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A Year in Review: Top Ten for Smart Government in 2012

By Andrea Di Maio | December 20, 2012 | 1 Comment

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For the fourth year in a row, here is my (absolutely personal) top ten in the area of government innovation.  Over the last three years the title was “Top Ten for Government 2.0”, but this term is less relevant today. What is relevant is to focus on how governments around the world are looking for technology solutions and approaches that they can afford, that help sustain government service and operations going forward, and that help cross traditional boundaries between different organizational silos and constituencies.

I have no presumption of being exhaustive. or even fair, and I am sure I may be missing great things that happened around the world. As usual, this ranking is my own, and – as such – totally arbitrary. My choice is based on topics, issues, individuals, jurisdictions that I have come across in my analyst role.

Once again, I would like to thank and offer my best seasonal wishes to all those professionals – in government and in the vendor community – who work hard to help make governments smarter. Their job is unlikely to get any easier going forward, but it is a very exciting time for technology, with the nexus of cloud, social, mobile and big data offering new ways to address old problems and creating entirely new opportunities.

As usual, the list is in reverse order, from number ten to number one.

10. Canada: Great People, Great Challenges

Over the years, I have found a lot of interesting examples of IT innovation and new IT approaches in Canada. For example, they were the first to implement a large scale wiki for intra-agency collaboration and the first to successfully apply enterprise architecture to government service transformation. More recently they have embarked in the largest scale whole-of-government IT consolidation project that I am aware of, and I have also come across a couple of agencies that are using scenario-planning techniques to improve IT strategic planning. Both at federal and at provincial level, Canada remains a place to watch.

9. Open Data Advocates: Training for a Marathon

I know I have not been very complimentary of some open data efforts. Despite my cynicism, I really think that all those who are involved in pushing for more open data should be commended for their passion and persistence. Sooner or later their efforts will lead to sustainable value creation, both in terms of greater process efficiency and service effectiveness, but also in term of actual economic value accrued by businesses and benefiting the society as a whole. They just need to persist and – maybe – find new ways to keep the open government lights on, going beyond the gathering of enthusiasts (be they hackatons or datapaloozas) and the rather stale application contests. As I said recently, open data is not for sprinters.

8. Using the Euro Crisis as a trigger for change

The last 18 months have been problematic for several European countries and for the whole eurozone, with worries that quite negative scenarios may unfold. Luckily enough risks seem to have been contained so far and many are sighing in relief, although we are not entirely out of trouble. From what I can tell, governments have not been doing much to prepare and manage the risk for or with technology, so this entry  is a bit off topic but worth mentioning. I came across one organizations in the consumer goods sector where the board decided to step up preparedness for scenarios contemplating the exit of one or more countries from the eurozone. While this exercise was expensive, it revealed a number of areas for optimization, mostly  in supply chain management and communications, and constitutes a great example of how to turn a risk into an opportunity. This is an important lessons for governments too, as they try to be smarter and more sustainable.

7. Ontario: Shared Services that Keep Working

In our research on shared services there are not many successful, large scale examples that show the sustainability of this model. The province of Ontario in Canada is different. We wrote a case study several years ago (client access required), and it has been working for more than a decade. Interestingly enough, despite the success they are changing the model, recognizing that the world does not stand still and what may have been a compelling proposition years ago needs to be reassessed. Inability to change is one of the main causes for shared services to fail, and Ontario offers the perfect example of a jurisdiction that remains ahead of the game.

6. Moldova: A Smart Developing Country

Two years ago I went to Chisinau, Moldova, invited by the World Bank, as part of an expert group on e-government. At the time I had the impression that the political situation was still in flux and that the country would not be able to fully leverage the funding received from the World Bank to realize its e-government ambitions. But thanks to the effort of people like Stela Mocan (which I mentioned also in last year’s top ten) they came quite a long way and are also very active players in the Open Government Partnership. This is another example, after Estonia a few years ago, of how jurisdictions in less developed region can use funding very effectively: definitely a counterexample with respect to the stories we hear from countries like Greece or Italy, which wasted a fair amount of their EU funding,

5. US Digital Government Strategy: Gold Nuggets in a Short Term Package

When it was published in May I was not entirely complimentary of the strategy (see blog post and Gartner research note for clients), highlighting its short term nature. However it does contain interesting elements that may have a longer term impact. One above all is the conceptual model it introduces, which distinguishes an information, a platform and a presentation layer, moving the traditional customer-centric focus from citizens to encompass employees, too. The conceptual model suggests that agencies should focus on more-effective data management, as well as on building a platform of services (including access to data through APIs), and that services and data should be conveyed to their actual consumers through a combination of private- and public-sector players. Although the strategy does not really explore this in its closer deadlines, it sets a precedent for a new way of developing mission-critical systems.

4. National Audit Offices: Challenging the Common Wisdom

While CIOs, CTOs, open government activists, e-government experts, consultants and vendors spread their wings to try new ways to make governments smarter by technology, we need people who keep us with our feet on the ground. Auditors are rarely praised for what they do, and they often intervene when it is too late (how many audit reports concern failed projects?). They all do a great job, and sometimes their warnings are timely enough for their colleagues in government to listen and have time to change course. The UK National Audit Office is a great example, with its reports on shared services and on open government, both of which highlight the gap between promises and reality and provide useful suggestions for improvement.

3. UK: Beyond government-issued identity

Countries like Italy are still convinced that issuing digital identity cards is the way to go, based on the earlier success in Estonia ands the large scale program in India. On the other hand, the British government is being smart enough to rely on an identity assurance scheme that should ultimately allow people to use credentials of their choice (a debit or credit card, a phone, even a social media identity) to access services, provided those credentials complies with the requirement of the scheme. This is a far more modern and realistic way of dealing with identity management, recognizing that people will always deal online with several other entities more than with government.

2. Denmark: Beyond Open Data

As I said above, open data will ultimately deliver the value it promises, although in a longer time than some hope or had anticipated. An important side effect of all those efforts is the gradual realization that open data principles should not apply only to public data, but to “any” data. The report on basic data published by the Danish government is an important contribution to this new thinking, that transpires from the US digital strategy and is starting influencing the modernization of legacy systems in Europe too.

1. Australia: Exemplary IT Leadership

I have always been a fan of what Australian government organizations have been doing in terms of IT innovation, and in fact they have been mentioned in my top ten in past years. This year though I would just like to recognize their whole-of-government leadership at the federal level. Ann Steward, who is retiring at the end of this year, and the new CIO and CTO, respectively Glenn Archer and John Sheridan, who have been supporting Ann and AGIMO for several years. I have read criticisms about splitting these roles and about a possible diminished role for AGIMO. My take is that these people know what they are doing, and they have the experience, diplomacy and business acumen to make a positive contribution to modernization and efficiency, irrespective of organizational details.

Thank you all for reading my blog through 2012. Let me wish you, your families and friends a Happy New Year.

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1 Comment

  • In a tweet a reader asked why the G-Cloud program in the UK (and, for that matter, no other government cloud program) was mentioned in my top ten.
    Maybe it is number 11, so it didn’t make the cut by an inch. More seriously, I did want to highlight areas of excellence that are less obvious to many. Incidentally, there is a significant amount of government cloud activity that took place in Australia (like Data Center as a Service) or in Moldova (with their own Gcloud), but almost every single area I have mentioned does include some element of cloud computing. In fact, cloud is little else than a sourcing model. Indeed G-Cloud or the Blanket Purchase Agreements put in place by the GSA are making the use of cloud easier, but there are still certification and accreditation issues that have not be fully resolved.