Increasing Reliance on the Internet as Cost-Effective Government Gateway

Gone are the days when the idea of “no wrong door” in terms of citizen access to government services prevailed. There is now enough observed data to declare that there are cost advantages to using the internet over snail mail, and that citizens may even prefer using an electronic medium. The Danish have branded this transformation in thinking “Government 1.5.” While there is no question that the process had to evolve naturally, the overwhelming consensus is that government information is accessed by the public most easily via the internet in a social-media like format.
What does this mean for the future development of government services? As with any process of innovation, once a solid direction is both found and proven to be successful, the process of refinement can begin. Social media, although it has been in existence for roughly a decade, will undoubtedly begin to transform itself according both to user input and to the needs of its biggest advocates. Social media has always been inherently adaptable to the needs of governments because it enables the spread of relatively complex or nuanced information across a very wide group of constituents.
The next wave of development in government information development will undoubtedly center on creating tighter and more efficient information organization and dispersal processes. In other words, the popularity of apps as streamlined and efficient information gathering tools will only increase in importance in helping people locate exactly what they’re looking for in a much shorter timeframe.

However, it is unlikely that any governments will return to the days of slow, cumbersome, and costly information processing methods. The internet remains one of the best tools for information dispersal primarily because it it so changeable. Fixes and tweaks can be made instantaneously, and do not depend on an elongated command structure or decision making process. The internet is designed to relate with any user, at any time, anywhere. That kind of all-inclusive service is simply unprecedented in the history of government services. By continuing to focus on adapting online tools to suit the needs of the users, governments will ultimately save money while increasing their influence.

CIA Looking for Analytics Software

Intriguingly, some of the most intelligent people in the world are still using a Boolean search engine. The CTO of the CIA, Gus Hunt, is currently searching for VCs who are developing analytics technology that can work with the strict security parameters the agency must employ with its mobile devices. In other words, the CIA can’t simply have an “Analyze This” app on a smart phone; the security risks are too high. What they currently use are a series of widgets or mini-apps that can be combined to create analytical tools. However, as an organization, the CIA could do with a technology upgrade.
Obviously, the highly secure nature of the work is the greatest challenge to developing effective analytical tools that can sort through huge data sets and produce meaningful results. That kind of analysis is invaluable in terms of identifying threats to national security. However, if someone with a malicious intent was able to access the same technology and perform the same kind of analysis, the results could be quite disastrous.

This type of security paradox goes against the fundamental nature of most analytics programs, which seek to make it easier for anyone, through inherently intuitive user interfaces, to find the information they need in the fastest time possible. Part of what has made the advances in analytics so successful is the ability to quickly recognize patterns and then present these patterns to users in a graphic format that is far easier to comprehend than endless reams of spreadsheets or arcane technical charts. But once that data is that easy to comprehend, the danger of it falling into enemy hands becomes an enormous problem.

Thus far, the innovations in information management and retrieval have not had to consider security in quite these terms. The idea of creating a complex filter or process that makes it impossible for non-agency members to understand or intercept the information is one that new analytics VCs, especially those that wish to work with the government, may want to consider integrating into their technology in order to remain competitive. While greater transparency in information is vital for the growth of a healthy constituency, there are some forms of information that require a more sensitive handling process.

Thanks to the needs of organizations like the CIA, the world of analytics development will undoubtedly pioneer new methods of labyrinthine information retrieval and comparison in the coming decades.

Open Source, Open Possibilities

Part of the appeal of the open source movement has always been its pure unpredictability. Unlike a traditional corporate entity, open source projects–such as the newly launched Open Data Initiative, which seeks to help start-ups make the most out of freely available government data–seek to pioneer new territory without a focus on profit, at least initially. Although this can sound frightening to an experienced business manager, the truth is that this kind of innovative, pioneering spirit is essential to all business enterprises, especially in our current economic climate. Why is this so?
Any business that continues to put out the same product, year after year, with no discernible improvements or changes, will ultimately be the victim of shrinking revenues and declining market share. This is because in an age of information, competitors will ultimately either start making the same products for less money or simply find a better, more interesting way of delivering the same product to consumers. Innovation should not be confused with being gimmicky or ostentatious. Genuine innovation seeks to deliver an excellent product regardless of current market forces or other competitors.

Because open source is unbounded by traditional notions of business acumen, it can often render surprisingly creative and ultimately profitable techniques for market penetration and expansion. The process takes time, and requires a certain adventuresome spirit on the part of both the people participating in the open source program and the actual managers who are funding it. This is why open source projects often benefit from being part of a larger entity or department, where the pressure to find solutions is not driven by money concerns but rather by a playful drive or curiosity.

Although businesses can thrive for years, or possibly even decades without investing significantly in innovation, ultimately they will pay the price for not anticipating shifts in the market and out-thinking their competition. From a purely financial sense, business can only develop in so many ways. Competitors will eventually think of every pricing structure and financial scheme available to them. The trick is to literally think outside of the box by virtue of having a creative team that isn’t versed in the intricacies of accounting. Open source represents an ethos and a spirit that can’t be analyzed or outfoxed by hardened business associates. It is the best way for business to remain competitive and relevant in the 21st century.

