Behind the plan are all the pieces for a robust, 21st-century platform.
On May 23, the Obama administration released its new digital government strategy, titled “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” a plan for increasing the information and services available to citizens.
Longtime readers of this column will know that I am sparing with my praise and often mete it out in measured and sometimes mitigated dosages. In this case, I have nothing but high praise for this new strategy.
The framework of the strategy is based on a foundational conceptual model, three objectives, four principles, and a set of concrete milestones.
The conceptual model divides a digital service into three layers: an information layer, platform layer and a presentation layer. This three-layer approach is a restatement of the “information MVC” concept presented in my book “Information As Product,” (IAP) which leverages the popular Model-View-Controller pattern for information design. Information MVC establishes a clean separation between the data model, the data processing (via services acting as controllers on the model) and the views or visual presentation of the data. MVC is a longstanding and extremely successful architectural pattern used in software development.
The four principles are an information-centric approach, a shared-platform approach, a customer-centric approach, and a platform for security and privacy. The information-centric approach decouples information from its presentation and firmly establishes a sound foundation to a digital government platform. It leverages proven principles for information management that I have discussed many times in previous articles, including metadata tagging, XML, taxonomies and standards. The Office of Management and Budget has been charged with crafting a detailed “Open Data, Content and Web APIs” policy within six months to create a “new default” for new systems development.
The shared-platform approach is geared toward developing and cross-fertilizing expertise in the development of Web APIs and mobile applications. To enact this, the General Services Administration will establish a Digital Services Innovation Center and OMB will establish a Digital Services Advisory Group. The shared-platform approach leverages interagency collaboration to accelerate the move to digital services. If done right, this will dovetail well with a platform-as-a-service cloud computing strategy.
The customer-centric approach is also a restatement of the Four C’s of information production (from IAP), which are consumer-centric, content, catalog and context. The objective of a customer- (or consumer-) centric approach shifts the focus from the producers to the consumers (in this case, citizens). In other words, allow a focus on customer usability to drive the production process. Analogous to the Toyota production process, this shifts the paradigm of information delivery from being push-based to pull-based.
The strategy calls for the analysis of customer “Top Tasks,” which are the things “customers most often try to accomplish when accessing an organization’s services.” This focus on customer use and usability is a significant and welcome change that may finally break down stovepipes. For example, customers don’t care about organizational boundaries when searching for answers or performing a specific task — their focus is the task and not government bureaucracy of overlapping organizations.
Lastly, security and privacy protections are a key part of context development for the information foundation and the digital services. Nowhere is this context development more important than in our emerging cloud architectures. Additionally, the strategy calls out for the development of these safeguards for mobile devices and tasks the Homeland Security and Defense departments and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a governmentwide mobile and wireless security baseline within 12 months.
Overall, this new digital services platform leverages solid architectural principles and information management best practices into a leading-edge strategy to enable the delivery of information and services “anytime, anywhere and on any device.” That is a logical extrapolation of delivering the “right information, to the right person, at the right time” to a changing technology landscape driven by cloud computing and mobile devices.
Kudos to the White House for launching a promising new strategy for building a robust, 21st century digital information and services platform!