A couple days ago in Minneapolis, my co-presenter John Miri (a Senior Fellow at Governing’s Center for Digital Government) threw out a provocative statistic. In one state (which I won’t name), an entrepreneur could have to file up to 35 different permits, applications, or licenses across 14 different agencies to start new restaurant. This is just state agencies. It doesn’t include interactions needed for city, county, or federal regulations. As you might imagine, this can be quite a burden on both small businesses and the agencies themselves to ensure compliance.
I don’t want to suggest it’s a problem unique to the above state. In fact, there has been a fair amount of work done to try and understand how regulation and compliance affects businesses and agencies worldwide.
I’ve written about this elusive word “open” in the past. My point was the word can mean many things depending on context and perspective. I think it has become a widely over used, misused word. That said, I was very happy this morning when Adobe took a shot at providing an explanation of what the word “open” means to the company. Even Adobe’s founders, Chuck Geschke and John Warnock, weighed in with their thoughts on the topic. (Check it out here.)
Putting this into my own words, to Adobe, “open” equates to freedom of choice. It is a spirit that permeates the culture of the company as well as the technologies it creates. Adobe’s definition is not limited to “open source” or “open standards”, but actually supersedes and embraces these ideas into a bigger concept. Does Adobe take the steps to make every single one of its technologies available as open source or push every one of its protocols into the open standards arena? Of course not. However, many of its core technologies HAVE been offered as open source (Flex, AVM+), granted to open standards bodies (PDF is now ISO 32000) or, at the very least, openly published as specifications (SWF, FLV/F4V, RTMP, AMF) for others to use to create new and unforeseen solutions.
And of course, always remember Adobe’s continued commitment to support and participate in the development of open standards.
So, does it really HAVE to be “Open vs. Choice” or should it be “Open = Choice”? The beauty of this is, everyone gets to decide for themselves!
(I thought I’d share this photo I took last week when I visited Meals on Wheels in San Francisco with Executive Director Ashley McCumber. This is a community-based organization that has the mission to provide care to the elderly in San Francisco, including 16,000 meals a week. I thought it was fitting as we think about how we can better achieve agency missions with the use of technology to always keep the mission in mind.)
A while back, longer than I really want to admit (for those of you responsible for your government websites and blogs, I hope you can sympathize), I posted an entry on a survey I did with a couple of hundred government folks that attended a web seminar I presented at. The topic was Customer Service in Government.
I noted I would delve deeper into the analysis behind the survey results. Better late than never, right?
Based on my experience with government agencies, customer service and experience is critical to ensuring that agencies’ achieve their mission, yet it is something often not considered at an technology procurement, design and implementation level.
In a company that has a relatively large portfolio of products and capabilities, it’s quite easy for many people to hone in on one or two products and ignore the rest. Adobe is one such company. I’ve always been very happy to be affiliated with Adobe, if for no other reason, it’s one of the few companies I’ve ever worked for that even my mom knows of!
But, like my mom who associates Adobe only with ‘that software that let’s me read stuff I download from the Internet’, many people have gaps in their knowledge of what the company offers.
One example is in the realm of security. There are quite a few misconceptions out there about how to manage and control digital information. Rather than steal their thunder, I’m going to point you to a recently recorded discussion between John Landwehr (Director of Security Solutions & Strategy) and John B. Harris (a member of John’s team). In this short 8 minute video, John and John talk about a number of capabilities including digital signatures and Digital Rights Management.
Within the more advanced corporate marketing communities, there is an understanding that explaining your service or products in terms of “faster, better, cheaper” leaves you open to direct attack from your competitors. No matter how fast or how much better your offering, it’s only a matter of time until your competition “one ups you”! One saying goes, “There’s no sustainable technical advantage.” Rather than highlight “speeds and feeds”, enlightened organizations focus more on the value of a product or service, described in terms that are familiar and meaningful to the target users.
So, I can already hear you ask yourself, why is this guy talking about marketing techniques in the same post with the National Broadband Plan?? Well, thanks for asking!
A couple of weeks ago, I presented at a seminar on the topic of “Transforming Citizen Interactions with Lessons from Social Media”.
If you weren’t able to make it out, have no fear, you can watch the video above and download a copy of the presentation here.
This particular version of the presentation has some innovative examples from US agencies. I have another version of this presentation with more international examples which I will also share in another post.
P.S. Thanks Heather for holding the video camera for the entire time.