The Importance of Communication in Management

Whether you’re managing a company over three time zones or simply trying to run a meeting with three co-workers, the art of communication is a vital one in management. As managers know, simply stating facts and expecting people to respond to them rarely works. You need to develop a sense of strong morale in addition to creating clearly achievable goals. Holding up vague, oversize goals in an attempt to motivate employees will only make managers look foolish or uninformed. Similarly, a draconian approach (“Do this or ELSE!”) may work in the short-term, but will ultimately drive away talented members of the staff, which causes its own set of problems. So, what is the mark of an excellent communicator?

Managers need to understand both the goals of the company and the motivations of each individual employee before formulating their statements. In a sense, managers must communicate goals by bridging the gap between a larger social goal and a very specific personal one. This can be difficult, especially if the manager knows that a particular employee is interested primarily in personal advancement, not the longer-term fortunes of the company. In many cases, working one-on-one with these personally motivated employees may be the best way to align both their ambition and the company’s needs without adversely impacting either.

The vast majority of employees respond to having their ideas recognized, even if they are not necessarily implemented. The art of communication for management involves occasionally publicly recognizing the contributions of employees before putting forth a new initiative or plan of action. When employees feel that their contributions are being valued, they are more likely to respond positively to a new plan of action, even if the plan of action doesn’t necessarily correspond with their suggestions or ideas. In this case, by publicly acknowledging contributions, a manager is fostering morale and, in the long-term, possibly sowing the seeds of genuinely useful innovation.

Whatever they do, managers must never appear to be condescending or petty. A manager must provide a role model of excellent behavior to employees. A petty or openly insecure manager will only succeed in impeding communication, not encouraging it.

The Unexpected Benefits and Challenges of Consolidation

Data centres used to simply be a place to store data. Vast aisles of servers and other storage devices would hum contentedly all day (although, it should be noted, not always efficiently). Then, the changing global economy demanded resourcefulness. Data centres were pressed to store information with greater efficiency and accountability. As a result, a whole new set of responsibilities became part of the functions a data centre was expected to perform. These include business compliance and energy management. In many ways, a data centre is now the control center of a business, and as such requires greater care and oversight than its previous iteration.

However, this has had some unexpected benefits, both for the centres and the businesses that have come to rely upon them. For one thing, the savings in energy are tremendous. On average, a business can expect to save between 15 to 50% on their energy expenditures, and start to see these returns within a 12-month period. This relatively short turn-around means that companies can invest more money into other areas of their organization while still reaping the full benefits of a professionally managed data centre in a much faster timeframe. In this case, consolidation has shifted some of the burden of management to the centres.

The good news is that the quality of the data and the speed of access remain unaffected by consolidation. Instead, the grouping has enabled centres to find quicker methods of both dissemination and storage. This is excellent news for any companies that plan to expand in the coming years or decades, and are worried about a corresponding ballooning in their outsourcing data costs. If trends are an indicator, the cost to store and manage data will not radically increase but rather remain at a steady, reliable rate. This will enable organizations to expand their efforts while comfortably meeting their budgetary goals, a proposition which can only aid the overall Canadian economy.

In many respects, competitiveness drives innovation. The resulting increase in savings in both energy and management costs proves that making the most of one’s resources can only result in advantages for all. Consolidation is an unexpected driver of economic health and vitality.

Converting “Likes” Into Purchase Power

For anyone who has posted content on a blog or website in hopes of attracting customer participation, the number of “likes” and tweets can vary rather dramatically. One article may receive several thousand likes, while the next barely gets shared at all. What do these numbers mean? More importantly, how can a business or organization owner translate social media sharing into real revenue? The answer is two-fold. One: a single “like” doesn’t necessarily translate into a consistent amount of sales. There’s no scientific formula, as in 1 Like=X Percentage Increase in Sales. However, a consistent response over time to content, whether it is 900 likes or 9 tweets, means that you are developing a fan base. And an enthusiastic base is the key to sustained sales.

So what makes for consistently compelling content? Again, the answer is not cut-and-dried. However, companies can help themselves by using a combination of an enterprise content management system and social media analytics. The key here is to post content and then watch the response. If you get an average of several dozen responses to each post, whether they are tweets, likes, shares, or another metric, you can be fairly certain that you’re developing a fairly reliable base of people who appreciate your product or service. If, on the other hand, your response rate swings wildly from post to post, try to analyze the content of the posts that perform well versus those that do not. Do those posts address a particular topic, or offer advice on a certain topic? Try to analyze what’s working and what’s not, with the understanding that people like to feel as if they are reading something they have not read before. In other words, writing to a strict formula will eventually bore people, but providing articles on certain popular topics will probably attract a consistent readership.

Finally, syncing the content that an organization is working on in-house with the content it is displaying on it website or blog can be incredibly beneficial for both the readers and the generators of that content. Imagine it this way: a company that is willing to show some of its developmental process online can work with customers to create products or services that cater directly to their needs, thus eliminating a lot of guesswork later on in the process. This will build in a consistent customer base, and correspondingly boost sales, a process everyone can “like.”

“Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts”

Collaboration has become one of the hottest business tools of the 21st century. This is no accident. As organizations pool their resources in order to develop more productive and cost-effective ways of doing business, the recurring refrain from executives and employees alike is that when everyone works together, the result is greater than the sum of any organization’s individual parts. Consider Shared Services Canada, which is helping the government get rid of duplicate IT systems and replacing everything with consolidated systems. As an example, Shared Services Canada is attempting to implement a single email system across government departments. Each time the agency works to develop systems that encourage greater collaboration and sharing across organizations, the net increases in innovation and productivity are remarkable.

Fostering a climate of collaboration can be difficult, especially for organizations that have operated with a traditional top-down decision making model for decades. The trick is finding a model that allows executives to remain in control of implementation decisions while creating an environment that allows employees to openly share ideas without fear of being penalized, either socially or fiscally. Technology, especially in the form of enterprise content management systems, has created a forum that is both approachable and amenable to changes. Virtually anyone, regardless of their background, can quickly begin using these business social media tools to contribute their ideas and help solve larger problems.

What is surprising about all of this is the creation of a larger asset, namely a collective intelligence that is customized to the needs of a particular organization. When executives and analysts talk about a process producing a result that is “greater than the sum of its parts,” they are invariably referring to this collective intelligence, which takes it strength from all the members of an organization, yet somehow delivers more than the organization previously did. There is no easy way to explain how this works; it is becoming an accepted fact that it simply does.

The best way to create this collective intelligence is for executives to implement a customized content management system that enables collaboration across all sectors of the organization. It may take a few weeks or months for employees to fully engage with the system, but once they do, the power of the collective intelligence will make any initial investment on the part of the administration well worth the effort.

What Kind of Organization Are You?

Not all organizations are created equally. While many companies measure their success based purely on their bottom line, the truth is that attitudes towards innovation, change, and collaboration can have a huge influence on how successful a company is in the long-term. Broadly speaking, there are four types of organizations when it comes to adopting collaborative software/strategies: Skeptical, Reluctant, Willing and Assertive.

Not surprisingly, each of these types is directly affected by constraints such as money and the amount of time they are willing to invest in a project. A Skeptical organization, for example, may implement a wiki for three to six months and test it among a small group of employees. This type of collaborative environment is limited not only in its scope, but also in its effectiveness. To be worthwhile, collaboration needs to involve a larger pool of people over a highly accessible platform. By refusing to give the project the time and group size it needs, a Skeptical organization manages to fulfill its own gloomy prophecy. A Reluctant organization, meanwhile, is not afraid to give the project sufficient time, but they will starve it of effective resources by keeping the number of participants artificially low. Much like a Skeptical organization, a Reluctant organization will remain mired in ineffective collaborative practices by hindering themselves from the beginning.

A Willing organization is frequently one of the most common types. This organization is primed to invest sufficient resources into the project, but they often find themselves motivated primarily by the need to reap immediate business value. This time constraint can make it difficult to develop a holistic collaboration process that will continue to provide benefits to a company in perpetuity. However, unlike a Skeptical or Reluctant organization, a Willing organization has a much higher chance of success primarily because of their attitude. An Assertive organization, needless to say, is willing to dedicate the resources and time to making collaboration work for them. Assertive organizations will naturally triumph in this arena because they are not attempting to short-change the process; they understand that by investing sufficient time and money into the process, they will ultimately develop a system that will help them continue to generate profits and a company culture of collaboration and innovation.

Any organization should do its best to allocate its resources to becoming at the very least a Willing, if not Assertive, type. The benefits will ultimately outstrip any initial developmental outlay.

The Importance of Content Management in Business

Why is content management so important? Regardless of your political orientation, you have to respect the content management and corresponding data analysis behind the recent U.S. 2012 Obama presidential campaign. By meticulously working through their data and comparing different strategies, keywords, and image displays, the campaign managed to increase not only their donation pool but were also able to motivate more people to vote on Election Day in crucial swing states. This kind of meticulous analysis simply wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of a highly organized content management system.

In business, understanding what strategies are working and what ones aren’t can often make a crucial difference in closing sales and forming new partnerships with vendors. In the past, businesses relied on a looser analytical approach. A single leader or corporate department would determine business strategy based in part on “feelings” or intuition. While the human factor of decision-making is always important, data analysis helps eliminate many educated guesses. It’s also worth noting that until recently, complex content management systems were not fiscally feasible for small and medium-sized organizations. Now, the high ROI that these systems produce means that a business really can’t afford not to have some kind of content management system in place.

The question for an organization, whether it’s a national presidential campaign or a small non-profit, is how much value they place on engaging successfully with their clients and customers. A rigorous content management system allows companies not only to reach out to their markets but also to actively engage with them. Instead of spending enormous amounts of time and money testing out products or strategies that ultimately fail to excite customers, organizations can now cut down on their R&D spending while actually increasing their overall output. A content management system makes it possible to innovate and compete almost regardless of the size of the company. The corresponding data analysis means that companies are no longer at the mercy of the opinions of only one person or group. Instead, they have a sophisticated way of accessing data that can help them dominate their business, market, and even nation.