In a Digital Society, government acts as a platform

In February this year, the World Economic Forum wrote “…in a digital society, governments should innovate with the best of them”; they also introduced the term “platform society”. Later, in November another article called for governments “…to take the initiative, helping companies with the upfront costs of resetting production systems and rethinking how we build cities and move goods and people around”. The role of innovation by governments is often overlooked (its easy to forget that the Internet, GPS and GSM emerged from government funded programs).

On how Governments can innovate with businesses: I believe there must be a deeper understanding of the nature and role of government; federal, regional and local. In my opinion, government’s primary value contribution is in creating a safe environment for its people and a level playing field for businesses to create products and services. In this capacity, government are regulators and business developers and service providers (or governmental businesses providing services that parliament has deemed essential for society). These multiple roles can complicate government’s collaboration with non-governmental businesses.

From a technology platform perspective, the generative nature of platforms seem to offer solutions that address the multiple roles mentioned above. In our paper Government as a platform, our closing sections issues a call to discuss the nature of Digital Commons – cross-sectoral digital commons and sectoral digital commons. I sense that Public Service Platforms can serve as multi-sided platforms that generate other platforms; ultimately creating ecosystems that can serve a digital society transparently and equitably.

Much needs to be done, much needs to be understood and disseminated. The future is exciting.

To be continued…

PS! I do hope that we can shift the narrative to value creation and tone down the hype of digitalisation.

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“One foot in today and one foot in tomorrow”

Our digital society will be formed by the collaborative efforts from many actors. Starting from the politicians who create the conditions for value-creation in society as per the peoples expectation (elections); the civil service who ensure that political priorities are implemented; business associations that drive their members business and employer agendas; employee organisations that drive their members’ agendas.

However, the best driver will always be the needs and intentions seen from the eyes of the consumer – i.e. citizen/customer – and how businesses respond to these needs. And how public service agencies encourage and support businesses in their quest to provide valuable products and services to consumers.

This week there was quite a flurry of activities related to digitalization in Norway; starting on the 25th April with the Digital North ministerial conference among the Nordic and Baltic states. This conference culminated in the Digital Frontrunner declaration signed by the ministers in the 9 countries that make up the region.

Today (28th April) a consortium of actors from the Health industry presented their findings about state of the market – the size and activities in neighbouring Nordic countries at NHO seminar (see agenda). The report has interesting numbers (see the full report here – Norwegian text). Also, today, IKT-Norge presented digitalization requirements (Norwegian text) to the Prime Minster Erna Solberg.

There seems to be some movement in the right direction, but then again – this is election year. Ultimately, there must be financial resources to drive these visions and change the status quo. And while there is work being done – there is still a lot that needs to be done; its’ still 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. Or as Linus Torvalds says Shut up and get the work done.

PS! My own contribution this week was to talk to the enterprise architecture community at the annual ARK conference – theme “Architecture that supports Digitalization – about “Innovation in the Public Sector”

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The rise of Robotic Journalism.

This article about The Washington Post’s use of robots to generate news items during the ongoing Olympics is interesting (Axel Winter, thanks for sharing). I find it interesting for two reasons i) the evolution of content management technology and ii) the implications for societies in an increasingly post-factual world.

The advances in technology are remarkable and exciting as we continue our evolution to a digital society. (I recall the early days of ‘story servers’ in Vignette and advanced capabilities of Dynamo and Broadvision). I wish technology adoption could go even faster (Espen Andersen writes well on the slow progress in digitalisation). However I’m not going to elaborate on the technology other than restate my mantra that “So far IT has been mainly about the T and less about the I”.

The implications are more severe than I earlier blogged about (on the need for more Critical Thinking and a world of Robotic Journalism). The rise of agnotology as witnessed by Brexit, the popularity of Trump and rise of tyrants seem to point to the need for more transparency that ultimately builds trust ..that is if we are ever going to progress the ideals of democracy, inclusion and self-governance. In a digital era this means digital trust.

I believe that digital trust is not possible without impartial actors playing the roles of mediator, fact-checker and regulator. Algorithmic regulation in platforms is therefore not just a nice-to-have but a must-have requirement for societies seeking to harness the power of digitalisation. This serves an exciting challenge to technology companies, professional associations and public service agencies to collaborate. To collaborate towards creating an environment and culture that creates value for all members of society; not just the elite.

