McKinsey: If you were sitting down with a policy maker, how would you advise him or her to think about the business of government? Does technology present any opportunities?
Tim Brown: It’s really clear that mobile technology should change the relationship citizens have with their government because of the ability to have a constant dialogue. Businesses are doing that today very, very successfully. They’re acquiring data and using it to see patterns that tell them how they might serve their customers differently. Government should be doing the same thing.
We’re seeing some interesting first steps. Government databases are being launched that will allow people to do things with that data and build businesses from that data. It’s a great first step. But inside the operations of government itself, we should be making more use of some of this technology.
McKinsey: More of what we're coming to call big data?
Tim Brown: Yes; it’s the combination of big data and mobile devices as a way of acquiring data about people, but also giving citizens access to that data.
And there are ways of using data that could be extremely helpful in showing governments more clearly how the world operates—how systems are working, the productivity of the world they exist in, or what their citizens are actually doing.
In business, there are often a lot of assumptions and intuitions that are used to manage. You can use data analysis to say, “Hey, this is how your business actually works. Don’t you think, if you look at this, that you should be doing some things differently?”
I think there are a lot of those assumptions made in government, maybe even more because the wishful thinking that goes on in politics makes it even harder to see the world as it really is. Clear analytics could be extremely, extremely valuable.