Thursday, 12 December 2013

The internet of broken things

When most people refer to something as Web 3.0 I usually call shenanigans. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls something "a component of Web 3.0" I take notice. This is what he said of the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web is the "internet of things", compared to Web 1.0 and 2.0 which perhaps could respectively be described as the "internet of information" and the "internet of services". Back in 2011 I was already boring people about "being objective", but a conversation with the award winning Carl Haggerty this week reminded me of this again.

So what's it got to do with local governments?

Councils look after a huge number of physical assets. My area has 10,000+ streetlights for example, and at some point they'll all exist as an entity on the internet. Actually, they kind of do already.

Here's a link to report a problem with the streetlight nearest to where I work for example. In fact you could do the same with any of the 10,000+ streetlights I previously mentioned and other councils are adopting this approach too.

What this means is that you can start to fundamentally change the way people interact with their council.

Rather than raising a new case for every broken thing, it means that people could subscribe to information about specific assets. Rather than 100 reports about the same thing, councils would store 1 report and details of 100 people who have subscribed to receive updates about it.

In fact it doesn't have to be an asset. Potholes or flooding could become a "thing" on the internet as easily as a streetlamp and people could subscribe to updates.

There are obvious efficiency savings with this approach. Council officers would have 100 times less admin work dealing with my example above, with just one record to update.

More than that, it's opening up data and allowing people up to keep up to date with problems with their area should they wish to know about them. It also casts a light into the back offices of councils, showing people that streetlights don't magically get fixed by the sodium-vapor fairy whilst they're at work.

I'm sure Sir Tim didn't have it in mind when he spoke about the Semantic Web, but the internet of broken things could revolutionise the way people interact with their council.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Social media and the internal digital divide

There's an elephant in the room of channel shift. In fact it's knocked through to social media's gaff and is currently residing in the whole ground floor of the digital comms building. I'd been meaning to write about this for a while and Helen Reynolds post asking "Isn’t it time ALL employees were encouraged to use social media" promoted me into doing so.

Channel shift encourages not only customers to use digital, but also those providing the service to communicate with service users using digital too. That might be using social media, a Customer Relationship Management system or some other electronic means.

In my LocalGov Digital role I talk to lots of people, in lots of organisations, in lots of sectors and one thing is apparent; the standard of literacy of some delivering services is perceived as not good enough to communicate effectively using digital.

This is not in any way a judgement on their professional capability. I myself once worked with a computer programmer who was dyslexic. He was brilliant in his role and produced some amazing stuff, he just had some trouble reading and writing English.

A shift to all employees being encouraged to use digital comms scares some, it really does. It scares them because they think whilst professionally they're fine when it comes to communication, translating this into written language the public will understand might show up their perceived inadequacies, making them and the organisation they work for look unprofessional.

So what's the solution. Perhaps build digital comms into the job descriptions for new employees, and yes this might work for some roles, but would you really not employ a brilliant builder because they couldn't blog, or a consummate care worker who couldn't compose tweet?

Perhaps the solution is not to encourage all employees to use digital comms but only those who want to?

There are two problems I can see with this. Firstly you're creating a digital divide internally between those who tweet and those that don't. Secondly, customers will receive a different quality of communication depending on who is assigned to the task.

I don't know how to resolve this, I'm just starting a debate, and clearly as channel shift pushes digital comms to the fore, it'll become more and more of an issue.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.