Whiskey, Keys and Software
“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”—P.J. O’Rourke
P.J. O’Rourke may be given to comic absurdism, but he has a point. As the father of two teenage boys (ages 15 and 17), I find the thing about them isn’t just that they drive too fast and take stupid risks. They do. However, they do these things and don’t even talk to you. My older son now communicates almost exclusively via grunts and shrugs. My younger son can disappear for days at a time. My wife and I like to get the family around the dinner table and ask the boys clearly incendiary questions such as, “How was school today?” if only to enjoy exasperated sighs and eye rolls.
Government can be kind of like that. For all the resources, services and valuable data in its possession, actually working with government can be like trying to coax a conversation out of teenagers. Useful information (that you paid for, by the way) is locked up in agency databases or scattered among multiple Web sites and portals. Interaction can be slow, inefficient and painfully unintuitive. Manual processes that could be easily automated just ... aren’t.
A lot of that is changing, though, and you can thank P.J. O’Rourke’s teenage boys for that. The Obama Administration’s Digital Government Strategy initiative aims to end the sullen silence and advocates for streamlined delivery of services, enhanced citizen interaction and greater public access to valuable government data resources. As Steven VanRoekel, federal chief information officer for the Obama Administration, wrote last year on the White House blog:
“At its core, the strategy takes a coordinated, information- and customer-centric approach to changing how the government works and delivers services to the American people. Designing for openness from the start—making open data the default for government IT systems and embracing the use of Web APIs—enables us to more easily deliver information and services through multiple channels, including mobile, and engage the public and America’s entrepreneurs as partners in building a better government.”
The Special Government Issue of MSDN Magazine provides a glimpse at some of the solutions, challenges and opportunities emerging in the government space at the local, regional and national level. Tim Kulp’s “Engage Governments and Communities with Open311,” for instance, shows how a Windows 8.1 application enables citizens to report things such as a misbehaving stoplight or dangerous pothole from a phone or Web browser. Joel Reyes’ “Enhance Citizen Services with Windows Phone 8 Wallet and NFC” describes how a municipal transit authority can use Near Field Communications and Windows Phone Wallet to enable purchases and loyalty program services.
Other articles explore the fast-evolving arena of cloud computing. MSDN Magazine columnists Bruno Terkaly and Ricardo Villalobos focus their Windows Azure Insider column on how government agencies can adopt hybrid cloud networks that comply with privacy, security and other policies. Mark Gayler explores the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network (CKAN), an open source, Web-based data management system that streamlines access to data for organizations, including government entities. His feature shows how developers can use Windows Azure cloud-deployed CKAN services and the Open Data Protocol (OData) to enable delivery of sophisticated cloud-based services and data.
This special issue also looks at areas of growing interest. For example, in Malcolm Hyson’s “Geo-Visualization of Government Data Sources,” he shows how cloud-hosted utilities can leverage publicly available geo-tagged data sources to enable fascinating application scenarios. Frank La Vigne addresses the budgetary challenges facing many government entities, as he describes how sophisticated HTML scraping can serve as a viable (and low-cost) alternative to expensive and complicated service integration schemes.
Greg Bateman is senior director for Acquisition Programs, Policy and Strategy at Microsoft Federal. He urges developers to get up to speed on sites like data.gov and howto.gov, which offer resources and guidance for building applications in the government space. He says developers need to take a thoughtful approach to application development in the government arena.
“Developers should think about all the ways citizens deal with government, at the local, state or federal levels, and how the emergence of cloud, mobile and identity ecosystems like the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange facilitate new valuable apps,” he says.
Bateman advises developers to consider issues such as encryption, public key infrastructure and two-factor authentication, as well as security accreditation reporting required by laws like the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and regulations such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). He expects a sustained surge in government app development focused on mobile platforms.
“There’s great opportunity in the government market,” he says. “Everyone in the country is affected by all levels of government and there are still lots of problems to be solved.”
Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.