Failure to drive digital trust will most likely make the information revolution a violent revolution. As this article claims, history may not be on our side, so we need to work hard and fast.

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Digital Society … 10 years on

On 23rd May 2006 I shared my thoughts around the notion of “Digital Society” at a First Tuesday meeting. I pitched the idea of “Norway as a test bed” for digital services. And then in 2007 I pitched for “Digital Modernization”.

I had a fuzzy idea of what Digital Society was when I started this blog in 2004; I knew what it was not: it was not about IT; it was not about the Digital Home. It was not digital in the home but about connecting homes. “Connected homes = Society”

And now more than ever, I am convinced that so far IT has been primarily about “T” and less about “I”. Further, “IT” are only two letters of “DIGITAL”. Time to go beyond the technology. So there!

I do not blog as often as I once did – that’s because I decided to “do” and not “think”. I believe that we have a lot of “think tanks” – not not enough of “think-and-do tanks”.

Doing stuff I have since had the pleasure of being part of projects that have both influenced my thinking and hopefully also benefited from my thinking. Like participating in Norway’s national projects; which have taught me a lot – large scale innovation and technology delivery at scale. BTW, “Norwegian scale” is different – while some consider scale to be volumes; I like to think of scale in terms of “depth and connectedness in designing services”. I have the pleasure of serving on the board of the Norwegian Computer Society and help shape the national strategy – transforming DND to be a network of networks. Playing a small part in starting the Lær Kidsa Koding movement and then running a “coding in school” program for two schools has been rewarding and humbling. Helping shape and scale the Innovation@altinn program is both challenging and satisfying at the same time. Helping shape and drive activity at the C3 Centre for Connected Care is one of the many projects being run in parallel. My first academic paper on the topic of “Goverment as a platform” became a reality last year.

Going analogue So it was only fitting that on the 10th anniversary of my Digital Society post, I signed up to the board of a community network in my neighbourhood – Linderud Arrangementer. Going from Digital to Analogue will be exciting and will hopefully teach me more about being Digital.

Hopefully the next 10 years will go just as fast ….

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Consumers adapt faster than enterprises would like to believe

Consumers adapt to digital faster than one would imagine. Its happening slowly or fast depending on ones’ perspective. This Wired post captures the essence of our digital society. http://www.wired.com/2014/12/google-maps-ground-truth 

Since the ’90s we’ve gone from glove boxes stuffed with paper maps to floorboards littered with Mapquest printouts to mindlessly obeying Siri or her nameless Google counterpart

However, it appears that seeing the world through the eyes of a consumer seems to be a challenge. This is despite the fact that decision makers – commercial or public service enterprises – are consumers.

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The Industrial internet and platform-thinking

This conversation is probably one of the best I’ve listened to in a long time. It provides a nice context to understand the notions of the Cloud, Big Data, Internet of Things, Bring-your-own-device and mobility. These buzzwords come to life when they are matched by business moves by the likes of GE.

Marc Andreessen’s Wall Street Journal article

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Government as a platform – hype or real?

The Gov 2.0 Expo last month provided a wealth of knowledge about how governments can actually be transformed to serve as platforms. What I found interesting about the Expo — I was not present, just following from a distance – was this sense of a huge social experiment under way. An experiment that has global implications. A lot of the themes presented were very inspiring, like Think Tank from the Expert Labs. Palantir is an interesting “information infrastructure” technology demonstrating the power of open data (data.gov and similar national data infrastructures).

These infrastructures and the apps that they are driving ought to get us rethinking how our societies function. O’Reilly says the Web 2.0 is not the redesign of the web, but stripping down the web to its essential core, similarly so for Government 2.0. Read and comment Tim O’Reilly’s book Government as a platform. My comments hovered around Society 2.0 — not a redesign of society, but getting back to basics for a more engaging and participative society.

From Expo, I found Tim’s conversation with Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra very interesting. It’s not that the views or ideas are so very radical or innovative. It’s the fact that they are executing to a vision. A vision built on the potential of mass collaboration, tranparency and participation. The core of this vision in driven by something called the Open Government Directive. Simple stuff, not rocket science — what impresses me is the execution — and potentially world changing. Ten years from now we will be wondering how we functioned as a society without transparency, collaboration and participation.

See this very rich review of Expo.

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Citizen-centered apps

The wave of making public data available continues as more countries adopt the model set by the US data.gov initiative – latest is the UK government’s data.gov.uk. Expectedly, it did not take long before sectors like transportation and law identified areas to apply the data sources and build apps.

