There is a move afoot in our government to innovate – quickly - with consequences not only for the American people, but the world. This, from the May 23rd White House blog by Todd Park, the US Chief Technology Officer:
“Today, we are very excited to be launching the new Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. This new initiative will bring top innovators from outside government for focused “tours of duty” with our best federal innovators on game-changing projects. Combining the know-how of citizen change agents and government change agents in small, agile teams that move at high speed, these projects aim to deliver significant results within six months.”
You had me at “Hello.”
In 2009, the Obama administration launched data.gov, an incredibly forward-looking information management and dissemination capability that now boasts over 400,000 government datasets, 1400 apps, and, most importantly, a mandate to share. This required real vision, commitment, a little discipline (the semantic web), and a little money. The Presidential Innovation Fellows program begins with 5 projects, with my favorite – and the reason I applied - being the Open Data Initiatives program, which:
“aims to stimulate a rising tide of entrepreneurship that uses data from governmental and non-governmental sources to create tools that can help Americans better navigate their world, such as by finding the right health care provider, identifying the college that provides the best value for their money, saving money on electricity bills through smarter energy shopping, keeping their families safe by knowing which products have been recalled, and much more. Building upon prior success stories in which entrepreneurial innovators built amazing products based on the release of weather, GPS, and health-related data, this program will speed and expand the release of government data and voluntarily-contributed private-sector data in machine-readable form in realms including health, education, energy, safety, the nonprofit sector, and personal finance.”
My Tour of Duty: Big Data
Before responding to Park's call for a “tour of duty,” I did a little research on him. He's a big data guy. You may or may not have heard of “big data.” You may be unimpressed by the hype. “Big data” is not just about size, or just about complexity. It's not just about bigger machines, or more machines, or parallelism. Big data is the recognition that the tools and approaches we use today to manage our information do not scale to tomorrow's problems, that the ubiquity of sensor networks are forever changing how we live and how much information we must manage, and that the velocity and variety of that information is increasing. One of CTO Park's goals is to “create an open health data platform analogous to the National Weather Service, which feeds data to commercial weather sites and applications.” That's ambitious, and fraught with political and technological risk. (My kind of challenge.)
What's in it for Commercial Enterprises?
Commercial enterprises face significant difficulty integrating their information for competitive advantage. They have done fairly well siloing their information and focusing their effort and monies on those silos, but it is in the whitespace between the silos where competitive advantage especially exists. The US government (and the UK government too) have seen this. Commercial enterprises could expose and publish their information internally and externally using semantic technology in the same way that government agencies are beginning to. Sharing would no longer be exceptional; it would be ordinary. "Entrepreneurs" throughout companies could leverage this information for competitive advantage.
Change can be spectacularly difficult, and mind-numbingly slow, but with the experience of data.gov under its belt, with those datasets at hand, with a government/business partnership like the Presidential Innovation Fellows, with a focus on significant results in a 6-month time frame, and with a spirit of entrepreneurship, I think the US government is poised for success. Commercial enterprises should encourage their best innovators to apply, and welcome them back if they're lucky enough to be accepted.
Yes, I'm not worthy. There are better people with more experience, more street cred, and better ideas. But you won't find anybody with more passion. One of my mentors likes to say, “You've got to get on the horse to ride.” Ok, fair enough. Wish me luck. I'll need it.