What does 2011 hold for technology in government? This is always hard to predict but we must continually be looking forward, researching the trends, separating the potential break through from the fads, and determining what solid technology in our past is now obsolete. Investments must be sound to maximize the limited, available dollars. As we move forward into 2011, these are some of the things that my research indicates will happen in local government.
The Focus Will be on Cost Saving Technologies and Strategies: Hopefully we have seen the worst of the recession. However; government is expected to feel the effects of it until at least 2015. Budgets based on taxes and growth have suffered; and pressures put on fund balances through increased demands for services have decreased available funds. This has happened across the United States leading to a reemphasized focus on cost saving technologies and strategies.
According to Gartner, three top picks for cost savings will be Virtualization, Cloud Computing and Business Analytics. Virtualization is an obvious way to save money, especially if your organization has not moved in that direction. The savings are significant. We began moving to a virtual environment four years ago and now more than 95% of our servers are virtualized. The savings over the old model is hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and at the same time, provides a far more efficient infrastructure. Cloud computing is the new discussion heard everywhere. The numbers being quoted as savings are impressive, but the true potential is yet to be realized. Regardless, it will definitely be a factor in the government sector, and government should plan for components of the cloud to be part of their overall operation. Business analytics is an area that has gained importance as a result of the recession. Government budgets are tight and leaders are looking at what really works and gives the most returns. Business Intelligence provides quantifiable data to justify decisions. More on these three later…
Partnerships and collaborative agreements between local governments, and even, public private partnerships will become more common. Many of the services provided by government are duplicated across jurisdictions. Through partnerships and collaborative agreements, we can take advantage of quantities of scale to obtain equipment and services at lower cost to the citizens.
Groups like G7 which simply means Group of Seven will become more common. The G7 includes: Hardik Bhatt, CIO of Chicago; Randi Levin, CTO of Los Angeles; Bill Oates, CIO of Boston; Carole Post, Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in New York; Bill Schrier, CTO of Seattle; Bryan Sivak, CTO of the District of Columbia; and Chris Vein, CIO of San Francisco. This group is using their combined strengths to carry out projects and secure services that are common to all of their organizations.
Virtualization Remains in the Spotlight: Virtualization was the No. 1 technology in 2010 according to Gartner and will probably be the top technology again in 2011. As stated earlier, this is a great way to reduce the cost of services. Virtualization makes efficient use of resources by keeping server utilization high and sharing capacity. It requires less human capital to run while providing for increased speed and stability. It is easy to add capacity and to provision additional servers and storage services. Lastly, virtualization allows for a huge reduction in physical boxes resulting in power savings and savings of valuable square footage in the data center.
The Promise of Cloud Computing Becomes More Clear: Cloud computing has been publicized as being able to save organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars while providing superior service. As vendors rush this technology to market there are all flavors of public clouds, community clouds and private clouds. In Computerworld‘s Forecast 2011 survey, respondents said cloud computing is the most overhyped technology, but they also said its No. 2 on the list of technologies with the most promise for 2011. Both are true, cloud computing could save more than virtualization, but there are major questions that need to be answered before local governments embrace it. Some of the biggest questions deal with the legal aspects, where the applications and data will reside, the security and privacy.
Once these questions are answered the cloud’s potential is unlimited. With the huge influx of web-based mobile applications, and the ability to connect enterprise data to tablet computers, smartphones and other mobile devices, the cloud could transform the way local government does business. Unchained from desks and wire connected networks, workers can perform task in near real time and at the point where the service is needed. This also means that software will have to change, and change rapidly, from LAN-connected, proprietary apps to web-based mobile apps that have the ability to interact with many systems.
Business Analytics Will be Called Upon to Justify Expenditures: With budgets being tight in government, every service offered and every purchase approved will be under scrutiny. Marginal, nice to have projects will have to compete with life saving services provided by government. But how will these services be monitored? Business analytics will be called upon to provide better real-time reporting that is targeted at the core business of the department or group being monitored. This will help determine the true return on investment or the true impact of the service. Through better information, organizations will move from reactive to proactive decisions.
As with cloud computing, the software that is currently available for business analytics will also have to change. Expensive proprietary software that interfaces with backend systems will not be the norm. While business analytics are in high demand, funding is in very limited supply. Business analytics software will have to be very affordable, easy to set up and use, and work with the mobile devices currently on the market.
Mobile Computing is Exploding: Gartner estimates that by the end of 2010, 1.2 billion people will carry handsets capable of rich, mobile commerce providing an ideal environment for the convergence of mobility and the Web. Mobile devices are powerful and offer a lot of computing power. Couple this with the thousands of applications that are available and the abundance of bandwidth, these devices becomes like a third hand capable of delivering quality services to the user and to the citizens.
The size of these devices paired with GPS technology, location and motion data, context awareness and internet connectivity, offer local governments two distinct service advantages. First, using these capabilities allows for the development of mobile applications for the public that can empower them to make decisions and interact with government from the field. For example, quick response (QR) codes printed on building permits allows contractors to use smartphones to get immediate inspection results from the site or from anywhere. Location data allows real estate agents to determine, on the spot, who provides services to a particular piece of property. Location based services like Foursquare.com allows government to give out information about nearby events like flu clinics. The potential to deliver information to citizens on a personal basis has never been as high as it is with today’s mobile technology.
