Digital Transformation in Government – Part 2

In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I defined Digital Transformation in Government as the initiatives arising from:

  1. Using Big Data to do things or offer services that could be done otherwise (the “Data Driven Government”).
  2. Using IoT (Internet of Things)  to do things or offer services that could be done otherwise.
  3. “Data” becoming the government’s service.

In Part 1 I also briefly described what “Data Driven Government” means and described what the State of Indiana did using data to fight infant mortality, a global best practice. In this second part I will examine the other 2 thrusts of IoT and Data becoming the government’s service.

Internet of Things:

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) per se is the use of intelligent assets (intelligent machines, sensors, devices, etc..) to collect data, monitor conditions, and using that information to generate actionable insights. The public’s attention (and media coverage) is usually focused on the infrastructure part, the installation of sensors and other intelligent assets. This has been done to great fanfare in many places and in diverse applications such as installing sensors to continuously measure pollution levels, measure and manage traffic, map wild fires, provide patient information back to the care providers, and alert to potential flooding.

The number of connected devices is expected to grow to 220 Billion by 2020 according to IDC. This huge growth, and the associated growth in data generated, brings with it challenges in the form of encrypting, transferring, and storing of the data by the concerned government agencies and, just as importantly, providing the appropriate tight access controls.

Where IoT becomes a transformative engine for government is when this information from intelligent assets is linked into the “Business Systems” (the government’s IT systems) and integrated into the the government business processes. It is in those instances where the transformational power of IoT become clear.

The city of Buenos Aires is a global case study of how to use IOT to truly transform life in the city. Flooding has historically been a problem in the city and in 2013 relentless rain in the city caused flash floods in parts of the city resulting in chaos, destruction to thousands of homes and the unfortunate death of almost 100 people. The city responded by installing 30,000 IOT sensors in the flood drains that measure the water level in the drains, the speed and direction of water flow and more. This was combined with information from weather reports, garbage collectors, and citizen’s complaints. By Analyzing all that information in real-time, the city was able to locate the drains that needed intervention and service crews were dispatched proactively to take action.

The result: In 2014 record amount of rain fell on the city, but, the 30,000 storm drains remained clear and none of the streets were flooded, no homes destroyed and no lives lost!

Data as the Government’s Service:

Traditionally, governments around the world, collected the data, kept it under lock and key and used some of that data to generate information, services and applications that are shared with the public. This burdened the government with the cost of developing those applications and limited the use to the priorities and creativity of government. A better, more open way is to publish that data and let the public, both individuals and corporations alike, to use and interact with the data, and potentially producing applications of their own.

“Data as the Government’s Service” has been done around the globe, usually as part of an Open Data initiative. The transformative power of Open Data is that it makes the information available to all kinds of individuals and organizations (private, public, not for profit, …) and opens the door for them to innovate. This in effect crowd-sources innovation using government data.

In fact, examples from around the world suggest that by making the data available in this manner, government organizations stand to gain just as much as private organizations! For instance, British Columbia in Canada reported that around one third of the site visits to the Open Data service came from within government.

Opening the data and inviting innovation from across the spectrum is critical and can transform the ways government interacts with the public. Just as importantly, Open Data has the power to seriously increase citizen engagement with their government. It also provides a platform for an interactive dialogue between government and citizens.


The applications are not limited to developed and well-served cities like Toronto, Stockholm, Dubai and others in their league. Open Data has successfully been used around the world in diverse applications including fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, to monitoring elections in Indonesia, to providing insight into healthcare providers in Uruguay to the public.


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Digital Transformation in Government – Part 1

Digital Transformation is the latest wave of applying digital technologies to improve government services and operations. In this blog, I’ll explore what Digital Transformation in government really is and how it differs from other initiatives of applying digital technology in government.

The use of digital technologies in government started several decades ago with the introduction of the first mainframe computer into government and has been growing ever since. Before we got to the era of “Digital Transformation” what were the main waves of applying technology in government and how is “Digital Transformation” different?

