The future of IT in government in 2020: Collaboration, mobility and information management are three key issues

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 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.’”

Management is the issue

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. “IT (in general) probably loses more information now in a day than we collect in a year. There’s so much that’s not being managed properly.”

Doucet later said in an interview smart dust is an extreme example of the trend towards information-intensive technology.

“This particular trend is an example of how keeping up with technology doesn’t simply mean knowing the technology, but rather the impact it has on government business in other ways,” he said. “With steadily increasing information-intensive technology we need agile information management practices. That is why we have IM centres of expertise, IM committees, research activities, and dedicated IM professionals.”

Doucet said he is not sure how this will be used in an government context, but he could foresee its application in the in scientific, agricultural, security, aeronautic and safety fields.

“These are essentially tiny sensors constantly transmitting information about something like location, temperature, pulse rate, etc.,” he said. “The literature says there will be millions of these things everywhere. What will happen to all that sensor data? Is there some way we can create knowledge out of this? I don’t know yet, but we need to constantly keep on top of things like this so we don’t get surprised when this particular information explosion happens.”

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,” Doucet predicted. “In 20 years we’ll look back and say that was a really good thing.”

Doucet told TIG he believes SOA is a key enabler to seamless government delivery. But there are two major advancements that must occur for this to happen fully, he said.

Standards needed for SOA

First, the standards for SOA need to evolve to the point where SOA implementations are interoperable among themselves.

“Right now, there is enough variability in the specs and models that the SOA solutions cannot interoperate effectively,” said Doucet. “The flexibility in SOA is both its strength and its weakness in this case. These standards, by the way, are not just in the deep technical space, they are also in the more business-focused areas of terms and conditions, service level agreements and information standards.”

SOA must also start to be applied to the design of business, he said.

“Governments in Canada have been co-operating on something called Reference Models (the latest iteration of which is the federal government’s Governments of Canada Strategic Reference Model), which we use to define the business of government,” said Doucet. “This allows us to define the parts of a business in consistent language. We need this because the technical standards will give us arbitrary service boundaries. For example, if everyone agrees there are eight services in the program called Accounts Receivable, then the technical implementations should line up with those eight. Then the technical services will be truly executable in different businesses. This is further out but will really bring the most value from SOA.

“I am hoping that by 2020, that we look back and say that was the case.”

EA moving on up

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.

“In 2020, what Canadians will demand as both constituents and employees is a common and ubiquitous experience, whether they are in their office, in their car, on the golf course, or at home,” he said.

“They will want access to the same information, the same functionality and the same user experience any time, anywhere and any way. That is the challenge that a leading edge e-enabled government must rise to.”

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 more 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.”

Embrace collaboration

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.

According to a recent Gartner study, he said, by 2010, 70 per cent of people will spend 10 times more time in the cyber world instead of physical world.

As well, he said, 40 per cent of enterprises will have converged voice and data onto a single network by then, and 80 per cent of enterprises will have implemented unified communications.

Reducing the requirement to being together physically to work will make teams more efficient and effective., he said.

Coupled with that transformation, he said, is 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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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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