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May. 13, 2010 1:00 pm

There are lessons for the city from Federal CTO visit

If you think Philadelphia is mired in debt and inefficiency, try wading through the federal government. The nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, offered a peak this morning inside the Obama administration’s use of cloud computing and crowdsourcing to help streamline the inner-workings of the federal government and overcome a culture of bulky IT budgets […]

Aneesh Chopra, the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States addresses the Chamber of Commerce event at the Cira Center.

If you think Philadelphia is mired in debt and inefficiency, try wading through the federal government.

The nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, offered a peak this morning inside the Obama administration’s use of cloud computing and crowdsourcing to help streamline the inner-workings of the federal government and overcome a culture of bulky IT budgets and lack of accountability.

With a bustling 30th Street Station as a backdrop, a room full of business leaders listened to Chopra outline the inefficiencies of the old way government was conducting business in an event hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. He said that the president wanted to add transparency, collaboration and smart investment to help government be more accountable and effective.

Sound familiar?

As Philadelphia struggles with the fate of the Board of Revision of Taxes, the DROP pension program and its plans for a Digital Philadelphia there may be lessons to learn in some of the government’s efforts:

  • Chopra said that every government department’s CIO must update the progress of their IT investments to display the information on the government’s IT dashboard. The site offers a graphical way for citizens and government officials to assess which investments are going to waste.
  • While the city grapples with the ghosts of Wireless Philadelphia and the technology community pushes for gigabit broadband in the city, Cleveland has already begun rolling out gigabit connections to some of its poorest neighborhoods. Chopra said that the efforts took some philanthropy from technology companies and told of how one sick resident uses the connection to video chat with a doctor that specializes in the resident’s illness.
  • Chopra said that a priority was taking government data and making it more accessible to programmers and the average citizen. He pointed to Health and Human Services data that was turned into a card game. In a city that guards voting records and only tuned SEPTA data after the iSEPTA guys took it by brute force, maybe we could learn a thing or two.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs often frustrates its constituents with long delays in processing requests for soldiers returning from war. The government used a Get Satisfaction-like voting system to help crowdsource the best ideas from the department’s frontline employees. They then created a business plan competition out of the top ten ideas and implemented them. A handful of which, says Chopra, came at no cost. “If you embrace openness internally you can get tremendous value,” he said, “so imagine what you can do externally.”

Chopra said that the federal government spends $76 billion on information technology each year, $19 billion of which is invested in infrastructure. While the city certainly doesn’t have resources of that magnitude, it does have an entrepreneurial community like ones that the government has tapped elsewhere to help speed along policy changes. It also has many of the same problems of waste and lack of transparency that the government is trying to solve.

So Technically Philly has to dig up an old Philly standby: Why Cant Us?

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Sean Blanda is an adviser to Technical.ly, the local technology news network, having cofounded its flagship Technically Philly in February 2009. He is a media consultant, engagement editor for Behance and lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

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