  1. The first wave was “Government Computerization“: This was the wave of using computers to improve the key internal government operations, such as better accounting, planning and consolidation. This is, for most of the world’s governments, a mature and largely done phase. Improvements, upgrades and enhancements of the systems will continue especially as impacted by the other waves described below.
  2. The second wave was the era of “E-Government“: E-Governemnt (“E-Gov” for short) was characterized by using the Internet specifically to digitize government processes and in particular government services as used by the public. This wave consisted predominantly of implementing the digital equivalent to legacy government services.
  3. The third wave was the era of “Smart Government” which built on e-gov by re-imagining government processes to be more citizen-centric rather than the traditional department-centric design of processes. This wave greatly improved the way citizen’s interact with government and presented them with a single-window to government and also afforded government a 360-degree comprehensive view of the citizen. This wave is still unfolding around the world and will continue to develop over the next several years. New technological breakthroughs, such as Blockchain and Machine Learning, are opening up new vistas for improved service and operations.
  4. The fourth and newest wave is Digital Transformation of Government. What sets Digital Transformation apart from “Smart Government” is that Digital Transformation is defined as the initiative(s) resulting from addressing one or more of the following questions:
    • How can we use data, and Big Data in particular, to provide services or do something that could not be provided or done otherwise?
    • How can we use IoT (Internet of Things) to provide services or do something that could not be provided or done otherwise?
    • How can “Data” become the service?

In this blog, part 1 of a 2-part series, I will briefly examine the first point above, the use of data and big data to offer services that could not be done otherwise. This is known as the “Data Driven Government“.

Government (every government) is one of the most prolific generators of data: every transaction or interaction between government and citizen, or between government and business results in ever more data added to government. The challenge is not in having enough data but rather in turning this data into actionable insight and valuable information. Up until recently, few organizations had the ability to sift through this huge amount of data and glean valuable information out of it. Recent advances however are making it possible for large and small governments to undertake this very effectively. These advances include pervasive- or hyper-connectivity (with all system being connected to the Internet and each other), cost-effective super-computing using industry-standard platforms, cloud computing and improved cyber-security.

“Data Driven Government” is the use of Big Data coupled with advanced and predictive analytics to inform government decisions, provide greater insight and allow government to allocate resources to where they are most effective and impactful.

One shining example is the State of Indiana in the United States and its use of Big Data and Advanced Analytics for reducing infant mortality. Indiana’s infant mortality stood at 7.7 per 1,000 live births in 2011 falling in the bottom 20% of all states for this key health indicator. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classified Indiana among the states where no significant improvement had happened in the previous 6 years, whereas the U.S. national average dropped by 12%. This elevated infant mortality to be among the state’s top priorities.

The government commissioned a data-driven analysis that unified data from 15 previously unlinked data sets and departments resulting in 9 billion lines of data. By applying advanced analytics and machine learning techniques, 3 key findings were achieved (source: A summary of findings and quantitative investigation targeted at: Reducing Infant Mortality in Indiana, December 2014):

  • Infant mortality risk in the state of Indiana is not randomly distributed, but exhibits statistically significant patterns that could be used for targeted investment of resources to improve outcomes.
  • Inadequate prenatal care, Medicaid enrollment, and young maternal age were shown to be the strongest predictors for adverse birth outcomes.
  • While the identified high-risk subpopulations account for only 1.6% of all births in Indiana, they account for nearly 50% of infant deaths, suggesting that the identified subpopulations are not only significant, but could be used as the basis for targeted interventions.

With this insight the state of Indiana was able to truly tailor solutions and programs to the people who need help the most, increasing the effectiveness of such interventions and savings lives across the state.



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Social Media Tools for Education: Public or Purpose-Built?

In a previous blog entry I argued how social media and the use of social media can have a great impact on students, particularly in the areas of developing key skills such as “collaboration”, “teamwork”, “leading by influence”, “communicating effectively using technology” and lastly, the “ability to formulate a position or point of view on an issue and express it”.

Given that, the next natural question is: Should schools use the public social media systems such as Twitter and Facebook, or should they use a more education-specific set of tools? Should they use publicly hosted tools and systems or build some in-house? The answer is far from cut and dried, and a lot of the evaluation will depend on the school’s priorities and capabilities (and in some cases, local and national regulations).

Using the popular (and public) social media surely has its advantages. Advantages such as the fact that students (to a large degree) are already using these tools and are quite familiar with them. Another advantage is that these are professionally run, accessible from anywhere and for the most part are free (always a good thing, especially in the current tough economic time and budget cuts). Some of the education-focused systems (although possibly not as popular as the big public tools) also share a lot of these attributes.