The second service advantage comes from government workers in the field using the mobile devices. It will be easy for them to submit data using the devices. Tablets will become the norm for completing inspection reports, law enforcement reports, and collecting data like water and air quality. They will also replace notebooks for connecting back to the network for email and related services. Again the potential is unlimited.
And will mobile continue to change and expand? There were over 30 tablets announced or delivered in 2010. This is paired with new versions of operating systems like Android, Windows Mobile, and of course, the Apple iPad OS. As powerful as they are, smartphones and mobile devices, are still in their infancy. It should be noted that we are eons behind the mobile technology being used in Asian countries. They are using the devices for everything including mobile payments with walk by technology. So what we are seeing today will change tomorrow.
With the Explosion in Mobile Computing Comes Security Concerns: As mobile devices become more common place, organizations will struggle to accommodate these devices while maintaining high standards for data and application security. Security standards for these devices are still evolving and are difficult to enforce since each operating system is unique. Vendors are rushing to get applications to the market, sometimes, sacrificing security for fast delivery. Malicious code, which has not been a problem, is probably being developed for these devices and operating systems. Adding to the frustration is the fact that these devices were designed to connect easily to everything, secure or not. They are small and easy to carry which makes them easy to get lost or stolen. All of this leads to huge security concerns with mobile devices.
Social Media Will Continue to Mature: Social media has become an accepted communication tool in local government. The use of services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn will continue to be used and will grow, but may be questioned about their role in the core business of organizations. Organizations that have tied all of these services together with automatic feeds will be in a better position moving forward. Tools like wikis and blogs offer opportunities to crowd source and obtain opinions and feedback from citizens. Tools like presentation software, mind mapping, and simple word processing have social components allowing people to work together on projects.
In 2010, social media took an unexpected turn and became a new kind of tool. Researchers found that they could mine the data from Facebook and Twitter and come up with valuable trends. Unemployment trends, flu outbreaks, and purchasing habits could all be predicted using the data mined from conversations and status updates. The Red Cross also sponsored a conference on social media and made public the tools that had been used to find and help people during recent incidents. Local governments will find a developing public safety tool in social media.
A Collision of the Cloud, Social Media and e-Discovery is Coming: With the proliferation of the cloud, citizen interaction with social media, and mobile devices everywhere, it is important to understand exactly how they affect structured data, preservation and data proliferation. At this point, there is very little case law to guide organizations. Social media policies are starting to be incorporated into overall organization policies, but the cloud is so new that many of the questions have not even been asked. Therefore, polices probably don’t exist or are just now being developed. This is an area to watch.
Video Comes of Age: Video is not new technology, but its role is changing from static to mobile. Services like Skype have made video conferencing essentially free and an expected form of communication. Video is being incorporated into every aspect of technology from consumer electronics, to the web to social networking, to unified communications, to internet based television. Smartphones deliver media rich content anywhere. The iPhone delivers video conferencing, and services like UStream make it possible to send video from any source to the web. New products like the Cisco Cius will turn your VoIP system into a video phone while giving the user a full tablet experience. Over the next three years, Gartner believes that video will become a commonplace content type and interaction model for most users, and by 2013, more than 25 percent of the content that workers see in a day will be dominated by pictures, video or audio. Local government needs to embrace video, and provide the connections and services that will become the norm.
Context Aware Services: Context aware computing works on the concept of using information about the end user to make suggestions that improve their experience. A contextually aware system anticipates the end user’s needs and proactively serves up the appropriate content and makes suggestions to make the user’s experience better. For example, Amazon tracks the books I purchase and reviews the topics to make suggestions of books related to that topic that I may want to purchase. The GPS function on the smartphone gives restaurant reviews when you search for a restaurant. And FourSquare lets you know if friends are nearby.
So how does this tie to government? For the end user, the service is the same as above. Libraries could track interest and let patrons know when a new book comes in on the same topic. A user searching for school data could be given more than just the location. The system could automatically give information like phone numbers, principal’s name, and paths to the schools performance data. Users searching for their tax bill could be given payment options. Foursquare could deliver nearby park information to users or Health Department information like location and times for flu shots.
Ubiquitous Computing: Very little needs to be said here. Ubiquitous Computing has been projected for many years but we may now be coming close to that realization. Computers are in widespread use in homes, businesses, and organizations. But two factors have added to that, mobile devices, which are computers in their own right, and constant connectivity. People have the options now to connect from anywhere by computer, smartphone, tablet, and even other devices like gaming machines and video receivers. Add to this the monitoring devices that are connected and ubiquitous computing is here. This could prove challenging for local government but the possibilities are also exciting.
The iPad Will Have a Host of Competitors: There is no doubt that the iPad has changed the tablet world. Its success has unleashed a host of competitors hoping for a share of that market. As stated earlier there were more than 30 models introduced in 2010. Most sources project that there are about twenty worth watching. Regardless of how many make it, the tablet form factor, its ease of use, and its ease of connecting to the internet will make it a useful tool for local government. It is one of the many mobile devices mentioned earlier, but it deserves a place of its own considering the impact it has had on the consumer market. Government needs to prepare for this technology from both the citizen’s perspective, and the internal perspective.
What will be the next new technology in 2011? That is yet to be seen. Hopefully, this review of 2010 and looking forward into 2011will help us prepare for, and deliver better services to our citizens.
- Gartner http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1454221