Kevin Merritt is the founder and CEO of Socrata.
Governments around the world are finally leaving the 20th-century analog world and entering the digital age of the 21st century, which has been shaped, driven and disrupted by innovative and consumer-friendly companies like Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Uber and airbnb.
The public sector has no choice; it has to catapult its technology forward, because citizens have been using these breakthrough digital products and services for years, and they now expect government technology to look, feel and perform similarly.
Indeed, 20th-century analog government is unsustainable in 21st-century digital societies, and the downside of falling behind the curve in the shift to digital government is immense.
The new public sector push to digitize says digital infrastructure is now just as important as the physical infrastructure of government. It also says citizen services and interactions are increasingly about the flow of digital information and transactions. And, finally, it’s part of a related public sector move toward data-driven digital solutions in other areas like homeland security.
At its heart, the public sector’s current mission-critical “digital first” efforts are based on the very powerful idea that data is a potent strategic asset and a critical new natural resource like oil that can increase government transparency, accountability, cost savings and operational performance efficiency.
Put another way, governments all over the world are starting to harness data as a utility.
In the past, governments have turned the water, electricity, transportation and the digital spectrum into utilities, and now it’s data’s turn. Going forward, we can expect to see governments of all sizes leveraging their abundance of data -- whether it’s open data, big data or internal data -- to create positive economic impact and address critical quality of life issues such as the environment, law enforcement, health care, education, transparency and fiscal accountability.
Embracing data as a utility is unquestionably one of the biggest opportunities that the public sector has ever had, and it’s accelerating the dramatic boost in operational excellence: high-performance, high-efficiency and high-return government everywhere.
High performance means government working at Internet speed and scale, where citizens and government employees have instant access to facts, visualizations, analyses and comparisons that inform critical decisions like policy-making, voting, budget expenditures and everyday life choices.
High efficiency means government that operates like a Swiss watch, with relentless precision in spending and eliminating waste.
And high return means our tax dollars return financial and social dividends that we can all see clearly; that our priorities are reflected in transparent reporting; and that government programs engage us all in the democratic process.
At the end of the day, data as a utility will extend the power, reach and value of data-driven digital government around the world. It will transform the way that cities, counties, states, regions and nations go about their day-to-day work. It will enable the maximization of public funds and resources while delivering a rapid ROI.
And, finally, it will entirely overhaul today’s government data experience for citizens, community advocates, developers and government employees everywhere.
More specifically, the data-as-a-utility revolution will help digital government leaders provide better citizen services, engage more closely with the people they serve and facilitate greater participation by constituents.
For their part, citizens will be able to answer questions, find what they care about and gain new insights -- all in self-service mode.
At the same time, government program managers and data owners will find it dramatically easier and quicker to curate and publish information experiences that resonate with citizens, while supporting the effective delivery of important programs online.
In order to deploy data as a utility, the public sector is jettisoning cumbersome and obsolete legacy technology, which has failed to serve government’s specific needs in an effective or efficient way.
A recent analysis from Gartner – "Legacy technologies burden government CIOs" – reinforces this point.
“The burden of legacy technologies in government puts innovation on a path of incremental improvement when agility and quick solution delivery is expected,” explains Rick Howard, research director at Gartner. “To demonstrate ‘digital now, digital first’ leadership in government, CIOs must flip their approach to managing IT from the inside-out perspective of legacy constraints to the outside-in view of citizen experience. It’s all about starting with the digital world and what is possible.”
Governments increasingly want to explore this new technology frontier because mounting evidence indicates that when they proactively pursue and promote a new generation of digital-first and data-driven services, like data as a utility, there’s a surge in citizen -- and voter -- satisfaction.
All of this is part of a new global surge of digital government leadership, which incorporates operational data-driven solutions as well as democratic process and governance systems. In technology terms, this means combining and deploying a host of critical, adaptive, effective and lower-cost architectures, platforms, solutions, applications and services – from mobile communications, cloud computing and software-as-a-service to open data, predictive analytics and online voting.
But the key is data as a utility.
If you think about government over the last couple of decades, it has served people well by transforming natural resources into utilities. And data is the next natural resource -- a vital, raw and abundant public asset that can -- and must -- be turned into the fuel for 21st-century growth and goodness.
(Image via nmedia/ Shutterstock.com)