Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SB 272 passes policy committee in Assembly; SB 450 consideration is postponed until 2016

SB 272, a bill authored by California State Senator Robert M. Hertzberg that would require county and municipal governments throughout the state to perform an inventory leading to a catalog of their “enterprise systems,” was approved  today on a 7-0 vote by the California Assembly Local Government Committee.

According to a press release issued today by the Senator’s office, “no actual records will be included in the catalog.”

Also according to that statement,

“Within California’s 58 counties and nearly 500 cities, there are thousands of agencies that collect and store public information.

“Hertzberg said his goal for SB 272 and open data in the long term is to better harness the power of locally generated data to help spur economic growth, tackle major infrastructure issues and set millions of Californians on a path toward upward mobility. Properly gathered and clearly understood, data could also help empower local agencies and encourage the agencies to work together more effectively and to intelligently allocate resources to better deliver public services, he said.

”‘Smarter governments work better and inspire confidence in those they serve, strengthening the connection between government and the people,’ Hertzberg said.”

Implementing this process would facilitate subsequent inventories of, and access to, the data itself, using something like the Microsoft Azure Data Catalog, which is, according to Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of Information Management and Machine Learning at Microsoft:

“a fully managed service that stores, describes, indexes and provides information on how to access any registered data source. It closes the gap between those seeking information and those producing it."

During a conference call today, a representative  of Microsoft said that the data corpus created by applying Azure Data Cloud to find and catalog government data sources could easily be analyzed using the recently-released Microsoft Cortana Analytics program to discover actionable insights that could lead to the results promised by Senator Hertzberg. 

The Microsoft representative further mentioned that it’s not just governmental organizations where resistance to modernizing data processing systems arises from politics generated by those who want to maintain control of their own “stovepiped” data.  So winning approval for such a system must necessarily require substantial investment in understanding and addressing the concerns of those who control legacy data sources and access to still-generating streams of data constantly being created by government at the state and local levels.

Full and free access to (most) government data using the cloud

Combining the SB 272-mandated “enterprise systems” data base with tools like Azure Data Catalog and Cortana Analytics would “empower local agencies” and allow, in Hertzberg’s words:  agencies to work together more effectively and to intelligently allocate resources to better deliver public services.”

Creating such a platform would also enable ordinary citizens, as well as government workers at all levels, to easily find and examine data from a comprehensive collection of government sources from any place with an Internet connection.

Of course, deciding what data held by the government is too sensitive for any reason to be released to the public (by any means) is an on-going issue, and one that can be expected to intensify as access to government data becomes a more prominent issue itself and more people understand the potential of powerful cloud computing tools to put them in close touch with what their government is up to.

GovView as a 6-D’s phenomenon

As Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPrize competitions, frequently points out in his explanation of the “6 D’s of exponential growth,” technological innovation involves six major characteristics.  Exponential growth emerges in a form, he says, that is “digitized, deceptive (in that it starts slowly), disruptive, dematerialized, demonetized, and democratized.”

Digitizing official government data was the first step on this path.  SB 272 is deceptively only a small step further.  Giving everyone access to government data is certain to disrupt existing data food chains, and is likely to be resisted by some of those who control and want to continue to control the flow of information into and out of government.  Creating an integrated Azure Data Catalog with Cortana Analytics platform whose core data subsumes all available official state and local government data would effectively dematerialize the process of getting information from and about the government.  Once the system is in place, the marginal cost of further inquiries is so low as to virtually demonetize the process.  This virtually-free access to official texts and other files in a form that is most accessible to the user effectively democratizes the data.  Thus there occurs an exponential increase in access to data and, possibly, of civil engagement fueled by that access.

According to the press release from Hertzberg’s office:  “SB 272 now faces review by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. No hearing date has yet been set.”

Hertzberg’s office also confirmed that another bill in the Senator’s legislative portfolio, SB 450, which would have substantially re-vamped the way Californians vote, is being held over until the next session of the Legislature, beginning in January, 2016, to allow for further public discussion of the bill and its new framework for elections.

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