As much as the social media is exciting on the technology front, I think the real impact it has is shifting the way we all think about technology from green screens to an enabler of the interactions we have with family, friends, co-workers and customers. Social media has shown that technology can be the foundation of friendly and easy-to-use applications that allows us to share ideas and information beyond the limitations of time and geographic locations.
The most important point I was trying to raise in this discussion is that although the new social media tools are very exciting, the real opportunity for government agencies is to take the lessons learned from social media and apply them to the core processes in government.
What does it matter if an agency has a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page if it is still hard for its citizens to find critical programs and enroll in them? How do we make enrolling in benefits as easy as it is these days to create and share a video on YouTube?
A case in point is a recent 60 Minutes profile of Veterans Affairs. According to the investigation, the form for applying for benefits is 23 pages long, on average 6 months to get an initial response, and the amount of paperwork generated in a case can span from one to several file-size boxes. How can lessons in social media help to transform this? I would imagine a veteran would hardly care about the VA having a Facebook fan page. Rather, they would want to see easier ways to interact with the VA that was directed to helping them receive eligible benefits faster.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the specific issues highlighted in the 60 Minutes coverage of the benefits backlog at Veteran Affairs. I’ll provide my perspective on how some of these issues may be improved with the pragmatic application of technology and the belief that our veterans deserve better.
I really enjoyed Vivek Kundra’s blog last week ‘They Gave Us The Beatles, We Gave Them Data.gov’ as he welcomed the launch of data.gov.uk. He writes, “It is exciting to see the seeds of openness, accountability, and transparency taking root around the world.” So I thought I’d draw attention to some of my favorite international examples of what happens when public servants, “are dedicated to breaking down long standing barriers between governments and the people they serve.”
The Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research decided that it was unreasonable for a small business to have to interact separately with dozens of different government agencies before it could legally operate. A new hairdressing business had to first seek approval from 27 agencies for jurisdictional registration, insurance, healthcare, signage, and licenses to play music and serve food (i.e coffee.) before it could legally operate. So Australia created business.gov.au to create a single service in the cloud for business to interact with government. The results were both quantitatively and qualitatively impressive. Listen to Anthony Steve talk about it here.
The London Borough of Southwark struggled to deliver housing benefits to people in need in a timely fashion. By providing more elegant user centric tools to open up process and empower public servants to be accountable to those in need, they reduced the time to benefit from 38 days to 1 day. Listen to Dominic Cain talk about it here.
In 2009, people around the world participated in an open dialogue about international policies and priorities unlike ever before. They did so because the U.S. State Department opened up its public diplomacy to a transparent and collaborative process through its Co.nx program. When U.S. officials spoke, people were invited to listen, question and comment without limitation from their geography, nationality or technical skill. If you’d like to join the dialogue, you can do so here and if you’d like to see pictures of the application that made it possible you can do so here.
Of course all of these examples originated before Open Government became the mantra of a new generation of technologically inspired public servants. But they illustrate that promise can become practice very quickly. And as the British Invasion in 1964 marked the official genesis of ten years of musical innovation, so shall the arrival of fully sanctioned Open Government initiatives like data.gov give rise to innovations in public service. It will be an interesting decade.
A new case study has just been published on the use of electronic forms and processes for improving the cancer screening process of Australian citizens.
This case is interesting because the Department of Health and Ageing solution actually uses the shared-services platform provided by the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (ADIISR) available to all federal agencies and built using Adobe LiveCycle ES. Because of this shared-service infrastructure, the Department of Health and Ageing was able to get their solution rolled out quicker and more cost-efficiently.
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
Australian health agency improves cancer screening process, completeness of medical records, and realizes 923% ROI over three years using Adobe LiveCycle ES solutions. You can access the case study here.
When government agencies move services online, they sometimes face the challenge of adoption among citizens. Some citizens just prefer in-person or phone channels. But many citizens may not be aware that they can apply for benefits, file taxes or renew licenses online. Some agencies are getting creative with how they communicate availability of services to citizens.
A great example is the US Social Security Administration.
There are 78 million baby boomers who will soon be eligible for retirement benefits. There are plenty of articles warning us of the financial strain the aging American population will put on our Social Security system. But the lesser covered story is the challenge of enrolling millions of Americans for retirement benefits. SSA officials estimate that 10,000 boomers a day will apply for benefits over the next 20 years. Similar to other agencies who have adopted best practices, applicants can enroll in person, by phone or online – with online being the most cost efficient for the SSA. But many retirees eligible for benefits may never have thought to apply online.