Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Larry Bowden, Vice President, Web Experience Software, IBM

Larry Bowden, Vice President, Web Experience Software, IBM

By Larry Bowden

 When people talk about “social” adoption, the conversation usually doesn’t shift to government. But maybe it should.

 Today a growing number of cities and counties are embracing social technologies to create “Smart Communities.” According to the World Foundation for Smart Communities, these are communities that make a “conscious effort to use information technology to transform life and work within a region in significant and fundamental, rather than incremental, ways. This transformation is beneficial to the community and attracts local participation and cooperation among community groups, government, business and education.”

 At its core, a Smarter Community has the ability to deliver exceptional “citizen experiences” and services – something the City of Windsor, and the County of Essex, Ontario, are doing right now.

For more than 10 years, the Center for Smart Community Innovation at Canada’s University of Windsor has been working on a Smart Community initiative involving those entities to provide citizens accurate information about all of the services within the region. Through social networking, the city and county now provide a single access point that connects citizens and organizations with detailed information about available services, matters of interest in the region, and guidance for citizen interactions and community projects. As a result of creating a more connected community, the Windsor-Essex region was designated as one of the “Top Seven Most Intelligent Communities” in the world by the New York-based think tank, the Intelligent Community Forum.

SP Power to the People May 2013

Across the globe, the Government of National Capital Territory, Delhi (GNCTD) was also interested in creating stronger, more consistent links with its citizens. With 180 departments, many of which had websites that were either hosted by the NationalInformaticsCenter or a third-party vendor, GNCTD struggled to keep the sites – and its information – up-to-date. In fact, some websites went without updates for as long four years. The stale data was a constant source of frustration for citizens who often were trying to find necessary information.

Through the creation of new social media solutions, GNCTD was able to unify all of its sites into a single portal for improved accessibility. In addition, the organization gave each department access to its own website and the ability to make updates to their content easily and quickly, without having to master any specific technical skills, such as HTML. Through these efforts, visits to the government portal nearly doubled within six months, while the cost and time for website development and maintenance decreased substantially. At the same time the Delhi Government was able to leverage the new social environment to create and deploy new programs and services cost-effectively.

As each day passes, more government entities are plugging into social technologies to help ensure exceptional experiences for their citizens. The explosion of information, increasing usage of mobile devices and the cultural shift towards social networking and analytics has citizens looking for – and expecting –exceptional web experiences and services.

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Posted by: Fatima Doig
May 24, 2013
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@Louis Richardson, thank you very much for your reply and your interest in open-source software.

What I meant with my comment is that the use of proprietary software by public administrations does not give the citizen the rights to adapt those tools for their own needs. We have been struggling in too many countries with applications built to let the citizen interact with the different governments which only worked on Windows, for instance. The problem with proprietary software is that these applications will take years to be able to run on other platforms, just because you have to wait for the governmental institutions to build the different versions instead of building them yourself or letting the community do it. Were the software tools free (as in ‘freedom’), sooner than later the tools for other platforms would be available.

My defense is that of the free software, not merely open-source software, because the latter can be used to build proprietary software and the problem is still there.

Thank you for your interest in our comments.

Posted by: Friction-Free Democracy
May 16, 2013
3:36 am

@Friction-Free Democracy – Thank your for sharing your perception. I have the pleasure of serving with IBM and like you, I am also a fan and supporter of open source solutions. And I’m sure you are also aware IBM is also a major supporter of open source options. We’ve developed, donated and have supported open source efforts because open source plays an important role in computing solutions. I appreciate your recognition of IBM as a business. We are able to maintain a large research and development staff because we retain a successful business which includes hardware, software and services. Governments and Public Sector organizations are right to support open source options, but they are equally correct to support commercial solutions that result in efficiencies and improvements in the services they provide. And these commercial solutions are often provided by organizations, like IBM, who invest significant resources and attention to helping these governments address the problems of their constituents. I have the privilege of meeting with government agencies on the topic of Social Business and I’m proud that IBM is one of the major supporters of the “Open Social” standard that allows the interchange of social ideas and information. It’s a balance and it would benefit all of us if more companies, like IBM, supported and invested in open standards.

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Posted by: Ranka
May 7, 2013
12:24 pm

Hi Mr Bowden,

Good post; thank you for sharing.

The Smart Community initiative is, ehem, smart, because it aims, at least on paper and at least in the future, to provide with tools. Internet social networks as they are now, both designed and used, are very limited for the job.

However, I can see an important setback here, in the form of the use of proprietary software to build these tools. I have been doing some research on the use of software by governments and administrations, and it has shocked me that some local, regional and national governments that boast on leading open-government initiatives, citizenship involvement, etc. use proprietary software for their various activities (including the above mentioned; is running on a Windows Server with Microsoft IIS using ASP.NET). Of course, there are some outstanding exceptions, like Extremadura (a region of Spain), the government of which uses and promotes the use of LinEx, a GNU/Linux-based OS.

Of course, you work for IBM and maybe it is in your job description to encourage the use of proprietary software; maybe not. In any case, IBM is a company and not a public organization in a governmental sense, so it is perfectly in IBM’s right to defend proprietary software. But it is not so with governments, who should be the champions of free software by definition (at least if they are going to use openness in their electoral campaigns).

This is my perception, but I would like to know what you think on this matter or if you can help me further define these arguments with your insight.

Thank you.

Posted by: Friction-Free Democracy
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