One of the concepts we’ve been talking about for a long time now is “Government as Platform”, the concept of breaking government services up into a number of digital building blocks that can be assembled in different combinations to provide compelling new services to citizens.
Government as Platform has many advantages, done correctly, it is not just a cost effective way of delivering relevant and rich services to citizens, but more importantly it changes the overall dynamic of how citizens gain access to crucial government information and services, ensuring that government services are federated out to the places where citizens live, work and play (rather than forcing citizens to have to come to government every time they want access to the service).
Today, I’m really pleased to be able to announce the availability of Travel Advisor – a new example of this approach, taking a core government service – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Advisory service, federating it out through an open data api and blending that data with a great social networking platform for gap year travellers – the brilliant GapYear.com. (Not to mention bringing with it core functionality from the internet like Bing’s currency exchange, weather and translation) All of this comes together to provide a beautiful, well informed, socially connected travel companion for gap year travellers.
Although a great application in its own right, it is also an excellent demonstration of what can be done to deliver beautiful, relevant services to citizens, by blending the diverse sources with relatively little effort and investment. Let me tell you a bit more about how it works.
The FCO is a switched on, digitally focused organisation, thanks in part to the wit and wisdom of their Head of Digital Engagement – Jimmy Leach. They already publish an RSS feed of the Travel Advisory service – a data stream of important content on all of the locations that the UK government has presence, with data ranging from what to do if your passport is lost/stolen through to up to date advice for travellers based on local conditions (extreme weather, civil unrest, significant local events etc). We contacted one of our partners – AWS, to help take that data and publish it in the cloud as an open data api that enables any developer on any platform to consume and make use of it. AWS then worked with GapYear.com to deliver a beautiful mobile application that would combine their socially connected services, with this authoritative information from the FCO to deliver a location aware, traveller’s resource.
The cost of developing the api and the app was actually pretty small, but the net benefit and overall experience for the citizen is immense, plus by taking this two phase approach – phase one = publish an open data api, phase two = do something beautiful with it, you create a solution that actually exponentially increases the potential value for both citizens and developers as you effectively create the opportunity for further innovation by developers to create new and interesting applications.
The Travel Advisor application is now available as a free download in the Windows Phone Marketplace.