The evaluation of which tool or set of tools to use has to go beyond this superficial examination and address some of the key functional, operational and administrative requirements of the schools in light of the school’s capabilities, limitation and applicable regulations.

First, the school should be able to manage students’ accounts, at a minimum schools should make sure that all students have accounts. Though this is not a natural feature of many public social media tools, there are ways to get a lot of this done. Google in particular shines here by having an education offering allowing schools to administer accounts.

Another consideration is that the systems should also be evaluated against the school’s strategy and requirements in terms of what functionality should be present. Would a single integrated system providing the majority of requirements be preferable to using disparate tools that collectively can provide all of the requirements?

Where things get a lot tougher, is where we need the teacher to have the ability to monitor kids’ contribution to a discussion or project, enforce a certain work flow to how assignments and deliverables are processed and other aspects of the teacher being involved beyond being an equal participant as students are. To some schools this is a critical ability and hence should form a solid part of the evaluation process.

However, the areas where things get a lot more interesting is around the areas of managing the “intellectual property” that is generated and having that (as well as potentially ALL the material shared, used and generated) survive the group that generated that material. As students and teachers collaborate and generate projects, information, knowledge and other intellectual property (IP), that IP should be preserved and used with future classes. Some of it will serve as best practices (even in the sense of showing kids what a bad example looks like) and some will serve as learning tools and resources that should be indexed and tagged as the school deems useful and made available to future students. All this should be done while observing privacy laws.

All the above (as well as other aspects of evaluation, some of which may be very case-specific) should go into the evaluation process before the right decision can be made.

Having said that, if, for whatever reason, the evaluation process and decision making is gong to take a long time, I would definitely recommend using some of the readily available public social media tools while the evaluation is taking place. As long as the applicable laws allow it, there is no need to delay student’s access to the tools that will facilitate them practicing collaboration, teamwork and the other skills mentioned above in a school setting.

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Video and “The Inverted Classroom”

The use of video and interactivity holds lots of promise for education transformation. This is quite evident by now. In this update I will present a particularly powerful and transformative use of video in education.

Research shows a direct correlation between interactivity in class and student achievement in learning higher order skills. In fact, a study by the Metiri Group that was commissioned by Cisco summarized the research findings in an eye-opening chart (see the chart below). The chart showed the impact of multimodal learning in comparison to traditional uni-modal learning and reported the results separately for Basic Skills and Higher Order Skills, and by the inclusion or absence of interactivity.

What that report finds is that when it comes to Higher Order Skills, “When the average student is engaged in higher-order thinking using multimedia in interactive situations, on average, their percentage ranking on higher-order or transfer skills increases by 32 percentile points over what that student would have accomplished with traditional learning.”

But, how do you add interactivity to class, especially if the curriculum design does not specifically cater for it? How do you dedicate more time to discussion and workshop activities without rushing through the material?

The “inverted classroom” offers just the solution for this. In the year 2000, Maureen Lange, Glenn Platt and Michael Treglia presented a paper to the Journal of Economic Education where they made the case for, and coined the phrase “inverted classroom”. Their definition was quite simple: “Inverting the classroom means that events that have traditionally taken place inside the classroom now take place outside the classroom and vice versa”. In a nutshell, rather than using class time for a predominantly one-way delivery of a lecture (from teacher to student), why don’t students come prepared to class (having read the material beforehand) and then dedicate class time to interactive discussion, debating, and workshop activities?

Many times this is easier said that done. Having students prepare ahead of time is usually a challenge, especially when the topic is not in their area of strength. Furthermore, a good lecture that is well prepared and delivered by a good teacher will be far more effective than reading 30 or 40 pages.

This is where the use of video provides the “secret sauce” that pulls all this together. By recording a video of the lecture and making the lecture available on the school’s (or college’s) video portal or video blog, students can watch the lecture ahead of time. Just like sitting for a lecture in class, except they can do it from the comfort of their homes, or the library or a café.

Recording the video can be done quite easily using a variety of video-based lecture-capture solutions. In fact, some modern lecture-capture solutions will also allow the teacher to load a set of slides the transition of which is synchronized with the lecture. Others will allow the recording of all that is displayed on a smart-board (including presentation material, videos played, teacher markings, …). And some also allow the students to post questions in-line within the video so that the teacher (and other students) will see the question or comment in the context of the exact point in the lecture that the student wishes to ask it.

