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
by Andrea Di Maio | May 31, 2013 | 4 Comments
The Australian government just published the National Cloud Computing Strategy, which goes beyond the usual domain of how government is going to use the cloud (something that several other jurisdictions, including Australia, have done over the last couple of years).
This strategy comes as a response to what the Australian Prime Minister promised back in October 2012 and builds on the roll-out of the National Broadband Network that will provide universal access to very fast Internet services across the nation. The national cloud strategy suggests a path to leverage this great resource.
The strategy looks at three distinct and important areas:
- the use of cloud computing in government, building on a previous paper on strategic directions
- the use of cloud computing by small businesses, not-for-profit and consumers
- the support of the cloud services sector
As far as the first pillar is concerned, the strategy maintains the down-to-Earth, no-nonsense approach that I have learned to like in Australia. Rather than pushing for an aggressive “cloud-first” approach, like the US did a few years ago and the UK stated more recently,
Government agencies will be required to consider cloud services (including public cloud services) for new ICT procurements. Government agencies will choose cloud services, where the service represents the best value for money and adequate management of risk, compared to other available options
For those who are familiar with the open-source “religious” battles of the last decade, this is far closer to what most of those ended up producing: strategies that would recommend agencies to consider the option, but not forcing them to adopt it or to justify why it is not being adopted. I actually drew a parallel between the two in an old blog post, which I believe is still very current. However the strategy is more decisive when it comes to public facing web sites as well as test and development environments, which are expected to be moved to the public cloud as soon as practical.
There is an emphasis on educating IT leaders in agencies about understanding benefits and risks as well as about how to procure and manage cloud services. Trials and experience sharing are encouraged, and lessons learned from the earlier Data Center as a Service (DCaaS) experience will be used to evolve this mechanism.
What is slightly less convincing is the reference to the feasibility of a community government cloud: exploring the feasibility is fine, but it should be rather clear from trends in other countries, that the most crucial aspect is to buy cloud services rather than build services (or have them built). In this respect the other potential weakness is not to push earlier for other Service Multi Use Lists beyond the DCaaS or other lighter-weight service and vendor catalogs similar to what the UK is doing with its G-Cloud Cloudstore (and that probably gives them enough strong a case for a more aggressive approach).
Another point that would require some additional detail as AGIMO reviews the strategic directions paper by mid 2013, is cloud service certification. The strategy document says
AGIMO is developing a certification framework. This framework will provide agencies
with a user friendly way of determining whether the services offered by a cloud vendor meet the
legal and operational requirements of government. The certification framework being considered by AGIMO will be a light touch framework that builds on, rather than duplicates, the existing framework of relevant technical standards. The framework will differentiate between different kinds of cloud service, and allow agencies to assess whether different platform, software or infrastructure cloud service offerings meet their needs.
However there is no clear deadline about when this framework would be issued, nor whether this would meet all certification requirements, or agencies should still perform their own certification.
As far as the second pillar, concerning the use outside government, proposed actions are quite sensible. They include addressing influencing bodies to help reach out to smaller enterprises, promoting a Cloud Consumer Protocol that would give sufficient confidence about consumer’s rights, and helping smaller businesses access technology expertise. Of course the uptake of cloud computing will also be influenced by the attitude taken by larger enterprises and how those will reverberate across their supply chain. It is wise for the strategy not to be prescriptive or condescending when it comes to larger enterprises, but I expect that working with industry associations and other intermediaries should explore the role of value chains.
Finally, as far as supporting the cloud supply side, the strategy pulls together all the necessary levers: education, research and trade, to provide the necessary skills, to address outstanding technical issues and seize opportunities, as well as to promote Australia as a “trusted hub for data storage and processing”.
The broad scope of the strategy requires the involvement and collaboration of several ministries, from Finance to Trade, from Broadband and Digital Economy to Industry and Innovation, from Education to Research.
Some of the objectives and deadlines may be vulnerable to the upcoming elections in September, but the overall structure is well-founded and it is difficult to find any major weakness.
Some commentator may wish to see the government take a more aggressive stance but, given the context and the early stage of “cloud-first strategies elsewhere, I believe the Australian government has taken a smart direction.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: Australia
by Andrea Di Maio | May 31, 2013 | 5 Comments
Yesterday I attended a meeting where different European jurisdictions were describing their experiences and plans about government interoperability frameworks, to address the thorny problem of supporting meaningful and timely data exchange as well as coordination and synchronization of business processes across different agencies within the same or different tiers. There were several mentions of enterprise bus services, service oriented architecture, open standards, and the likes.
What struck me were the references to shared services and reuse that all speakers made. These came in two flavors: reusable components to support interoperability and shared services that would actually replace the need for interoperability.
