16 August 2009

Open Goverment Made Simple

There has been a lot of talk about Open Government recently, including this from Peter Williams

"Australian governments should adopt international standards of open publishing as far as possible. Material released for public information by Australian governments should be released under a creative commons licence." or in simple terms "make public data open and free".
That is useful, clear and straightforward.

So how to do it?

My experience in organising company data over the last 10 years is that the teams I have worked in have tried many content management systems (CMSs) and none of them were satisfying to use (though some were interesting to implement.) Inevitably the document taxonomies that made sense to the site administrators did not work for most of the users and the users soon gave up trying to find things through the CMS.

Then one day someone in the company I was working at  purchased a Google Search Appliance (GSA) and indexed most of our intranet with it. After that everybody could find all the documents they knew existed on the intranet  and discovered useful ones they did not know existed.

To be fair, things were not quite that simple. Most companies need reliable storage, decent version tracking, access control and many other things that CMSs provide. However people need to be able to find documents much more than they need these other things. Very few people need version tracked, access controlled documents that they cannot find in the first place.

So why don't goverments just make their data visible to internet search engines and store it somewhere secure with some simple versioning system now, and then do the fancy stuff later? Why are they are investing in CMSs like Sharepoint?

The reason we did not do this in the companies I worked in was that many of the features in the CMSs we used were useful and the people who implemented the systems decided they needed all these features. Finding documents was just one of several check-boxes on their requirements documents. They were acting as implementers and experts, not users. The systems they ended up with made perfect sense to everyone except the users.

The interesting thing about this was the implementers were users in most cases. They were aware of the limitations of CMSs but they had to follow either the direction of their users who had had not used CMSs enough and to understand how badly they would work in practice or the direction of their managers and key stakeholders who had heard that CMSs were good. The person who got  the GSA was an IT guy who just went out and tried it without surveying users or bringing in CMS vendors to talk to his key stakeholders.

For a different perspective on Open Government, read some Tim O'Reilly.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Have you tried Verve® for content management?