evolving base of service providers, in the lack of key technology skills inside the public sector, in the weight and complexity of legacy application and infrastructure.
Replacing “e” by “digital” won’t take us very far, unless we start taking a close look at where previous programs failed or stumbled, and understand the fundamental differences that new technologies bring to the table in terms of architectures and ownership of data, services and assets. The irony is that while data is taking center stage (think about open data, big data, social data), the CIO role (where “I” stands for Information) gets challenged and repurposed or replaced by Chief Digital Officers and the likes.
If digital government is a just a rebranding of e-government and Chief Digital Officers just a front-office focused version of the CIO, I suspect we won’t get much more from digital government than we did from e-government.
Category: e-government Tags: digital government
by Andrea Di Maio | June 9, 2013 | 9 Comments
When discussing the impact of information technology on economy and society, there are two prevailing view points.
The first one emphasizes the benefits created by the mass availability of information though increasingly affordable devices and increasing communication bandwidth. This has evident impacts on the establishment and strengthening of democracies, it gives people the ability to be better informed about their rights, their health, their jobs. It makes education more affordable to families who can hardly afford expensive textbooks. And so forth.
The second one stresses the drawbacks, looking at the intentional and unintentional loss of privacy through the abuse of social networking tools as well as government eavesdropping, and highlighting that digital divides multiply rather than closing.
I took part in a recent conversation on Facebook, started from an article (in Italian) written by Italian writer Umberto Eco, who claims that e-books will not totally replace physical books when it comes to novels or poetry. Irrespective of whether he is right or wrong, it occurred to me that the replacement of physical books with e-books will eliminate bookshelves from our homes or offices. This is something we have seen with music already: disc collections are being replaced by music stored on a file server, so that people still have their earlier CDs or vinyl on their shelves, but there is little trace of what they have been listening more recently.
Undoubtedly looking at somebody’s library tells you something about him or her. Sure, some people use to consider books as a piece of furniture, and there is no guarantee that showing Joyce’s Ulysses or Dante’s Divine Comedy means they have ever opened them. Yet, in the vast majority of cases, the warmth of books that you can glance through to get a feel of a person’s taste can’t be matched or compensated even by the coolest technology toy.
And it goes further. Borrowing a used book from a relative or a friend, with their underlined or highlighted sentences and handwritten footnotes makes that object something alive, with its own story to tell beyond the one from the author. Actually the very experience of “borrowing” goes away, with digital rights management that will prevent any even temporary use by a different user, unless one hands over the e-book itself (which is clearly not possible, as it is your access to all your library).
Also, the amazing experience of visiting a bookstore, where your senses are captured by the view, the touch, the sound, the smell of thousands of books and their pages, will gradually vanish, as the disappearance of some major bookstore chains is witnessing. The same is happening, and much faster, with music stores.
And what about looking at people who read books on a train, a bus, a plane, and what those books tell us about them and how many times we have decided to read a book because somebody else was?
So, how will the future look like? Will reading lose its social dimension, or will technology help recover some of it? Maybe the cover page of the book we are reading will be shown on the oled screen on the cover of our e-book. Maybe our virtual bookshelves will appear on screens that cover our walls, pretty much like those – replacing windows – and will show us the landscape we fancy (watch the excellent movie Cloud Atlas for an example of this). Or we will see our guest’s virtual libraries projected on our glasses.
In the Facebook discussion above many people compare the defense of physical books to the defense of horse-powered cars or wooden-powered heaters, which have disappeared almost a century ago and none of us misses.
The difference though is that those innovations demonstrably improved our productivity and comfort: we could move faster and get warmer. E-books touch upon the emotional sphere. They are not uploading the content of the book into our brain in a matter of minutes. We are still supposed to hold an object in our hands. There is little we gain, moving from a three-.dimensional to a bi-dimensional experience, and from engaging at least four senses to engaging only one.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: e-books