Moreover, many of these solutions can be integrated with (or already include) discussion forums and interactive social media type applications. This adds another dimension to the interactive discussion in the sense that on-line discussion can precede, and continue after, class time. Just because the class period is over, does not mean that the discussion should stop!

Since now students can easily come to class prepared by having watched the lecture on-line, class time can be devoted to discussion, debate, and other interesting activities. Classes will be a lot more interesting and student achievement will improve.

This holds lots of promise for teaching a variety of subjects from Literature, to Social Studies, to Business and Economics, to Experimental Sciences.

Such an approach carries several additional benefits as well: By having the lecture available on-line, students can always watch it again by way of reviewing or preparing for exams. Parents can also watch the lectures in order to brush up on subjects so that they can help their kids study. Parents can also watch lectures of “sensitive subjects” (such as sex education for kids), familiarize themselves with what’s being taught and reinforce or supplement the material as needed in the home.

Video and the “Inverted Classroom” – a truly transformative approach.

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Social Media and Education

Can using social media improve math scores? As in TIMSS and PISA standardized test scores? A friend posed the question above as we were debating the topic of education transformation and where education systems were destined to.

What struck me the most about the question is my friend’s total non-appreciation of what social media can do, and more seriously, an apparent disengagement from what a modern education system should bestow upon its students. This attitude of “standardized test scores are what really matter” is an act of narrow-minded denial on the part of educators.

I am not one to argue against knowledge, but rather am a great proponent that knowledge, the ability of the education system to impart knowledge to students and the students ability to comprehend the information being delivered in class and synthesize it into knowledge that they can use later will always be a main stay of any education system. Having said that, this is clearly not enough in today’s world and will be even less “enough” as the world develops.

In addition to core subjects (mathematics, sciences, languages and others), a modern education system has to equip students with the skills they will need to succeed in school, in college, on the job and in their life. Interestingly, these skills are needed irrespective of the future path that a student may take in life, for there is a convergence of skills among the different walks in life. Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard Graduate School of Education puts it very nicely, “the skills for successful career, the skills for college, and the skills for active and informed citizenship have converged. Students who do not have these skills will be sentenced to a lifetime of marginal employment, and marginal citizenship.”  The skills themselves are quite universal for the most part and the majority of researchers are in agreement on the main skills needed.

A number of these skills go to the very heart of social media or, more accurately, the use of social media in education: “collaboration”, “teamwork”, “leading by influence”, “communicating effectively using technology” and lastly, the “ability to formulate a position or point of view on an issue and express it”. This is where social media shines: It enables this; is a natural tool for developing and practicing these; and just as importantly, provide the capability for the school and/or teacher to monitor student’s application of these skills. These skills cannot be taught be lecturing – they can only be learned through practice.

Kids are already using social media today for all kinds of their non-school activities. Activities from planning parties to exam preparation are organized and discussed on Facebook. Updates are sent over Twitter on all sorts of activities, from weekend soccer games to charity drives and community service. Collaboration on non-school projects is happening on social media everyday. As an example, in the recent “The Education Project” conference in Bahrain, a young gentleman who was representing the “voice of the youth” commented how his presentation (which was very well received) was done over Facebook with feedback coming in from all over his social network, young people presenting issues and proposing ways to deal with these issues. All this happened in no time flat and among a group of people some of whom may not have known each other but were brought together by being “friends” with a common individual.

If this and much more is happening over the public social media, why can’t schools and education systems harness it for the benefit of ALL students? Why can’t they facilitate it, monitor it and make sure that all the students are participating and gaining the skills they need to succeed?

This is the value of social media in education. Social media has a great potential in education by encouraging students to develop these key skills that they will need for a successful education and life. They also can add a dimension to learning that is very personal and very authentic. When that happens, kids interest in school and learning is dramatically enhanced. That is an ideal that all education systems should aspire to.

Finally, I’m tempted to pose the question: When students’ attitude and interest in learning is enhanced, wouldn’t that be reflected across all the activities that these students experience in school? Would that include their math scores? What do you know? May be, social media can improve math scores, albeit in an indirect way 🙂

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