Data demons – reflections from the FutureGov Summit, Malaysia

It was a privilege to be able to chair the FutureGov Summit and the FutureGov Awards, held over three content-rich days in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia last week (October 12-14).

From my point of view, most of the discussions were about five aspects of the “how” of e-government and government ICT – I hope this indicates that the “why” was generally understood by participants. Firstly, the massive increase in data being created, from multiple overlapping databases within government agencies, as well as the huge growth in user-created data from email and social media tools. One speaker suggested that a piece of data is repurposed nine times (on average) in a government agency as it is converted between digital and paper forms. Another suggested that only 30% of government email is part of the government record. No-one I spoke to was surprised by these numbers, and some thought they understated the amount of “noise” in government data. While there was general agreement on the magnitude of the “data deluge”, I was not convinced that anyone has yet found a credible response.

The workforce of the future was the second theme – how do we position government IT as an attractive career option for graduates, how do we build and maintain ICT capabilities (technical and end-user skills), what techniques are most effective for managing and motivating staff, and should the use of social media at work be encouraged or controlled (the attendees I spoke to were split 50/50 on that question). Most countries are concerned about the “brain drain” of talented ICT professionals – where are they all going to? It is clear that the region will experience a significant and enduring skills shortage – both within government and more widely within the IT sector.

Topic number three was the importance of mobile in the future. It is both the big opportunity and the big challenge. How do we support the wide variety of mobile devices used by government officials in their personal lives, in a way that protects the security of government information. How do we use mobile devices to deliver government services to citizens, taking advantage of the massive base of handsets are far more widespread than internet access.

Security is a constant issue for government ICT. The cyber-security risk profile continues to increase, driven by changes in the attacker landscape as well as changes within the government – massive increases in data, more connectivity, more interactive applications, and more mobile devices present many new opportunities to increasingly inventive hackers.

The final theme was consolidation and standardisation of government IT – an idea that was part of a lot of discussions about data centre consolidation and the use of cloud computing. It is too early to say whether consolidation will be an effective response to the first four issues, but the benefits identified include reducing costs, Green IT (improving sustainability and reducing carbon footprint), better use of scarce resources, and higher quality of service and security. In my view, every government should have a plan for reducing the number of data centres (or at the very least ensuring no growth), and a plan for moving applications to a cloud based infrastructure.

Overall, the event was a huge success. The use of interactive discussion tables meant that there was the conversations could be more in-depth, and there were many opportunities to share and learn from each other. I am interested in hearing your view of the Summit – what was successful for you, and what areas you would like to see changed in future.

This posting first appeared on Laurence Millar is FutureGov’s Editor-at-Large, overseeing the direction of the editorial team and contributing to the print and online editions of FutureGov. Prior to joining FutureGov Magazine, Laurence was the Government Chief Information Officer of New Zealand, and Deputy Commissioner of the country’s State Services Commission.

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