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4 Things We've Learned in 2012

What Father Guido Sarducci would make of the year in public-sector IT.

by / December 4, 2012

The Internet and an old Saturday Night Live sketch have aged much better than we had any right to expect.  

The former, the progenitor of which dates to 1969, is still changing everything. We couldn’t be social, mobile, local or global without it, nor would there have been any need to create entirely new categories of things — apps and tablets most notably among them.

The latter, Father Guido Sarducci’s five-minute university has been used in this column for the last dozen years to help clear the clutter at year’s end. You can still find videos on YouTube of his five-minute university, the genius of which was to summarize what the average student would remember five years after leaving college.

In fact, our old friend Sarducci was ordained (in a manner of speaking) in 1973, complete with the long, black robe, a floppy wide-brimmed black hat and a thick faux-Italian accent that made him a favorite on Saturday Night Live.

Sarducci’s unorthodox pedagogy helps make sense of a year’s worth of headlines and hyperbole to place bets on a short list of things you, the above average readers of Government Technology, will remember five years from now.

It’s the printing press all over again:
The confluence of transparency, open data and mobile technology is to our world what movable type was to 15th-century Europe. It is democratizing information like nothing since the printing press — only faster and more widely. Yes, it allows people to interpret text, sacred or otherwise, for themselves. But government (like the church in an earlier era) retains unique authority (and responsibility) to provide context and a framework for creating meaning and understanding.

Day eight of creation: Big data gives us the power to (re)create earth, or at least know the one we have better. In November, the federal Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory brought Titan online, reclaiming the title of the world’s fastest supercomputer. Able to do 20,000 trillion calculations per second, Titan is intended to simulate the physical world in ways that make more accurate predictions about everything from hurricanes and typhoons to biochemistry and nuclear reactors — all of which can and should inform better public policy decisions.

This stuff can get you fired:
The old axiom in purchasing circles that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” is actually not in the Bible. Even if it was, cloud computing changes the game in ways that mean there are no more safe bets — only smart ones.

ROI is not an indulgence: To paraphrase the 16th-century preacher Johann Tetzel, as soon as a coin in the coffer rings, innovation springs. The Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Utah helpfully put some statistical rigor to quantifiable cost avoidance over five years through the operations of the state portal. Researchers examined the top 25 of the thousand or so online services offered through Over five years, the study reports cost avoidance of $46 million. It also was able to calculate a comparison of the cost per unit of service done conventionally at $17 each, compared to $4 each when done online.

The always-frugal Sarducci has held to his original pricing scheme — 20 bucks, including diploma, cap and gown rental, graduation pictures and snacks. Ever mindful of the public-sector fiscal crunch, Govtech delivers its year-end CliffsNotes on IT innovation for free … but without the snacks.

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Paul W. Taylor Chief Content Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the chief content officer of Government Technology and its parent organization, e.Republic. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO. Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet startups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the nonprofit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C. He is creator, producer and co-host of the GovTech360 podcast.

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