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The multi-billion dollar question

The multi-billion dollar question

Electronic government will be judged a success when the public regularly and easily use online channels to access public-sector information services. However, the hurdles to achieving this are significant.

The information technology spend on government is $142 billion worldwide, according to latest IDC figures. An increasing proportion of that is going into services, tailor-made programming out-side the realm of either software packages or hardware, says Theresa Bozzelli, managing director of IDC’s Government Insights unit.

Governments often rate the success of e-government initiatives by measuring broadband penetration, uptime of networks delivering government services or speed of transactions.

These are “not unimportant”, but ultimate public sector value is in delivering service, she states during a recent Brightstar Conference on ICT trends in government.

The emotional response of the public is to that aspect of effectiveness. It’s ultimately about how much the public trusts their government to deliver correct information and to take care of their personal data.

These goals can occasionally conflict. Security is considered essential for mainten-ance of government information, yet in co-ordinating response to Hurricane Katrina, says Bozzelli, it was found that security precautions in the treatment of information obstructed the crucial provision of services.

Making connections

Failure of technology-based systems in government is seldom due to the technology, she says, but rather to vacillating and competing political priorities.

Much as governments like to imagine their ICT innovations will be saleable internationally, there is a limit to the applicability of similar ICT approaches in different cultures, she says.

Budgetary concerns naturally loom large in government, says Bozzelli. The public sector must be seen to spend its money wisely; even though statistics show private industry does no better, government is plagued by public visibility.

An interesting perspective comes from ICT deputy state services commissioner Laurence Millar. The Digital Strategy and the goals of the State Services Commission (SSC)?–?which include networked government?–?are the adop-tive parents of the e-government strategy, says Millar. Government has charged the SSC with establishing the benchmark of a government transformed by the use of ICT by 2010.

The achievement of the SSC’s own goals, the commission has realised, can provide a measure of this transformation. He says the revision of the e-government strategy undertaken this year shows people want authoritative government data sources, more integrated and people-centred services, more participation, new channels for interaction and greater partnership between government and private individuals and businesses.

The public wants simple and flexible authentication procedures for online interaction with government, but want iron-clad security at the same time.

At a practical level, says Millar, success in transformation of government can be measured by answering five key questions:

• Are New Zealanders using the services provided by agencies and are barriers to access being reduced?

• Can New Zealanders get consistent service whichever combination of channels they use to engage with government?

• Can New Zealanders provide information to government just once, or do they have to provide the same information many times to different agencies?

• Do workers in State agencies work with colleagues across the sector to put results for New Zealanders ahead of individual agency interests?

• Do New Zealanders have confidence in the integrity of government agencies and workers?

Reaching Gen Y

Steve Griffin, EDS’ client industry executive-government, stresses government must form policies that take account of the younger generation’s increasing facility with ICT; as well as the confidence of the young in their own abilities and opinions and their distrust of oracular pronouncements by authority.

This dictates a different relationship between government and the people, which will be focussed in the ICT channel.

Callum Holmes, general manager Southern Region, Simpl, points to the “dangerous enthusiasms” that bring about ill-considered ICT developments. The phrase is the title of a book by a current and a former Otago University lecturer, Robin Gauld and Shaun Goldfinch, which chronicles such failures, here and in Australia. They and Holmes, like Bozzelli, point out that statistics show the private sector has a higher failure rate.

Holmes lists predominant causes of missed deadlines, budget overruns and ultimate failure of projects as including: Inappropriate governance or management; culture or people mismatch; relationship breakdowns; incomplete or incorrect requirements of scope; under or over-specifying quality; lack of proper risk management.

He advocates a rapid planning session up-front, which should establish who the stakeholders are (particularly the critical stakeholders), who can stop the project if they are not convinced of its value, and the essential one, who can at least slow it down.

These should be involved, along with the project team, in a proactive and open session where scope and objectives are defined, development strategy chosen and the risks analysed, before developing a task list and building a schedule, culminating in a business case.

Characterising success

First, however, the participants should define success by quickly evaluating the extent to which various parameters should be satisfied?– whether, for example, stakeholder satisfaction should have more weight than meeting defined requirements.

The importance of meeting time, budget and quality constraints (the classic triangle of development) should be weighted, as should the potential to add value to the organisation and a sense of professional satisfaction for the team. The importance of all these should be quickly and graphically set on a group of slider controls and the relative settings kept in mind throughout the project.

Only after the slider-setting and the rapid planning session should a go/no-go decision be made for the project. The development will then be based on clearly understood requirements and success parameters, Holmes argues, and more likely to fulfil the expectations placed on it.

Retraining for new roles

Speakers discuss the fate of white-collar workers, whom Steve Griffin brands as essentially “human rules engines” who could be outmoded by the computer.

Griffin favours retraining them for roles where they would add real value to the company, while Bozzelli saw them reinvented totally in jobs such as landscape gardening.

Asked to identify the most pressing problems for e-government, Derek Locke of the New Zealand Defence Force, (see story at right) points to the need for broadband networking and mobility among providers and users of government ICT, and the need to rationalise large server populations with virtualisation.

A huge problem is in training of executives in basic ICT, say several panel speakers. Bernie Goedhart of Palmerston North City Council says his organisation put all staff through an NCEA level two IT course. “The managers did worst; they’ve got PAs to handle the computers for them,” he says.

The public’s trust in electronically enhanced government and the use of identity cards for access to government services are also issues that need to be faced.

The New Zealand government has conceived an authentication mechanism with no standard token. One individual is free to assume several online identities for different functions if they are nervous about their records being linked.

This is an example of how e-government services have to be configured differently in different countries; most of the population of the US for example, is very solicitous of its privacy, says Bozzelli.

The security and fraud fears held in Australia, for example, are used as a justification for a standard ID card and this is a weak argument, says Millar. “I don’t think it will achieve anything. If surveillance can take place, it will and [concerned citizens] will try to stop it wherever they can.”

Learn:

• How e-government leaders measure success.

• Why a rethink is needed to get the new generation using online government services.

• What has gone right and what could go wrong.

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