The idea of eGovernment is not exactly new, but the topic is definitely back in focus again as governments everywhere seem to be looking for savings, and view the idea of eGovernment as one way to achieve some savings. The rationale sounds good to a Politician – ‘we will deliver more for less cost’, create an efficient government, etc. Occasionally you will hear the point about the cultural shift for the digital young being part of the issue, but generally the focus for all of the activity starts with the idea of consolidation.
Unfortunately, consolidation can sometimes mean huge, centralised databases and expensive IT projects with the potential to consume large amounts of money and take a long time to deliver anything. Even once the results are delivered, sometimes the ongoing management and maintenance can be an issue. All of this is before we even address the issue of whether the data can be cleaned and consolidated, if the various departments will cooperate for common good, at what they will probably consider is at the expense of the services they deliver, etc, etc.

I guess government officials are used to thinking ‘big’ and believing that it’s the role of government to handle these kind of ‘public good’ mega projects and resources, so eGovernment that is in the interests of the public and voters has got to be right!
Personally I think it’s time to turn the argument around and start allowing eCitizens to decide how they use ‘services’ both in terms of the value the government delivers and in the use of ‘services’ meaning the technology. My simple illustration is that if a relative dies I want to follow a single integrated process to carry out necessary steps and have no interest in what, where and how all the government departments and their systems/databases deal with this information.
Governments think databases; Citizens think process! (And private sector thinks customers)
It might have been a issue around the limitations of technology some years back in the age of applications, but it most certainly isn’t a limitation currently as we move to ‘services’ delivered via a common ‘infostructure’ of the Internet and Web. The issue is organisational, where in government are the equivalents to the new roles we are starting to see in large enterprises, which are based on being in charge of an end-to-end process and the resulting effectiveness that this delivers. Sure you need to keep the departmental focus on doing the specialised aspects of each task area, and its’ associated systems, but it’s how they deliver within the consolidated and integrated process that is the value statement.
Will this deliver more for less? I don’t know without a detailed case study, but as it should ensure each department is fed the same data, at the same time for incorporation in their systems and databases, at this level alone of data entry and error handling it should be a saving. Certainly it should have the right effect on the voters in terms of the perceived value they are getting from their government.
We are moving towards this in the private sector as the leaders in customer care and relationships learn how to create stronger links with their customers, and the customers learn how to get better value from their supplier. Really good online experiences, what Capgemini calls the ‘You Experience’ are now visible in a number of sectors as the game changers that have driven new market shares. In fact you can call it a kind of ‘democratisation’ of the relationship between the consumer and the seller as it moves towards shared information leading to better ‘wins’ for both parties than the old ‘push the product’ distribution model where one size fits all, and strong marketing will convince the consumer to buy.
I have written this about eCitizens and eGovernment but it all applies to any business model, and even to internal delivery of services from the IT department. We need to shift from the provisioning of applications that suit the way the computer works to the ‘users’ who are informed that they must do what is required of them, towards thinking of them as ‘consumers’ of services from within the business. And that means both adopting and using ‘service oriented architecture’, SOA, to connect the existing applications to building and deploying through a full services model to achieve this goal.
The challenge is not technical, it’s around business organisation and structure, so it applies to more than just the IT department. Most of all, though the real challenge will be the rising expectations of citizens as they increasingly experience a new relationship with many of the major corporations who supply them with life services in every field from entertainment to travel, financial services to their work place experiences. Increasingly privatisation is taking over roles and services that were the preserve of government-provided public services. Currently governments are still monopoly suppliers of many unique services and have created their own expectations and measurements of the quality of service, but for how much longer will politicians feel able to ignore the voting citizen’s views?