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Creating a Viable Path to Becoming a Digital Government (Industry Perspective)

An analog-digital hybrid approach can benefit government workforces that require mobility to do their jobs.

As today’s citizens demand just-in-time and seamless access to government services, the central question of, “Why can’t government services be accessed and processed from an app?” is no longer an aspiration. It’s happening now. The challenge for public-sector leaders has now evolved and centers on how to quickly apply digital approaches to government — with the end game of enhancing the citizen experience.

All too frequently, governments’ efforts have failed to benefit from new technologies, generating more cost and complexity than solutions. Most “rip and replace” initiatives of the past 15 years have had high failure rates with limited gains.

Research on large institutions indicates that emerging models will be enabled by a hybrid of analog and digital. This approach blends old and new, integrating long-proven, reliable data and application modules with digital-enabled business processes designed for the end user.

A clear technology pattern has emerged in the form of a four-tier architecture implementing the hybrid model. Often we are seeing it in law enforcement and social services applications, while some governments are embracing the four-tier architecture at the agency or enterprise level.

In general, the hybrid, four-tier approach benefits most government workforces that require mobility to do their jobs. For core operations, it untethers people from their desks and improves their ability to do their jobs. From an IT perspective, it leverages cloud and virtualization techniques with a mixture of open standards, application program interfaces and chunking of databases and legacy code into interoperable modules.

The four-tier architecture is made up of:

User Tier: The end-user interface, this tier provides new opportunities for citizens and mobile government workforces as tablets and smartphones contain more and more computing capability. We find that mobile workforces need to be able to collect data in a variety of unfavorable environments using the platform capabilities, such as geo-referencing, time and date stamps, photographs, etc. They want to be able to connect via wireless and cellular networks to send and receive data anytime, anywhere. For example, social workers often need data and analytic insights. This capability improves quality, cost-effectiveness and speed of service, without having to go back to an office. Government staff members and citizens who receive these services both benefit.

Orchestration Tier: This is the orchestration layer, or services broker, that pulls together applications modules and data to execute a business process. The broker may operate within a data center today, but we are seeing this move to a hybrid cloud construct in government agencies as security tools integrate into an overall architecture.

Business Services Tier: This tier reflects the operating environment wherein applications modules access data or interact with one another via application program interfaces. There are two types of applications modules in this construct: common IT services and mission-specific modules. Data management tools and standards, such as Hadoop, are being used in this layer to enhance use and analysis of data for greater insights that improve the speed and quality of decisions.     

Data Tier: In this tier, there are both structured and unstructured data in six main classifications: people, geographic, financial, assets, cases/events and records. This approach allows for unshackling information that had been collected in a silo and marrying it with other silos of data for new insights.

We have known for more than a decade that combining data across silos and integrating business processes is not only a good way to reduce costs, but also has become necessary for government to perform critical operations. By embracing the hybrid, four-tier architecture approach, government agencies can take advantage of technologies and fulfill citizen expectations for better service at a lower cost. This is a central goal of digital government.

Mark Forman, global public-sector head at Unisys, is an accomplished executive with more than 30 years of professional experience, including a presidential appointment to be the first U.S. administrator for e-government and information technology, the federal government’s chief information officer.