January II 2009

29 January 2009

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

eGovernment? What’s that?

Ask almost anyone, I just tried, about eGovernment and, if my experience is any guide, ten out of ten will say, “Huh? What’s that?” Of course, I didn’t ask any experts, just casual acquaintances, sales people and a few unlucky souls at the gym where I work out. Nevertheless, I was astonished to find that this important development in digital democracy was almost unknown. By explaining a bit and coaxing answers, two people replied, “voting machines?”, and another spoke of paying taxes online. Perhaps in other parts of the world the response would have been different – perhaps, but I suspect in most places the responses would have been roughly the same.

Ok, then, what is eGoverment about, what does it do, how does it do it and what is expected of it? eGovernment, or electronic government, simply put, uses information and communication technology (ICT) of all sorts to provide public services.

Although, eGovernment is known primarily for the access to information and to government services it gives citizens, it also refers to the internal use of information and communication technology to facilitate the workings of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and their agencies. There are, in fact, several recognised forms of eGovernment including government-to-citizen (G2C), government-to-government (G2G), government-to-business (G2B) and government-to-employees.

eGovernment can facilitate the delivery of public services, cut costs and improve efficiency throughout the government, increase government transparency and help insure that a government is working effectively and honestly on behalf of its citizens. In many respects, it is not much different than the way businesses use ICTs for marketing and sales, customer support or for internal operations of all sorts.

The introduction of ICTs changes the way businesses operate, it changes more than the processes; just as often it changes the outlook and the vision of where the business is going and of the mission it has to accomplish. Just as ICTs can set in motion the reinvention of a company, it can be expected to do the same for many governments.

A fully connected government – with fully connected governance – is a different government. It is not only more efficient internally, it is more responsive to the needs of its citizens and much better able because of information sharing to support the country’s economic development, provide disaster relief and coordinate instantly between all the agencies involved in responding to a crisis. The ability to share information between agencies and branches of government also makes it possible to coordinate policymaking and the implementation of cross-agency programmes.

Among the most important benefits of a fully connected government is the platform it provides for citizen participation. Is there a new project, an economic policy, a need to engage a great number of citizens to support grand programmes? A fully connected government makes all this easier; it not only gives citizens a way to get involved and express their opinions; importantly, it also makes it hard for governments to ignore them.

Nevertheless, despite all the advantages of eGovernment, a number of studies, including by the United Nations, have shown that where online public services are common, but traditional channels are still available, citizens prefer to have both available. There are times it is more comforting, and more effective, to speak with – or satisfying to harangue – a person instead of a machine.

Clearly, though, eGovernment programmes can improve the management of government activity, increase efficiency and the speed of government reaction, provide more accountability and transparency and offer quicker, better, channels for public services. The biggest advantages of eGovernments, of fully connected eeeeeeeeGovernments, though, are the degree and types of interactions they make possible.

Generally, as a first step governments begin by making information available online – laws, regulations, legal notices, holiday closings of offices, public hearings, agricultural information and the like. The second step offers interactive communications; citizens can ask questions, send comments regarding proposed regulation, lodge complaints and so forth. In the next phase, one can file tax returns, request documents, renew licenses, request services, do business with the government or participate in government tenders for goods and services.

In more advanced phases, good governance is the goal.

Governance is a not an easy idea to define; it has many different definitions according to its context. For businesses and organisations, good governance often means establishing policies and consistent procedures for corporate control, accounting and decision making that guarantee the rights of shareholders and the ethical behaviour of corporate officers.

For governments, some of the same elements apply, but the emphasis is upon the transparency of government operations, the rights of citizens to access information regarding government decisions and operations, upon properly directing the use of political power and public resources to administer social and economic problems and affairs. The main focus of governance, as related to government, then, has to do with the proper use and monitoring of political power and public resources in behalf of its citizens.

There is even a mashup between political science and the open source/ open content movements called Open Source Governance that wants to use the principles behind the Wikipedia to let citizens – anyone, really – insert their ideas into policy documents. This variant of the eDemocracy philosophy opens policy and, perhaps, legislative development processes to the wisdom of society as a whole by providing online interactive tools.

Open Source Governance substitutes electronic iteration for the open forum of Greek democracy. Democracy was first conceived about 500 BC when the world’s entire population numbered around 100 thousand people; the population of Athens, the city-state where first democracy first developed was tiny by today’s standards and, even then, not everyone was entitled to vote. Open Source governance and eVoting, using the power of ICTs are the only way we might one day develop a system capable of making fully participative democracy possible in today’s overcrowded world.

An online direct democracy calls for the use of the Internet and other communications technologies to create electronic forums and otherwise use ICT to make wide ranging, universal, deliberative process possible. Online voting – which would raise a series of profound security, privacy and identity authentication issues – is an essential part of an online direct democracy. In an online direct democracy, citizens would propose, comment upon, modify and vote on legislation.

