Public Sector: With Freedom Of Information, Comes Great Responsibility

Freedom Of Information

When you think back five years ago, a mandate to overhaul the infrastructure of an entire branch of the government would have sent shivers through the CIOs of government agencies. The cost of such a mandate would be significant with new technology investments, maintenance costs, licensing fees, consulting costs, etc.

The same mandate would have had proprietary software vendors and sales teams smiling with the potential to make large revenues for their companies. Today, there is a very different technology landscape with the rise of cloud technology offering enterprise class functionality at a fraction of the cost.

In the public sector no one questions that freedom of information increases accountability, informed public participation and greater collaboration. But what happens if one government agency uses a different format to access information than another or if a citizen cannot access government information?

The result can lead to uninformed decision making by government officials and a lack of participation by citizens. To have the desired effect, freedom of information is contingent on being able to access it in a format that allows everyone to read and collaborate around.

In order to implement the ideas of transparency, participation and collaboration there are a number of guidelines that agencies must adhere to with regard to managing and accessing information. Existing regulations impact the way people share knowledge, content and data. As a result, it is essential that any plans take into account guidelines related to how documents and records including electronic information are managed, stored and accessed.

Transparency involves creating publicly available websites that make accessible high value data and content that was not previously available in a downloadable format. The first step is to have in place departmental activities, staffing, organisational structure and a process for analysing and responding to congressional requests for information is required.

An open planning and rollout process needs to be followed in implementing a cloud government strategy that specifies how transparency and integration of public participation as well as collaboration will be improved. Progress should then be tracked and monitored. This together with aggregate statistics and visualisations will provide a clear assessment of the state of open government as well as its progress over time.

By having a single repository that syncs between confidential and collaborative cloud environments for both document and records management, government agencies can take the complexities out of managing separate systems while at the same time decreasing technology costs.

The goal of an open government is to create more transparent and greater collaborative environment between its agencies, departments, officials and citizens. In order to achieve this, the government needs to rethink how it communicates and the tools it uses to do so. By embracing cloud and social technologies, government information can be made more accessible and equip citizens with new ways to participate and interact with their constituents.

As we shift towards embracing these open government ideals, we must remind ourselves that the need for content hasn’t changed. Thanks to the new challenges brought on by mobile and cloud technologies, every organisation is looking for ways to make content more easily accessible and collaboration simple to manage. Now this can all be done with the touch of an app.

Luckily there is a new paradigm combining some of the best practices using on-premise open source and cloud technology. This hybrid model can provide enterprise-class functionality and security that even passes the government’s strict stamp of approval.

John Newton

John Newton, CTO and Chairman of Alfresco, has had a long and influential career in content management. In 1990, John co-founded, designed and led the development of Documentum, the leader in content management acquired by EMC. For the next 10 years, he invented many of the concepts widely used in the industry today. John has also been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Benchmark Capital. John was one of the founding engineers at Ingres, where he helped develop the world's first commercial relational database. John graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley.