Thursday, August 30, 2012

Decoupling data and presentation - government examples

Although it's hard to discern at the present time, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on many things. Their respective partisans may not believe this, but both President Obama and Governor Romney believe that many things can be accomplished through public-private partnerships. Most liberals agree that the private sector obviously play a key role in the economy, and most conservatives acknowledge that government, due to its sheer size, is going to affect the economy in some way.

So how do you get the private and public sectors to work together in the 21st century? President Obama has championed various digital initiatives, and I seriously doubt that Romney will scuttle them if he is elected. The website has a Digital Government Strategy page with a slew of recommendations. I'm only going to focus on one of them right now.

The page lists four strategy principles, the first of which is an information-centric approach. This is explained as follows:

Moves us from managing “documents” to managing discrete pieces of open data and content which can be tagged, shared, secured, mashed up and presented in the way that is most useful for the consumer of that information.

Two examples are presented - one from the Federal government, and one from local government. (For those who don't realize this, the Feds are not the sole source of innovation - state governments are making serious advances in providing government services. I can testify to this in my own industry, fingerprint identification systems, in which state and local governments were implementing palmprint identification systems years before the Federal government was able to attack the issue.)

Here's the Federal example:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is liberating web content by decoupling data and presentation. Using a “create once, publish everywhere mindset” and an API-driven syndication service, CDC’s content flows easily into multiple channels and is available for public and private reuse. Within its own channels, content is updated once, and then easily displayed on the main web site, the mobile site at, and in the various modules of the CDC mobile app.

In 2011, CDC’s liberated content was syndicated to 700 registered partners in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and 15 countries and accounted for an additional 1.2 million page views.

And here's a local example from my home state of California:

The City of San Francisco releases its raw public transportation data on train routes, schedules, and to-the-minute location updates directly to the public through web services. This has enabled citizen developers to write over 10 different mobile applications to help the public navigate San Francisco’s public transit systems—more services than the city could provide if it focused on presentation development rather than opening the data publicly through web services.

Now these things swing as a pendulum does, and I'm sure that a few years from now some Federal IT professional will be praising a new strategy in which data and presentation are tightly coupled. But this week's strategy is a good one, since it allows different organizations to concentrate on different strengths.
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