Every year about this time I try to predict the technology trends for local government that will influence how we do business in the coming year. This year, I am doing something a little different. I started with an article that covered some of the changes we have seen in the past few years that will define trends for 2012. That article can be found at http://enewsletter.catawbacountync.gov/ITC/?p=224. Using that basis, here are my predictions for 2012.
As we begin 2012 there are major shifts in technology. These shifts determine new devices and services that will be offered and how we interact with them. Dion Hinchcliffe has a great infographic that outlines these shifts in a recent blog, The “Big Five” IT trends of the next half decade: Mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data. A scan of the Internet echoes these themes from services like Gartner and Deloitte. So how and will they impact Government?
Let’s begin with the shift in user experience. Since the 80’s the Graphical User Interface (GUI) has been used everywhere. Program to a mouse and a keyboard and meet the standard. Now with tablet devices and smartphones, everything has moved to touch screens. Give a two year old a tablet and they will interact with it. Touch screens are intuitive, easy to use and are now the standard. Citizens will expect to interact with government using smart devices with touch screens. Programming to meet these demands will be a challenge.
Mobile devices will also move into all areas of government service. Their size and power will make them the perfect tool for providing services in the field. The challenge here will be the software that these agencies use. Providing a virtual machine environment to software using an old GUI will only provide a temporary solution. Software will have to be compatible with and take advantage of the touch interface of mobile devices. Vendors who cannot meet these demands will soon be replaced due to the pressure internal users will exert on the IT departments.
With mobile devices comes face to face video communication. Smartphones, tablets, and computers all have this capability and use of video communication is becoming part of the culture. Today it is primarily used to communicate with family and being incorporated into social networking tools, but as it moves into the mainstream it will become an expectation of government agencies as well.
Another user interface, just coming onto the scene, that has tremendous potential for government is surfaces. Surfaces are large interactive displays, which incorporate multi touch, voice and gesture control, facial recognition, near field communication, quick response codes and other input/output mechanisms. Surfaces could work well in libraries, public buildings like court houses, social services or public health facilities– any area that shares information with the public. They can be built into furniture, walls, or counter tops–basically any flat surface. Planning departments could use this technology to review and edit large digital plans. GIS could use them to edit and display maps. And, the 911 Center consoles could be completely redesigned to use surfaces, replacing the many monitors and input devices that they currently use. Agencies or departments that use big, or multiple, displays could benefit from this new technology.
The second shift is in IT delivery. Currently in government, most IT services are delivered from a data center to a PC residing on a desktop or a notebook that has a certain confined degree of mobility. With the present proliferation of mobile devices and the costs associated with backend services, many have or will move to the cloud.
The cloud was one of the most hyped and misunderstood technologies of 2011 and for the most part, over promised and under delivered. However, it promises unlimited potential for government if used in creative and innovative ways. We will see the cloud mature in 2012 and agencies making informed decisions on how to use it.
As agencies move into a device and O/S agnostic environment that offers a consistent user experience, the cloud will play an integral part. Some applications will be delivered better by on premise deployment, some by the cloud and yet others by a hybrid deployment of the two. In conjunction with mobile devices, cloud technologies will offer more possibilities than ever for delivering services.
And how will these services be delivered? Most will be browser based services or app based services. Internal applications will allow organizations to choose, to a certain extent, which browser or app to program to but applications to the public will have to address a wide range of browsers. Programs for PCs will have to work on the obvious, Internet Explorer but also on Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Mobile programs will have to work with Safari, Opera, Android and Symbian to cover the spectrum. And while browser based will be used extensively, native apps will need to be the preferred method for many applications so that certain tools on the device can be used and maximum speed maintained.
Information and Communication
The third major shift is in information and communication. Let’s jump directly to email. Yes we all use email to communicate and most would say that we cannot live without it. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook states the same thing;” I can’t imagine a life without it.” However, she continues, email “ is probably going away.” She is basing her observation on kids and their preference for texting. But she is not alone, the high tech firm Atos implemented a zero email policy and their employees are using other tools.
I am not ready to say that email will go away in 2012, but I do feel that for email to remain a viable tool for the future, it must change. Out the hundreds of emails received every day, and that is after the spam filter has blocked more than 80% of incoming emails, only a small fraction is of value. Emails that are important and require action are sometimes lost in the unsolicited ones. Time sorting through and deleting them, storage, and processing power all add up to an inefficient system that needs to be revamped.
So what will replace email? Instant messaging and texting have been available for years and many are now using these communications tools. Also, tools provided by social networks like Facebook, Google and LinkedIN are gaining in popularity. The ability to setup groups and collaborate on projects while at the same time maintaining a focused line of communication, make these tools much more efficient than email. While email will continue in 2012, other tools will become more commonplace in government organizations.
The way information and data flow through content and data management systems to web pages is also changing. Web pages are becoming the reference section instead of the place people initially go to get information. Users are now being directed to specific information through links on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Many of the services that once resided on web pages are now being either moved or duplicated on social media sites. This trend will continue in 2012 and we will see more information moved to social media and our communications more reliant on these new tools.
Innovation and Usage
Most organizations have built their technology on an enterprise model. This was the cheapest and most efficient way to deliver technology services to the user. It also gave IT a lot of control over the type of equipment and applications used, and security. In other words, standardization. With the tidal wave of mobile devices, this model is no longer viable. These devices have tremendous potential and employees want to use them. They also are at a price point that employees can afford and may prefer to bring their own.
The “Bring Your Own Device” movement and the proliferation of mobile devices challenges most IT departments but this is the new norm. Standardization now means being able to provide tools and applications that allow for the worker to complete their duties on any platform from the desktop to mobile devices. Software vendors, take note, your interfaces will need to change. Leadership, take note, replacement cycles will change to backend support costs; or from capital to operating expenditures. This will be difficult for some organizations but the pressure from the market will keep this trend moving forward at a rapid pace.
The last trend is the move from individual databases and business intelligence to big data. As the public becomes savvier about using all the data available on the Internet and as organizations look to find every performance gain possible within the existing or shrinking budget, disconnected databases and siloed reports will not be sufficient. The public is going to expect that they can get data from local government in much the same way that they find it with Google, and just as fast. They will expect transactions to be available in real time and that information about those transactions can be connected to other data sources and shared in real time. At the same time, organizations will need to find ways to use the massive amounts of information that they collect, merge it with outside data sources, and be able to make the hard decisions that lead to better services for citizens.
2012 will offer us many new technology challenges but in the words of a friend, “They should not be looked at as a burden to bear but rather, as an excitement to share.” We have some of the best and most exciting technology ever available. The potential for giving the most to our citizens is unlimited. And on that note, maybe the biggest challenge for 2012 will be deciding which of these great technologies fit into our organizations and will bring the most value to our citizens.