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Thoughts on the Digital Government Strategy

by: Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer

May 24, 2012

On a regular basis, I find myself working with increasingly bigger datasets, and investigating increasingly more complicated patterns. However, as data gets bigger and more complicated, government IT budgets are getting smaller. At the same time, the public expects government to quickly provide open access to data in a wide range of formats and delivery mechanisms. This leads to a conundrum - we understand that data is capable of many types of outputs, and we must allow it to serve as many uses as possible while keeping costs to a minimum.

This week the Federal CIO released a strategy for ‘Digital Government’ which challenges us to innovate to meet these growing demands. The strategy contains four themes: information-centric, shared platform, customer-centric, and security. This broad approach to information technologies provides the innovative foundation for the entire strategy. Key to this approach is making our data more open by decoupling it from any predefined presentation layer; in short, publishing data as simple services which anyone can access. The strategy calls for using APIs as a cornerstone to this decoupling.

The value in this data-centric approach means individuals can read directly into data across government and access only what they need, without the overhead of often expensive, bulky software. An old friend and colleague, Bert Granberg, who is the Manager in the State Geographic Information Database Group for the State of Utah put it this way, “With FCC’s developer APIs, I can get exactly what I need, in an elegant format, very fast.” Bert has shared some code (https://gist.github.com/2770213) with us, which queries demographic data in the Broadband Map and USDA Community Connect data in one return. Lacking this API approach, he would have spent several days or even weeks downloading, post processing and integrating data.

We take no small amount of pride in knowing that we developed the FCC APIs and Broadband Map APIs in the same way as outlined in this Digital Government approach. As we push ourselves to make ever more robust capacity in our data outlets, we know we are building a strong foundation for being a data-centric agency. Open API’s, map services in many forms (http://www.fcc.gov/blog/data-way-you-want-it-new-gis-data-formats-mobility-fund-phase-i), and an engaged developer community (http://www.fcc.gov/blog/announcing-fcc-gov-developer-meet) are just the beginning. We are excited to see this strategy, and look forward to how other agencies innovate with it, so we can learn from them.

Just as I find myself engaged in investigating ever larger data, I also am excited to see the innovative approaches across the landscape. It is nice to know we are thinking about this as a holistic open government approach, with multiple technology solutions; clearly the one-size fits all is a thing of the past.

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