And now it appears that “data openness” has hit health care – see this post and here come the healthcare apps. With infrastructures like Healthvault and Google Health in place, one can expect the uptake to be faster and deeper. Solutions to meet privacy concerns still remain to be established globally, but I believe that once the utility of the service increases, so will security and privacy. Looks like the bottom-up consumer-centric apps design I had hoped are on the horizon. Time will tell….

In the meantime, check this site

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Social media and healthcare

This weekend Aftenposten carried different stories around the cost of healthcare (for eg here and here – Norwegian texts). The technocrats and the bureaucrats will haggle about numbers and details while politicians extol the virtues of their party programs — or more likely downplay the programs of rivals.

This dance is pretty obvious for most citizens, however, the voice of the citizen is absent in this discussion on the cost of healthcare and what we should be doing about it. I hope this is not for long and that the debate on cost of healthcare can be channelled inclusively and constructively to produce some creative solutions.

Last autumn in an article in a Norwegian trade journal, I talked about patient-driven self-service site Patientslikeme.com. Yesterday, the Aftenposten carried an article on a patient with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) around the rising cost of healthcare. The individual interviewed described how ALS had almost destroyed his life but that state-financed healthcare made it possible for him to lead a meaningful life. The story behind Patientslikeme.com also has a link to ALS. Same conditions but different solutions.

I was struck by how in Norway, the state takes care of ALS-patients — at a pretty high cost. In the US, beyond health insurance, there are mechanisms that catalyze innovation. It is useless pitching one system against the other since I’m concerned about finding how state-financed healthcare (in Norway) can drive innovation. I think a first step is in sensitizing people to the notion that resources (healthcare included) are limited and we all need to be active in finding solutions. Something like where the state can serve as a platform and that cultivates creative services.

I believe social media solutions have an important role to play – not as a technology in itself, but as a catalyst to socialize the ideas and complexities of healthcare for ordinary citizens. To raise awareness and then to get them to take a more participative, co-production role in health care services and to be part of the solutions. Utlimately helping drive inefficiencies out of the system and lowering the cost of healthcare.

In that respect it is good to see that the magazine of the Norwegian Medical Association carried an article on the role of social media in healthcare Tidskrift. I consider it a simple but significant start.

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From consumer-citizen to participant

Just as the global economy is making its recovery from the global financial crisis, we have the Euro-crisis on our hands. And adding to the excitement, the volcanic ash continues making business difficult for many industries on the continent. One can argue that the volcanic activity is unpredictable — not so the financial crises. They are symptoms of society going into group-think and freely swallowing what is dished out by politicians and spin doctors. The Euro-crisis – PIIGS crisis is probably more appropriate — was caused by the nations disregarding established guidelines set by the EU for managing debt and public spending.

If the US-led financial meltdown was attributed to “capitalism gone crazy”, then the PIIGS crisis must be “socialism gone crazy”. On the face of it, the answer in both cases seems to be stricter enforcement of the law for all including politicians! It is only reasonable to expect that players who have agreed on the ground rules stick to them. Or risk being expelled from the game. Yeah? by who? Maybe we should learn to govern overselves better – by participating. See my previous posts (here and here) where I commented the excellent film “Us Now”.

I am not an economics expert, but these events are a cue for citizens to get more involved in how their lives are affected. Is there another option? Admittedly, getting involved is easier said than done – the time crunch, information-overload and complexity is challenging (my reflections here). We must ask for more participation and we need to start participating whereever possible.

The PIIGS crisis is driving austerity measures that threaten the stability of the welfare state. A welfare state reaching newer heights with expenses needed to serve a demanding population that is also living longer. Raising taxes is not going to help! We as citizens need to take more responsibility; we need to participate …. we need learn how to co-produce services. Government agencies regarding citizens as “customers” is misleading and hollow and sets false expectations – there is no 1:1 equivalence between the tax one pays and services received. We are better off if we get rid of the notion of “customer” in public services and focus on including the citizen in the design and delivery of services. Savvy commercial businesses are already advocating customer participation – and are going beyond self-service. Hopefully, the public sector agencies will create their own brand of participation.

But first, politicians and bureaucrats need to truly understand this fundamental shift of citizen participation. They must provide for the trust-infrastructure that encourages participation and drives transparency. Yep, more participatory democracy and less representative democracy.

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