Ross Perot, twice an independent candidate for President of the United States (1992-1996) and the founder of Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a data processing powerhouse, proposed electronic town halls during his presidential campaigns. No country or government has yet adopted online democracy. Although ICT has been used for voting, it has been tightly controlled and used only at traditional polling places; it is still far from being an everyday, log-on-to-the-Internet-and-vote affair. No government that I am aware of has yet adopted full-scale electronic town halls where citizens, not legislatures, debate the affairs of state.

eGovernments are coming; you can already find varying degrees, greatly varying degrees, of eGovernment in countries throughout the world. The United Nations evaluated the state of eGovernment readiness and of the extent of eParticipation of each of its 19 its member nations and created an index to rate them based of an assessment of their websites, their telecommunications infrastructure and their human resources.

The first five countries had readiness ratings between 0.91 and 0.86. In contrast, the world average, at 0.4514, is less than half that of the leading countries. Parts of Africa hold the tail light at an average of 0.2110, and a number of countries there barely pass the mark of 0.11

Rank       Country                   Index
1              Sweden                   0.9157
2              Denmark                 0.9134
3              Norway                   0.8921
4              United States         0.8644
5              Netherlands           0.8631

eGovernment and the social, economic, health, educational and other service it can provide will have a big impact on the world, especially the developing economies, in the coming years. Indeed, it must.

If governments do not take the lead, especially through eGovernment programmes of all types, there is little hope that the digital revolution, the Information society, will flourish in many of the world’s developing regions.

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Masdar City is the most ambitious sustainable development in the world today – it will be the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city powered entirely by renewable energy sources. It is part of the Masdar Initiative; a long-term strategic endeavour by Abu Dhabi to accelerate the development and deployment of clean future energy solutions. By taking sustainable development and living to a new level, Masdar City will lead the world in understanding how all future cities should be built. The City is a free zone cleantech cluster, which is already attracting the world’s best in all areas of sustainability, from renewable energy to biomass. All types of companies including innovators, incubators, research and development, pioneers and solution providers will be part of the journey to create, work and live in Masdar City.

Masdar City is more than a concept – it is happening. Phase One of Masdar City has now begun – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is underway and Masdar City will be home to 100 students and faculty by fall 2009. Masdar is embarking on a global drive to attract industry partners in the field of ICT to achieve this important objective.

Your expertise in ICT solutions will contribute to the development of a blueprint for the cities of the future.

To find out how to become a partner please visit us at http://www.masdaruae.com

____________________________________________________

The next issue of Connect-World Europe will be published early next month. This edition of Connect-World will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows such as: Mobile World Congress, (Barcelona, 16-19 February), CeBIT 2009 (Hanover, 3-8 March), and IPTV World Forum, (Olympia, London 25-27 March 2009).

The theme of this issue of Connect-Word Europe will be – Mobile and wireless – much more than voice and entertainment.

Wireless, both mobile and fixed, is rapidly growing in importance throughout the world. The boarders between mobile and fixed wireless are blurring with the advent of the femtocell and the use of mobile networks for fixed broadband access in regions not reached by fixed broadband infrastructure. Either LTE or WiMAX, depending upon the region and the local operators, will soon bring true wireless broadband to many with no other access. The advent of inexpensive smartphones will stimulate demand from businesses and individuals alike for a wide variety of more sophisticated services and applications. Internet services, Web 2.0 applications, location-based technologies, unified access (a single phone number for everything) and of course an increasing variety of high-level entertainment services – both time and place-shifted – are all going mobile. Web-based social communities are going mobile as well.

Device size and capacity limitations, user-friendliness and quality of experience considerations, especially those associated with mobile communications, will stimulate the use of cloud computing – using the Internet itself for the services once available only on a computer – and should propel the growth of SaaS (software as a service) as well. The almost unlimited functionality that cloud computing and SaaS bring will also accelerate the trend towards more versatile user equipment – especially touch screen and two-way camera phones.

The growth of wireless communications, especially wireless broadband, is driving fierce competition among operators, service providers, network equipment vendors, end-user equipment suppliers, software developers, applications developers and content providers. Outsiders, such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others are entering the market with their own platforms and applications and changing the rules of the game.

Everyone is after a piece of the market, but the market has its limits, so new business models, some advertising-driven, are emerging.

This issue of Connect-World Europe will explore how the changes brought by this wireless revolution will affect the sector and the region’s businesses and citizens.

Europe I 2009 Media Pack; Click here

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January I 2009

15 January 2009

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

Gadget heaven and the octopus syndrome
CES 2009

Big shows like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)in Las Vegas, or SuperComm and CeBit at their peaks, are hard to describe. Where do you start? What is important, what is flashy, have you missed anything important (of course you have, the show’s too big)?

