Canada’s chief architect: This is the IT we’ll buy

OTTAWA — There are lots of interesting emerging technologies that will probably be commonplace in 2020 – at least in the private sector, said Canada’s chief architect.

Gary Doucet, who spoke Tuesday on a panel on the future share of IT in government at GTEC Week 2006, said technologies such as smart dust — microelectromechanical sensors the size of a grain of sand — digital paper and mashups, or Web applications that seamlessly combine content from more than one source into an integrated experience, are all technologies on today’s horizon.

But, he cautioned, governments are not known for their adoption of bleeding-edge technologies.

Governments can see technology advances, he said. “We’re not immune.” But, he added, “When we talk about technology it’s not good enough to say, ‘I saw such and such piece of technology last week — why aren’t we using it? Things don’t happen that quickly.’”

Of more interest to the public sector, he said, is the issue of managing all the information that will emerge from the deployment of things like smart dust, which will generate data at an incredible rate.

When Doucet came to the public from the private sector, he said, he realized information management is one of its most pressing issues.

“Technology isn’t the only thing you talk about,” he added, speaking about IT in general. “We probably lose more data now in a day than we collect in a year. There’s so much that’s not being managed properly.” 

But if smart dust is not on the government’s IT radar, service-oriented architecture (SOA) is. 

“Things like SOA are going to be hot,” he predicted. “In 20 years we’ll look back and say that was a really good thing.”

He also said enterprise architecture would “move out of the IT ghetto,” and that people will soon embrace its capability as a tool for planning the enterprise. SOA and EA, he said, are the foundation for being able to offer more “joined-up” services with other levels of government, and with the private sector as well.

“So if a citizen moves or has a life event, they get other services,” he said. “I think that’s the predominant theme for us in the coming years.”

David Fuller, senior vice-president, solutions and products, at Telus Corp., said the future face of IT in government will be driven by the millennial generation – today’s15-year-olds. That generation, he said, will demand the ability to work anywhere, on any device at any time. And if government can’t offer that, these workers will take their skills elsewhere, he said. 

There will be fewer workers, he said, referring to an expected skills shortage across most of the Western world, at a time when the demand on government will be greatest.

To provide the working environment the next generation will expect, there will need to be a greater focus on presence awareness in the network, he said. So, for example, if you’re checking your e-mail on your BlackBerry from your cottage, the network will know and send information accordingly.

“Because of the lack of intelligence in today’s network, the application doesn’t understand what type of device you’re using,” he said. “To the application layer everything is an IP address.”

The government of tomorrow will also have to integrate more not just within its own ministries and agencies, but within all the other levels of government as well, he said.

“I think you’ll see increasing situations where government will outtask elements they would have had to build themselves to the private sector,” he said. 

There will also be more information sharing at the data layer between those two groups, he said. For example, a patient could opt in to allow a private sector firm working with hospitals to see lab results.

“The key there is it has to be permission-based, perhaps in the same way I acknowledge I want to delete a file; it won’t allow access unless I give permission.” 

Although privacy remains an issue governments struggle with, it shouldn’t be an obstacle to implementing advances citizens want, he said.

Governments are not hiding behind the issue as an excuse to avoid deploying new technologies, but “I think it’s complicated,” he said. “I don’t think they’re hiding behind it, it’s complicated, so in the absence of a simple answer they’re avoiding it.”

Chris Peirce, chief regulatory officer at MTS Allstream, agreed that the ability to collaborate remotely was one of the biggest trends governments need to embrace, but not just because tomorrow’s IT workers will expect it.

Reducing the requirement to being together physically to work will make teams more efficient and effective. Coupled with that transformation, he said, was the need for better self-serve options for citizens, which can only be done by automating decision-making using business rule information throughout systems.

But governments need to put policies in place to allow this evolution to take place as quickly as possible, he said. For example, telecommunications and computing are still procured separately. That needs to change as organizations move to the converged platforms that enable collaborative computing.

“Government needs to think more about the package.”

The federal government, as the body regulating issues such as competition and foreign ownership, should enact policies that enable greater diversity, Peirce said.

“Think about the number of market players,” he said. “In telecom it’s more a concentrated world, whereas in computing, you have more providers. When you look to technology advances, it teaches us we need diversity. That will get us to quicker innovation. We need to have competition and to ensure our policy and regulatory framework really does spur and facilitate competition in these two industries.”

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