Government Tech Trends to Watch in 2013

One of the reasons I enjoy this time of year, aside from perfecting Sticky Toffee Pudding recipes (seriously, you should try this one…), is the annual technology prediction discussions for the upcoming year. While I don’t pay attention to every single technology prediction made (usually by companies trying to sell me something) the “Technology Forecast 2013: What State and Local Government Technology Officials Can Expect” webinar by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and the Public Technology Institute (PTI) on December 19th 2012 caught my eye.

In the hour-long presentation NASCIO and PTI covered the top ten priorities for State/County CIO’s as well as City and County technology leaders, I will summarize below:

State CIO:

  • Consolidation and Optimization
  • Cloud Services
  • Security
  • Mobile/Mobility Support (BYOD)
  • Budget and Cost Control
  • Shared Services
  • Health Care (Act implementation)
  • Legacy/Modernization (of systems)
  • Interoperable Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network
  • Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

City and County:

  • Big data to drive smart and intelligent cities
  • Consolidation (infrastructure)
  • GIS as the centerpiece for strategic decision-making
  • Mobility and Broadband deployment
  • Cyber and Network Security
  • Cloud-Based Solutions
  • Legacy/Modernization (of systems)
  • Unified Citizen Engagement (311, Social)
  • Consumerization of Technology (BYOD)
  • Shared Services (within and cross jurisdiction)

For State CIOs the priorities and focus are an extension of the priorities and focus of last year (largely because these are mega-trends and will likely take many years to fully realize). Many a blog post could be written analyzing and critiquing the content presented during the webinar however, the areas I’d like to focus on are at the City and County level, specifically Big Data, GIS, and Consumerization of Technology.

In my opinion, the technology climate for local government is positioning itself for a major breakthrough with citizens and stakeholders in the coming years. Potential breakthroughs are supported, both by industry experts, and by what I have witnessed in my own community and, by extension, through the work I do with GovDelivery. The fuel for this change is beginning to be realized at the local level.

Local governments can expect a much brighter budget picture this year than in previous years. 68% of City and County officials polled see IT as an investment for saving money (NASCIO/PTI). With these raw ingredients the recipe for a local population that contributes and interacts with government is beginning to emerge.

Big DataLet’s start with Big Data. Everywhere you look (at least in technology news) the term Big Data abounds. “Do you have a big data strategy?” is on the minds of technology leaders at all levels. Indeed the term or concept of “Big Data” has become the “Cloud” of yesteryear as everyone who is anyone is positioning to ride the next wave of technology trends. That said, at the local level, the opportunity to really capitalize on big data is more real than it might seem at first glance.

During the webinar Alan Shark (Director – PTI) posits that Big Data needs to be more than “just sensors” and has the opportunity to analyze more than sensor-type data to drive more efficient, smarter cities. In addition, it supports the open data and transparency movements, thereby encouraging the small but growing interest in using public information to drive decision making (within apps, GIS, Mobile, etc).

I think we can all imagine a future where at the touch of a few buttons citizens can see on a map crime hotspots, aggregated traffic stops, vehicle crash aggregates, snow plow routes, age of road and number of service requests, and school distract/enrollment maps just to name a few. With this information the city and its citizens can understand where crime prevention efforts should be focused, where additional stop signs or traffic awareness programs could be deployed, and so on.

I’m beginning to call this concept “Big Data Distilled”. The power is not just in the data (hence Alan’s comments about not focusing on sensors) rather it’s in how that data can be used, mashed up, and exposed to people who can act on it in a meaningful way.

In my opinion GIS and Big Data will forever be entwined in the context of this conversation. GIS is the “where to the what”. When we start talking local government, the question of where is just as, if not more important to all parties involved. For the layman, all of the above ideas visualized on a map.

TechnologyThat said, the usability gap between GIS systems and the ability to present actionable information still has a ways to go before mainstream adoption. In the mean-time, consumer focused mapping tools (think Google maps, MapQuest, yahoo maps, etc) continue to fill the LG2G/LG2C technology gap on the visualization side. These technologies will naturally converge over time largely due to the next topic I’d like to comment on “Consumerization of Technology”.

The one topic in the webinar that created a strong reaction in me was the brief discussion on consumerization of technology. While the focus of the conversation was on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and even a prediction of the downfall of iPad in favor of Microsoft Surface, I felt that the presenters missed a great opportunity.

True, BYOD is an important movement in government for many reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. But, I feel that consumerization of technology, BYOD, and other related topics focus too much on the tactics and not enough on the strategy.

For government, the strategy here should be placed on the consumerization of services delivered. With proper focus the technology needs, trends, and budget will follow. I believe this because whether one chooses to agree or not, the facts show that the population is already an expert on service expectations. We already have expectations set by our banks (I can deposit a check now without visiting a branch), restaurants through OpenTable, review services like Yelp, e-tailers and retailers, and the social tools we already use like Facebook and twitter. While we’ve all had good and bad experiences with all of these services, by comparison our local government rarely competes. My prediction over the coming year or two is that the populace will no longer be wondering if government should raise its game in this regard but will begin to expect that government already has.

In conclusion the webinar by NASCIO and PTI did a fine job of laying out the concerns and priorities for State and Local government for the coming year(s).

There aren’t any huge surprises in these lists and it’s nice to see budgets recovering somewhat, for a change, at the local level as recognition that technology investments can save and generate budget dollars. I do think that local government has a shining opportunity to invest in ways to “consumerize” the government experience for its citizens and stakeholders.

On the heels of the biggest snowfall of the year here in Minnesota, I’d jump at the chance to write a review on the excellent job our neighborhood snow plow guy or gal did and schedule him/her to come back and salt the nasty ice patch at the end of our street the next day!

By Brent Kastner, Chief Technology Officer, GovDelivery | @brentkastner

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