After the first thousand exhibitors, everything merges and blurs, so you try to be more selective. It’s like greeting an octopus; which hands (tentacles) do you shake first?

I’ll take the easy way and start with statistics. The show’s organisers, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reportedly expected 130 thousand people this year – there were 141 thousand last year, but the preliminary numbers in the latest CES press release put the number of attendees at 110 thousand. Although they claim to be pleased, a 22 percent drop in attendance is not normally an occasion for joy.

Really? Well, according to the CEA the level, if not the number, of the visitors has risen and more business is being done than ever before. This may well be so; when money is short, companies only send the real decision maker, the real buyers, to shows. I have seen this before, and some of the show goers comments seem to bear this out. If this is so, the networking – always a CES strong point – might have been better than ever.

Even 110 thousand attendees in the midst of an economic crisis is quite a feat and – again from the CEA press release – “more than 2,700 global companies, including 300 new exhibitors, unveiled an estimated 20,000 new technology products across 1.7 million net square feet of exhibit space this week…helping lead the way to economic recovery.”

Despite the CEA’s enthusiastic prose, I wonder just how much the economy will recover – even with the help of the 2009 CES. The economy was far stronger when most companies made their plans for the show. I wonder if the show will fare as well in 2010.

This year, at least, since the big companies all set their budgets, book their space and make their plans as much as a year in advance the major companies were all there. Name a big company that makes TVs, cell phones, computers, photo equipment, gaming, audio, video, automotive technology, GPS and more – they were almost certainly at the CES. A lot of smaller companies were there too; CES is, after all, the best stage in the sector, the place to be seen and recognised, to make a mark.

The CES is a gadget freak’s heaven, but it also has some really interesting top-notch industry leading keynoters. This year Dr. Craig Barrett from Intel and Cisco’s John Chambers spoke on behalf of the Technology and Emerging Countries program. Other keynoters included Steve Ballmer, of Microsoft, Sir Howard Stringer from Sony and Ford’s Allan Mulally. Great crew, all interesting and good speakers: consensus view – not much said of note. I suppose they will do better next time.

Organising such an diverse event is almost like shovelling smoke into a wire basket. Ok, it does give the event some sort of superficial order and I have to give them credit for trying. Still, an array of 18 ‘Tech Zones’ ranging from Advanced Digital Displays to ZigBees and passing through Digital Health, Greener Gadgets, Robotics, Stevie Wonder and Friends (sponsored by National Federation of the Blind and the Sendero Group), not to mention a slew of expected technologies like mobile broadband is a hard scheme to follow.

As if that weren’t enough, the Tech Zones are just one of the 12 ‘CE Spotlights’, that (try to) define the show’s overall organization. Other Spotlights cover content, digital imaging, gaming, international Gateways’ for international exhibitors, location-based services, wireless, ‘Sustainable Planet’, an ‘Innovations Showcase’ and a ‘Kids@Play Summit.

Another CE Spotlight, ‘Experience CEA’, featured the CEA’s own institutional agenda including: free trade, energy conservation/recycling the transition to digital television, market research, standards, ‘CEknowhow’ and DigitalTips from CEA’s consumer sites such as Great Audio, Digital Driver, TechHome and myGreenElectronics.

The ‘Silvers Summit’ is the CEA’s nod to the affluent baby-boomer market – 78 million just in the USA and some 450 million around the world – now in their sixties and waiting (the CEA hopes) to spend their cash on electronics.

Okay, I know, you just wanted to hear about the gadgets. There was no lack of them. Once again back to the octopus. Where do I start?

Once again – this is a consumer electronics show, after all – the emphasis was upon putting more great things than you can possibly use in smaller, shinier, cheaper packages. Especially for cell phones / smartphones, the show is more about ingenious convergence and consumer mashups than about electronics per se.

The mainstream plasma and LCD sets are getting thinner, bigger and cheaper instead of smaller so televisions are also doing more for less; unless, of course they are pioneering new technology.

With new technology, it is often a case of paying a lot more today for technologies that promise more, but only in the future. Among new and expensive TV technologies are LED TV – that is LED, light emitting diode and not the more familiar LCD, liquid crystal display – super thin OLED (organic LED) displays. Other new TV technologies grabbing the attention of the early adopters are the Toshiba/Sony/IBM ‘cell processor’ chip TV that uses the chip developed for the Sony PlayStation to provide a range of interactive high-end recording and playback options, and the laser TV.

There is also the WhereverTV Receiver, a small US$200 box, that works with a standard TV and a broadband Internet connection to delivers many hundreds of free channels via IPTV from more than 100 countries. A great idea, but I just checked this via their site and could only tune into a small number of the channels they list – the ratio of ‘currently unavailable, try again later’ notices to viewable channels was better than 10 to one. Would their box do better?