The former category includes data transformation functionalities as well as identity and access management services. The latter would include application services, such as financials, accounting, payroll, base registries, that could be shared to basically reduce the size and complexity of the interoperability problem. It was interesting to hear that two jurisdictions that have been quite successful with their interoperability efforts also enjoy centralized base registries (holding people’s names and birth dates, lists of registered companies, as well as land and other real estate location).
It appears that interoperability is more important where there is limited ability to share and centralize. Establishing an interoperability framework is a way to overcome the insurmountable obstacles of rearranging data and applications in ways that make services truly citizen-centric.
On the other hand, implementing a framework and enforcing its use is not an easy undertaking either. It does require strong governance and ability to drive agency behaviors in the same direction. But, then, how much more difficult would it be to take an extra step and go for sharing or even centralization? Is interoperability just a temporary fix for a more sustainable solution based on rearranging competencies and responsibilities in order to manage information in a far more citizen-centric way?
Category: Europe and IT Tags: interoperability
by Andrea Di Maio | May 28, 2013 | 1 Comment
I spent my first week ever in Beijing, where my local colleague gave me ample opportunities to meet clients and prospects – both government organizations and IT vendors – as well as to discover some of the beauties of this formidable country, like the well-known Forbidden City or the less-known but equally impressive contemporary architectural complex built close to the Great Wall.
When my colleagues prepped me for this trip and during a first lovely dinner on Sunday night, they highlighted that China is really different and how, while clients are eager to ear about good practices and issues elsewhere, one has to appreciate the major differences and put those practices into perspective.
However as I was going through the list of top issues that government CIOs are struggling with in China and after my first conversation with them, it was clear that I could have had those same conversations in a western country. IT governance across different agencies, portfolio management, vendor management and more in general the choice of effective sourcing strategies are issues that I discuss every day with client around the world.
One might think that with five-year plans and relatively little churn, the Chinese government should enjoy sufficient stability to make things happen.
For instance, their current strategic plan puts a great emphasis on smart cities, also taking into account the extraordinary urban development caused by people moving from the countryside looking for better paid jobs in a still growing (albeit slower) economy. However when one looks at the majority of smart city projects in China, they are as siloed as those in the West: smart transportation, smart public safety, smart building, each as a separate project, with separate drivers and responsibilities and very little integration, if any.
Vendors are very similar to those in the West. Some are really good, with quite impressive talent, significant IPs and a good level of innovation. But they package all their offering as “smart something” in response to the government’s strategy. So I can find the same confusion I find elsewhere between offerings that look more like rebranding existing products than truly innovative smart cross-domain solutions,
Some Chinese government CIOs believe that Western countries, and the US in particular, have accomplished a lot in terms of IT management and governance. I told them that there is a huge difference between having roles, mandates, directives and architectural frameworks, and being really able to benefit from them rather than simply complying not to get in trouble with one’s budget. They seemed surprised to realize that they are not alone in struggling with some fundamental governance issues that make shared service implementations as well as other types of cross-agency endeavors particularly difficult.
This is one of the aspects that makes being an analyst a wonderful job. While official papers and press interviews show one side of the story, talking to clients on a daily basis often reveals a different and more nuanced picture.
The world is really smaller and issues are much closer to each other than we think.
Category: e-government smart government Tags: China, smart city
by Andrea Di Maio | May 22, 2013 | 2 Comments
Last week I spoke to a local government CIO about innovation. We discussed about the impact of digital, open data, social media and more. When I made my usual point about the imbalance in the use of open data and more in general of digital innovation toward external impact and the apparent disregard for how these can be leveraged internally, he was in violent agreement with me. This was both surprising and rewarding, as his jurisdiction has been quite active on the open government front.
The point he was making is that, as the chief information officer, he has to be on top of all the data that impact service delivery or operations, be that data internal or external. Therefore I assume he does not see the need for separating new roles, such as chief digital or chief data officer, from the CIO role, and certainly not for distinct reporting lines. This challenges the belief that, in order to boost transformation and innovation, these roles must be independent. However the CIO needs to have a pretty clear view about.
- all the stakeholders involved in the innovation process
- how the boundaries between different stakeholders category evolve
- what is the direction of engagement
The most obvious stakeholder categories are: government (different agencies), other tiers of government, constituents (citizens, businesses, visitors), industry and consumer associations, NGOs, citizen social networks.
Open government has shown that the boundaries between different categories of stakeholders are blurring:shared service initiatives on the one hand and citizen engagement in service delivery on the other hand are examples of how boundaries are changing. In particular, the evolving role of employees who are empowered by consumer technology used in the workplace is moving the boundaries between government agencies and citizens.
Finally, government can be a driver of engagement, by determining the place and pace of collaboration and engagement, or a follower, by joining existing communities. As the latter mostly involves individual employees and the former refers to the government organization as a whole, this creates interesting dynamics around workforce management.
CIOs who understand all different dimensions and nuances will thrive. Those who don’t will struggle and gradually lose their relevance.
Category: smart government Tags: CIO, digital government