Digital disruption on the Potomac

The way the world conducts business and how we live our daily lives is fundamentally changing. Some has termed this change a “digital disruption wave.” Consider the following passage from Tom Goodwin — variations of which have gone viral on social media — that encapsulates this phenomenon:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

How does this private-sector digital disruption potentially translate to federal government sectors like health, security, education, transportation, agriculture, energy, etc.? There are recent initiatives (among others) that comprise government’s transition to digital citizen services: Open Data, Smart Cities and the Opportunity Project.

{mosads}According to a Forrester report from 2014, “Social and mobile technologies have recast citizens’ expectations for service, and improved data collection and analysis, coupled with innovative thinking, allow governments to deliver new and more appropriate programs and contacts.” A first step in improving the collection and analysis is via the government’s Open Data initiative.

Open Data Initiative: On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed an executive order making open and machine-readable data the new default for government information, taking historic steps to make government-held data more accessible to the public and to entrepreneurs while appropriately safeguarding sensitive information and rigorously protecting privacy. To build on this landmark effort to open up data across government, the administration has also launched — through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) — several Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the health, energy, education, finance, public safety and global development sectors.

The Open Data 500 study conducted by the Governance Lab at New York University found that there are in excess of 500 companies that use open government data to fuel innovative businesses in agriculture, finance, energy, education, healthcare and many other sectors of the economy. 

Smart Cities Initiative: A second element impacting digital disruption in government is that of Smart Cities. Last year, the administration announced a new Smart Cities Initiative, investing over $160 million in federal research while leveraging more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate and improving the delivery of city services. The new initiative is part of an overall commitment to target federal resources to meet local needs and support community-led solutions.

Recently, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a Smart City Challenge to create a fully integrated, first-of-its-kind city that uses data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move in the future. The winning city will be awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation (funding subject to future appropriations) to implement bold, data-driven ideas by making transportation safer, easier and more reliable. This is the first of what are sure to be several other federal agency Smart City Challenges.

Opportunity Project: A third element of the federal digital focus is the Opportunity Project, announced by the White House on March 7, 2016. The initiative puts data and tools in the hands of civic leaders, community organizations and families to help them navigate information about critical resources such as access to jobs, housing, transportation, schools and other neighborhood amenities. This project is a new way for the federal government to collaborate with local leaders, technologists and community members to use data and technology to strengthen their communities.

The digital disruption that is taking place on the Potomac can be scalable, replicable and sustainable. The key will be public-private cooperation and the sharing of best practices and lessons learned. As Goodwin’s aforementioned quote conveys, the private sector can be a model for adaptation as the government fundamentally changes its means and methods on how to best serve citizen shareholders. The digital disruption wave is just the beginning.

Brooks serves as the vice president for government relations and marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also vice chairman of CompTIA’s New and Emerging Technologies Committee. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn.

Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association’s New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA’s federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.

Tags Anthony Foxx Department of Transportation digital disruption

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