There is too much to talk about – in fact it would take days just to skim quickly through the descriptions of everything at the show, so let’s just look at one or two highlights.

I was pleased to see the Palm, the PDA pioneer, earn the best in show award for its Palm Pre after a few years as an also ran. Although touted as an iPhone killer, it’s got a slick touch screen, but it also has a slide out full keyboard. My first reaction was it could be a BlackBerry killer, but I admit I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet. It seems like a good well thought out bit of hardware – its got all the usual smartphone stuff – 8GB of storage, a camera GPs, WiFi connectivity and lots more.

Palm has been concentrating its efforts, lately, on Microsoft’s mobile OS. This phone, however, uses Palm’s WebOS operating system. The phone reportedly has a ‘card’ system to handle multiple open windows and uses a multi-touch screen with capabilities similar to the iPhone. I would bet that Palm will have more to announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

Last, after all these wonders, let’s talk a bit about a scenario that must be keeping a lot of operators up at night. Skype’s disruptive potential has been steadily growing in a number of areas. Fixed operators, if they are smart, will start worrying about their VoIP business networks. Digium, the company that created Asterisk, the most important open source telephony software including for IP PBX software, has been running a beta test for several months with Skype; it will let corporate users access Skype via the Asterisk IP PBX. Today, businesses generate roughly 30 per cent of Skype’s traffic. Connecting Skype to the Asterisk switchboard should boost Skype’s business traffic considerably and get the PBX sector thinking about the shape of the future.

The switchboard connection, important in itself, but together with Skype announcements at CES – Skype Lite for Android and Java Mobil phones, the Skype screen sharing software announced for their new 2.8 beta software for Mac and Skype’s plans for an interactive connection with TV, Skype faxing and others – the highly disruptive nature of an anywhere, everywhere Skype becomes obvious. Skype is working to get its applications pre-loaded in mobiles in several emerging markets and, to complete the picture, Skype also signed an agreement with Boingo for worldwide access to any of the 100 thousand Boingo WiFi hotspots at airports, hotels and cafes around the world. No signup, just a reasonable, fixed, US$ 0.19 per minute, anywhere.

Operator beware! Skype is working hard to make both business and personal use simple, and inexpensive, no matter where you are or the device you use. Is Skype building the ultimate disruptive service offering?

____________________________________________________

Masdar City is the most ambitious sustainable development in the world today – it will be the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city powered entirely by renewable energy sources. It is part of the Masdar Initiative; a long-term strategic endeavour by Abu Dhabi to accelerate the development and deployment of clean future energy solutions. By taking sustainable development and living to a new level, Masdar City will lead the world in understanding how all future cities should be built. The City is a free zone cleantech cluster, which is already attracting the world’s best in all areas of sustainability, from renewable energy to biomass. All types of companies including innovators, incubators, research and development, pioneers and solution providers will be part of the journey to create, work and live in Masdar City.

Masdar City is more than a concept – it is happening. Phase One of Masdar City has now begun – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is underway and Masdar City will be home to 100 students and faculty by fall 2009. Masdar is embarking on a global drive to attract industry partners in the field of ICT to achieve this important objective.

Your expertise in ICT solutions will contribute to the development of a blueprint for the cities of the future.

To find out how to become a partner please visit us at http://www.masdaruae.com

____________________________________________________

The next issue of Connect-World Asia-Pacific will be published later this month. This edition of Connect-World will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows such as: PTC, Hawaii (18-21 January 2009) and Carriers World Asia, Hong Kong (16-19 March 2009).

The theme of this issue of Connect-Word Asia Pacific will be – Convergence, communications and business innovation.

Communications with customers, suppliers, service providers, financial institutions and the like are the lifeline of any business. Today’s converged networks, converged devices and applications that take advantage of the possibilities a converged environment brings are revolutionizing the office – or the home in the case of tele-workers/ telecommuters – to deliver a seamless work environment to workers wherever they may be. The converged environment has stimulated a wide variety of innovative applications for large and small businesses alike. Many of these applications are not just new ways of doing the same things, but are real changes in the way we do business or are new businesses in their own right. Interaction is facilitated, costs are eliminated or drastically cut, and collaboration with colleagues, clients and suppliers anywhere at any time is enhanced. By minimizing the need to travel, applications such as video-presence are also starting to reduce business travel – and the user’s carbon footprint.

This sort of convergence offers a powerful way to simplify business processes, and its implications are far reaching and complex. Cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS) special applications, Swiss knife communications and computing devices, innovative applications and a host of storage, communications and network equipment will be needed to make this work efficiently and cost effectively.

This issue of Connect-World Asia-Pacific 2009 will examine the implications of these far-reaching converged systems and the impact they have not only upon users, but upon the complex ecosystem that will make these innovative communications systems possible – the networks, communications equipment, user devices, software and business applications.

Asia-Pacific I 2009 Media Pack; Click here