Exploring ‘Government 2.0’

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
Oct. 15, 2007

Click here to view this article on OttawaBusinessJournal.com.

Third Brigade’s Brian O’Higgins says the arrival of all the online tools and applications that constitute “Web 2.0” has given rise to a new rogues’ gallery of security threats for which government must be prepared.
Photo by DARREN BROWN for the Ottawa Business Journal

GTEC conference looks at customer-dictated service delivery and how governments, businesses can get there together

The high-tech world has been abuzz for some time with the concept of “Web 2.0” and customer interaction with various aspects of tech, so it was only a matter of time before the government started looking at what that means for the public sector.

This is the theme for this year’s Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC), which starts Tuesday and runs until Oct. 17. The conference, now in its 15th year, allows hundreds of small and large tech companies to mingle with and market to the various levels of government and gain insight into how to work with the country’s largest enterprise.

GTEC executive director Kevin d’Entremont says the advent of user-generated sites such as YouTube and Facebook has changed the face of service delivery, and governments, just like any other enterprise, can’t afford to be left behind.

“Web 2.0 means that the consumer is now dictating when and where people want to receive services,” he says. “There are expectations in the marketplace, and governments have to follow suit with their services as well, and change their approach to be more suitable and agile. Service delivery has to be tailored or developed to serve the demands of social computing.”

Kim Devooght, vice-president (public sector) of IBM Canada which is an exhibitor and sponsor of the event, says GTEC is a great opportunity to develop dialogue between the government and the people and businesses with whom it works, especially in light of the changing face of Canadian demographics.

“The next generation of the Internet is about social networking and groups of individuals working on themes and ideas together,” Mr. Devooght says. “What our own studies have shown is that the greatest source of innovation comes from outside the enterprise … (often) you can’t come up with solutions by yourself and you have to get them through collaboration, so to get government to engage in greater dialogue with its stakeholders is a great idea that we’re positioned to help on.”

As one of the largest service providers in the country, the government of Canada ought to pay attention to the communication tools that young people are using, since they are often totally different from that of the baby-boomer set, he adds.

“The government has to be able to figure out how to use the communication tools these folks are using and build them into their service delivery methods or people will disengage. You can’t expect (customers) to stand in a queue to get a product these days,” Mr. Devooght says.

The concept of “Government 2.0” brings other challenges with it, says Brian O’Higgins, chief technology officer of exhibiting company Third Brigade.

“It’s a new age of innovation and collaboration, and … the perimeters are really disappearing and you have to open everything up to do business,” says Mr. O’Higgins, noting that this trend often leads to heightened security risks.

He says the notion of Web 2.0 means it’s no longer enough to protect individual computers using perimeter defences such as firewalls or antivirus software, since the increasing complexity of web-based transactions means more valuable data is exposed to hackers through the Internet.

“If the government is very boring and only puts a bit of information on its website with nothing complicated, they’re probably very safe,” Mr. O’Higgins says. “But … any web-based application where people are exchanging login information, identifying themselves, looking themselves up as a business or consumer, requires many database servers, custom software, and often links more than one government department in that one application. To the end user, it seems very simple, but it’s the back end of many servers that are exposed to the Internet, and that’s where the vulnerabilities lie.”

As such, Third Brigade, whose Deep Security line protects mission-critical information technology assets down to the individual networked computers and devices, is hoping to make the Canadian government aware of its technology through its involvement in GTEC.

“We’re on our way to the worldwide market and we’re anxious to get deployed in governments around the world and want to start at home,” Mr. O’Higgins says, noting that Third Brigade’s products are already in use in about 10 government departments. “The Canadian government is a good reference, and we want to be deployed broadly in Canada before going to other governments … the Canadian government is well-known for its best practices.”

GTEC is a great place to see the latest products and trends such as Third Brigade’s solutions, as well as discuss the issues surrounding doing business with the government, but it’s not a “geek fest,” Mr. d’Entremont says.

“It’s a rare opportunity as well to see people like Privy Council clerk Kevin Lynch … the government is completely engaged in this program,” he says. “We’re finding more and more that GTEC is no longer just about IT; the look of a public servant who delivers services is changing from just tech enthusiasts to a non-IT program manager.”

For more information about GTEC, visit http://www.gtec.ca/index.html.

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