GPO digital strategy

GPO strategy: Publishing from any source, in any format

In an environment in which most documents are created, transmitted and consumed electronically, the Government Printing Office has released a five-year strategic plan focused on turning the government’s printer into a digital information platform.

“The demand for printed publications has declined while there has been exponential growth in digital requirements,” the plan says. “GPO is transforming its business model to a content-centric model, focusing on managing content for customer and public use today and tomorrow.” This calls for increased use of electronic media.

The direction is not a new one for the 151-year-old GPO, which has been shifting its focus from ink-on-paper toward digital documents for the last 18 years. What is new is the speed and extent of the transformation, said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks.

“Any agency that has lasted as long as we have has had a history of change,” Vance-Cooks said. “The change we are experiencing today is far more rapid than anything we have experienced before.”

The level of sophistication expected by GPO customers is increasing, she said. “We are putting the information into any format that is wanted. We have to make sure that we watch the trends.”

GPO has been making documents and publications available online since 1994, when it created the GPO Access Web site. This was upgraded to the Federal Digital System (FDsys) portal in 2009, which included the ability to digitally sign and authenticate online documents, giving them the status of official records. This is an important element of GPO’s digital document management, Vance-Cooks said.

“Our market niche is authentication,” she said. “That is very important for customers who want the information for legal purposes and for Congress when using it to make decisions.”

Today, FDsys has 680,000 documents online with more than 13 million downloads a month. GPO is partnering with other agencies, including the Library of Congress and the Treasury Department, to make document collections available electronically through FDsys; has agreements with several e-book publishers to make documents available for popular readers; and is developing applications to make information available in formats friendly to mobile devices.

Trends and developments in technology are notoriously difficult to foresee, so GPO must position itself to take advantage of new platforms and functionality as they appear, without becoming tied to legacy formats. The emphasis is on making instantly verifiable data quickly available in a variety of formats, Vance-Cooks said.

One trend she expects to see over the next five years is “more emphasis on integrating data from whatever source and making it available” in any desired format.

The printer also plans to expand production of secure and intelligent documents, such as the electronic passport, which it produces for the State Department, and smart ID cards.

In the near term, GPO expects to develop more mobile apps in 2013 and enable direct interfacing by third parties with FDsys through application programming interfaces (APIs). Acquisition plans through 2017 include:

  • Modernizing legacy applications for business units, including the Automated Procurement System, the Depository Selections Information Management System, Acquisitions Classification and Shipment Information Systems and various sales systems.
  • Replacement of MicroComp, a 30-year old composition system that does not support the Extended Markup Language (XML) data standard.
  • Upgrading the Computerized Maintenance Management System to track infrastructure and equipment maintenance and installation work.
  • Support for digital manufacturing technology for electronic documents.
  • Upgrading physical security systems to include state-of-the-art fire alarm and emergency alert system, DVR-enabled camera systems and biometric access and motion sensors systems to secure production areas.

Plans also call for equipping fleet vehicles with GPS tracking devices and modernization of GPO data centers.

Despite the growing use of electronic documents, GPO has no plans for abandoning ink-on-paper, Vance-Cooks said.

“Based on everything I’ve heard in the industry, print is always going to be here, because we have a number of underserved communities that need tangible print and there are a number of industries that rely on tangible copies,” she said. But print is likely to shift more toward more flexible production technologies such as print on demand and variable printing, in which physical copies of a publication are customized for different users and markets. “Our role is to make sure we strike the right balance.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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