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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday 23 January 2012

A Bold New Vision for Canadian Social Services: Networked Intelligence, the LPC and an Opportunity for RIM

 “Implementing a comprehensive unified communications solution, for example, allows organizations to maintain a common platform for all their communications needs. It provides a quickly-deployed, scalable environment to roll out needed features to different people within the organization.”
-          Chris Hummel, Guest-writing for Forbes

"We can perhaps shoot for a grander goal - a province that provides the best public services, delivered in the most efficient manner, in the world.  If this sounds impossibly ambitious, put the question anothe way: Why not?"

 - The Drummond Report


RIM has seen better days.  As of this morning, the company’s stock had taken a 6% hit, dropping $1.09 to $16.15 on the TSE.

The cause of this is a familiar story – locked in a competitive model, RIM appears to have lost direction.  When it’s all about position, you lose forward momentum.  As that happens, others get ahead of you.  Besides RIM, this is exactly what has happened to the Liberal Party of Canada.

In other news, the Harper government is looking for every possible way to wash their hands of national responsibility, simultaneously firewalling executive function in the PMO.  Here in Ontario, everyone is waiting with baited breath for Don Drummond to come down from the mount with his Report On What To Do Next. 

This hesitancy makes sense.  The paradigm of the last century that has carried us thus far is stalled.  Our established, vertically-integrated institutions and models – some of which date back without much change to the 17th Century – are not up to the task of managing the realities of the 21st Century.

Nature abhors a vacuum; you never see the end of one model without there being something else ready to expand and fill the void.  That something else is already here – it’s called Networked Intelligence, and like the Industrial Revolution and the Green Revolution before it, NI is slowly transforming the system to meet the needs of modern-day society.
If you’re reading my post, this is not news to you.  You found my article via Twitter or Facebook, or through a Google search; you may have posted a comment or passed it along to your friends.  That access and connectivity is, fundamentally, what NI is about.  It’s a model that smart businesses are employing in their operations, successfully.

An integrated, crowd-sourced, transparent framework is good business; it’s also proving to be smart politics.  Every successful political entity in North America employs a collaborative network for data input, storage and access – the really good ones make prodigious use of maps.  In his presentation to the LPC at their recent biennial, Don Tapscott encouraged the Party, as well as the country, to take it a step further.

“Imagine an integrated health care system,” suggests Tapscott.  Heck, take it even further – imagine a fully-integrated, plugged-in social service system.  Imagine being able to track down any service you need via an Ap on your mobile phone.  Not sure what service it is you need?  Plug in some search terms of symptoms, employment interests, etc. and your mobile device will point you in the right direction. 

Crowd-sourced, with the crowd including government, government agencies, Not-For-Profits, Private business and the average folk on the street, a social service network would instantly connect you with what you needed or wanted, or offer alternative suggestions that fit previous preference patterns.  The integrated nature of the network would show you which service locations were closest and how to get there.  Reading recommendations by past clients or tailoring your ask for language or accessibility concerns would help you personalize your choice of provider even further, saving time both for you and the service providers you won't go to now that you know you don't need them.  The use of colours and icons could add an Apple-like simplicity to the often labyrinthine and confusing service access portals and application forms.

This is not a stretch – Google Maps or Microsoft's Sharepoint are leaps and bounds down this road already.  Government service provision is playing catch-up.  Where the new carrot lies for government and the taxpayer is in the reduction of duplication, gaps and overlaps that will be realized through the transparency of integration.  Networks facilitate data collection, storage and analysis, too, meaning they could fill the census gap.

There are some concerns, you suggest:
-          What would a fully networked social services platform do to privacy?  What would prevent your health record or your criminal record from getting into the hands of your spouse, your children, your friends, your employer?

-          There’s something Big Brother/SkyNet about all of this.  I don’t like the idea of the existing world being replicated through an online platform.
-         Who would build this network?  How would the average person access it?  Even for the points where Networked Intelligence is a good idea, it’s completely unrealistic.
These are questions that are already being answered.  Privacy today is not what it was in our parents’ generation – it’s more like it was before that, when society was more rural and there was no keeping secrets.  In particular, the NetGen are accustomed to sharing information and doing so online.  While there are mechanisms to ensure privacy and ownership of information, we’re going to find moving forward that people will be less-and-less concerned about privacy and, as a side-benefit, will become more pro-social in their behaviour as their lives become increasingly open to scrutiny.  Lord knows politics will benefit from this.

In terms of building and selling the infrastructure (and ensuring proper access through personal, hand-held devices), I think there is a company out there with the technical experiential knowledge to take a crack at leading the way. 
RIM could get its game back; it would certainly provide them with a destination to head towards.

In terms of the fear of integration – this is a valid argument.    There are those who view progress with suspicion; a horizontally integrated system might not be the sort of thing they could get behind.

In politics, you can’t please everyone.  It’s foolish to try.  Smart strategy begins by taking something you believe in, determining who your audience is – and isn’t – and tailoring your policies and communications to connect with your audience and convince them voting in support of you is the absolute best thing they can do with their time.


Whichever Party is going to champion a Bold New Vision of social service integration is going to have to accept there will be blocks of voters who won’t support them or their vision.  If you follow the demographic/voting trends, you’ll find that a lot of those voters form the backbone of Conservative support.  On the other hand, those that are preeminently engaged in and comfortable with all things online are youth.
Is there a Party in Canada that is looking for direction, is not tied to a particular block or restricted from embracing 21st Century ideas?  I think there is.

Networked Intelligence is already here – business is benefiting from it in spades.  It’s only a matter of time – a short matter of time, I’d warrant – before demand and fiscal challenges dictates that government social services become fully integrated and networked, too.  It’ll take a company or companies with the background, expertise and comfort with risk that RIM should be embodying to make this transition happen. 

It’s a brave new world that needs a bold new vision to champion it – a torch the Liberal Party of Canada is uniquely positioned to pick up and RIM is well-placed to facilitate.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

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