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The opportunities and perils of governing in a hyperconnected world

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By Stefano Lindt Author of the upcoming Citizen 20|20 eBook

Over the last few years, the extraordinary growth of mobile, data science, and cloud technologies has changed almost every part of daily life. Our smartphones—and smart cars and smart appliances and smart everything—are such an integrated part of our lives that it’s easy to forget how different things were just ten years ago. We can lock and unlock our front doors from 2,000 miles away. We can use our phones to order groceries for delivery within two hours. We catch cabs, rent rooms, and drive cars in new ways, thanks to the sharing economy. And here’s a wild stat: In 2014, there were 105 mobile subscriptions for every 100 people in the world, according to the World Bank.

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The pace of change isn’t slowing down, and it will affect more than just our private lives. The increasing connectedness of people and things will also have major implications for the way governments connect with and serve citizens. For government agencies that recognize this trend and can reimagine the government-citizen relationship, there’s a lot to gain. On the other hand, agencies that can’t will become a source of frustration and annoyance—and even lose citizens as they move elsewhere. Here’s a taste of what’s at stake.

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Go social or go home

Social media might have become ubiquitous in just the last decade, but for kids born ten years ago, Twitter is practically a birthright. This always-connected aspect of modern life has enormous potential to do something that government leaders dream of: turn citizens into more active participants in the democratic process. But it also gives citizens the ability to hold governments accountable like never before. With a tweet or post or a single photo gone viral, citizens can complain about inefficiency at the polls, expose police brutality, and mobilize protesters to take action into their own hands.

Citizens are already using social media in this way, and government agencies need to make sure social media is major part of their strategy. Otherwise, citizens will continue the conversation—without government input.

Meet Citizen Sensor

You might be excited by the prospect of using your phone to turn up the heat before you arrive home on a cold winter day. But to government agencies, the possibilities for the Internet of Things are far more consequential.

Roadside sensors, pollution sensors, wearable monitors, security devices, and other touchpoints will make cities smarter and more livable for everyone. It’s already happening: In Boston, the mayor’s office created an app that uses citizens’ GPS and smartphone accelerometers to identify potholes. The beauty of the app is that it harnesses technology that already exists—all of those smartphones sitting in people’s cars—and puts them into public service without adding costly resources to the budget. (And potholes get fixed faster, which is a win for everyone.) At the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working with citizens who own consumer-grade air-quality monitors to get hyperlocal air readings and detect pollutants. Wearables may even serve as health monitors that send stats to doctors or automatically call 911 in an emergency. Around the world, there are countless examples of agencies launching innovative initiatives like these.

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Big (very big) data

And what will agencies do with all of that data they collect? If they use it in the right way, agencies will be able to act as concierges, anticipating exactly what information or services citizens need and providing it in relatively short order. They’ll also have to be exceptionally careful about how they collect and use data, building transparency, security, and privacy protections into the process—or risk losing citizen trust.

The opportunity

Government leaders have to take action now. They must adopt a citizen-driven mind-set, reinvent the way they operate, and look to the private sector for cues on how to deliver. Citizens expect an experience as polished and cutting-edge as they get from the private sector, and most government agencies are a long way from meeting that expectation.

These might sound like big changes to make, and they are. But they’re not optional. To learn more about the future of citizens and government, join us at the HPE Government Summit 2016. We’ll discuss how IT transformation can prepare governments to better deliver on their missions tomorrow and beyond.

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