O'Reilly compares "government as a platform" to the iPhone phenomenon in which Apple's smartphone serves as a foundation for thousands of applications created by a thriving ecosystem of third-party developers. Think of how that model might apply to the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the EPA -- with thousands of useful new apps and services being offered, but not by the government itself -- and you begin to see the potential.
The Obama administration unveiled its Open Government Directive in December 2009, and just last month agencies submitted detailed plans on how they will meet the mandate to become more open, participatory, and transparent. You can find a spreadsheet-like dashboard of where federal agencies are in meeting the Directive here. OpenTheGovernment.org has its own audit of agency plans.
I argued not long ago that we need more information on the costs and potential savings of Uncle Sam's open government push, what I referred to it as "total return on openness."
O'Reilly says we stand to see "enormous cost savings" from open government initiatives in the years ahead. That would happen as agencies enable more in the way of apps and services through surrogate organizations while doing less of the heavy lifting themselves. Such a phenomenon could lead to smaller, more agile government agencies even as new, information-rich services become available. O'Reilly puts it this way: "Government does less, becomes smaller, but provides better services."
Many people would embrace open government on those terms. This vision requires that private sector companies become part of the open gov ecosystem, delivering software, services, and applications that leverage the government platform. O'Reilly points to healthcare data sharing (HHS' Connect and NHIN Direct, for example) as one area where it's already happening.
O'Reilly will expand on this and more in a presentation titled "Government as a Platform for Greatness" at Gov 2.0 Expo, which is co-sponsored by O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb, publisher of InformationWeek and InformationWeek Government. By the way, he's not the only one with such lofty ambitions for open government. In another session, Deloitte's Bill Eggers, who coined the term Government 2.0, will talk about how governments can achieve "great missions."
Most federal agencies are still in the early stages of implementing their open government strategies, so real world examples of "greatness" are few and far between. But if downsized agencies can enable new and improved services at lower costs to taxpayers, they're on the right track.
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