"Spontaneous collaboration" and other lessons from the private sector

Padmasree Warrior on the tools and technology governments should harness.

Gov 2.0 Summit, 2010Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior’s vision for government’s future includes smarter cities, real-time communication over national boundaries and more efficient collaboration with citizens.

Warrior touched on these ideas during our recent interview, and she’ll expand on many of them during her conversation with Tim O’Reilly at this week’s Gov 2.0 Summit. Video highlights from our wide-ranging interview are embedded below.

(Note: This interview was conducted via Cisco’s TelePresence. Exporting video from that format presents technical challenges, so portions were recorded with a Flip camera and an iPhone.)

Video and spontaneous collaboration

Given that our interview was conducted via video conferencing technology, I asked Warrior which private-sector tech lessons can be applied to the public world.

“A big lesson that can be transferred from the private sector is kind of already happening. It’s how can we use technology, like this [referring to TelePresence], to spontaneously bring ideas together,” she said. That goes with the notion of open government, suggested Warrior. “How do you enable citizens to participate in brainstorming sessions, idea collection, in a more spontaneous way? The power of video is that it really allows us to extend the abstract notions of text-based technology and replaces that with much more human way of communicating. It’s more natural.”

The power of platforms

Platforms such as Amazon’s cloud, Apple’s App Store, Twitter and Facebook are key parts of the Web 2.0 world. I asked Warrior what government can learn or adopt from these examples.

“The broader access you have to ideas, the stronger the end result will be,” said Warrior. “Whatever the platform, the idea is how do get more innovation onto the platform.” She sees a clear opportunity for government, but challenges lie in separating signals from noise and applying useful filters so decision makers can enact informed policies.

The evolution of smarter cities

Last month, Warrior shared a link on Twitter about how sensor networks in buildings could use air conditioning ducts as building-wide antennas. Dovetailing with that, I asked her about the evolution of smarter cities.

“If you step back a little bit and think about what’s happening, this is going to be a problem that we’re all going to face in the next 10-20 years,” she said. “There’s rapid urbanization going on around the world. We’re expecting maybe about 100 new cities, with over 100 million people. New cities, that would be created over the next 10-15 years or so. So the challenge that we all face is how do we enable this urbanization to happen in a different way than we have done in the past. What role can technology play in building smarter cities, cities that are more sustainable, that are greener, that are more efficient?”

That perspective was further expressed by a recent tweet from Warrior, where she shared a piece from Science Daily: “Networks
— not size — give cities competitive advantage

On cloud computing, innovation and enterprise collaboration

The last part of our conversation focused on operating in a time of resource scarcity and the use of social software within Cisco itself.

“You don’t want to compromise innovation through piping and cost cutting,” said Warrior. “I think there will be technology-enabled ways to innovate that the government has to think about as well.”

If open government is done properly, according to Warrior, it will increase participation and share the load of the work. “It will drive that speed and the better quality of decisions. If not, it will end up being more bureaucratic, because the noise level is higher than the signal level. I think the key thing in open gov or any kind of open platform is optimizing the signal-to-noise ratio.”

Privacy and the transfer of information across communities

One part of the interview that did not make it onto YouTube focused upon the challenges for both government and enterprises that adopt cloud computing. Warrior pointed to the importance addressing the dual issues of authentication and identity, which from her point of view are essential issues. Those are precisely the topics, in fact, that
will be focused on at the Internet Identity Workshop in Washington, D.C. this week.

Warrior was thoughtful about the privacy issues that result from digital citizenship and business in the cloud. “There’s a difference between identity and community,” she said. “I have one identity that’s visible to many, being CTO of Cisco. That identity needs to be authentic. I tweet personal things because people want to know who the person is behind the title. At the same time, I belong to a community of Cornell alumnae, to women in tech, to haiku writers, and to southeastern Asian-Americans. You have to know what community is appropriate to share information with and how.”

The issue, explained Warrior, is the appropriate transferability of information from one community to another. That’s at the heart of privacy concerns about Facebook or Google’s initial missteps with Buzz. As government considers cloud computing models, getting privacy right
there will be even more important.

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