Achieving e-government requires leadership, fierce resolve, and creative approaches to securing needed funds.many governments are having difficulty turning e-government visions into reality. There are multiple challenges: as constituents we have high expectations; there are often competing demands and opposing priorities for funds; funding mechanisms are more than challenging as the smartest approaches often don't match the way governments operate; and e-government initiatives are often complex, expensive and risky endeavours which require the sort of continuity that doesn't sit well with political processes.
But there are many success stories, and Australia fares extremely well in international comparisons. Early movers included the Australian Tax Office electronic lodgement service, the Victorian government "Maxi" initiative following the life-cycle approach, and more recently, initiatives at the federal level in the small business area. These have usually been the result of a vision of a better way to service customers, constituents or business, combined with considerable personal commitment, persistence, and informed risk-taking all underpinned by top level public service ethos.
In an effort to obtain a global picture on how e-government initiatives get successfully implemented, Gartner's Executive Programs Research team recently polled a team of experts from both inside and outside Gartner. We distilled the findings down to five major imperatives.
Imperative 1. Focus on the Goal
Sustained focus distinguishes successful e-government initiatives - focus on specific constituencies, business goals, the value and the timeline. A key attribute was the ability to look from the outside in.
Governments are usually organised into functional silos, with each department performing certain tasks. Many citizens and businesses find this aggravating; for one transaction, they may have to deal with numerous departments.
Taking the constituents' point of view makes for a more citizen-friendly or business-friendly government and is a key factor for e-government. It has led governments around the world, including Singapore, the UK, and the state of Victoria, to organise their Web sites around "life events", such as moving into the region, enrolling in school, finding a job, getting married and starting a business.
Another part of sustained focus is to have the political will to change what government does and how it does it, and to target specific constituencies for each initiative and understand the information-seeking behaviour of those constituencies. For example, Australia's Centrelink puts a lot of emphasis on the right mix of channels for reaching each constituency.
Finally keep things as simple as possible. Simple and clear initiatives are easier to explain, justify, get funded and implement.
Imperative 2. Establish the Leadership
Effective leadership inspires and mobilises others to take the right steps in pursuit of the vision and it is needed at all levels of the organisation.
The UK government created the Office of the e-Envoy to get the country online, and to ensure it derives maximum benefit from the knowledge economy. The e-Envoy leads the delivery of ukonline.gov.uk, the Web site aimed at modernising the UK government. The e-Minister, assisted by an Information Age Ministerial Network, is responsible for the political aspects of e-government initiatives. Both the e-Envoy and the e-Minister report to the Prime Minister.
This approach demonstrates all four requirements associated with good leadership in government: getting sponsorship from the top, using champions to push initiatives, creating specialised e-government leadership roles and empowering managers at all levels.
E-government initiatives can grind to a halt if all decisions need to be escalated to a steering committee that only meets periodically. So a key success factor is to agree on a governance structure early, spelling out who can make what types of decisions and which decisions must be escalated.
Clarifying these governance issues was a key factor for the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC), an organisation for small- and medium-size South Carolina cities, many of which are without IT staff. MASC members were empowered to achieve their e-government aspirations through an alliance with an e-government application service provider (ASP). The ASP established discounts based on the number of cities participating, and modules used. MASC negotiated for the ASP to hold the cities' code in escrow to ensure its availability if the ASP stopped offering these services. Furthermore, MASC's attorneys created a model contract for cities to use when negotiating with the ASP.
Imperative 3. Find the Resources
Vision without commitment of resources is an empty promise; but it's not uncommon to find politicians expounding a vision and target dates without providing the requisite resources. Making these "dreams" come true often requires creative approaches to funding, staffing and using outside resources.
The State of Arizona Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) had no budget to put its registration system on the Web to alleviate long lines at its offices. But it found a vendor willing to develop the ServiceArizona system for no charge to the state and then operate it in return for assessing user transaction fees. In subsequent years, Arizona passed legislation allowing the MVD to pay the vendor directly for those services and eliminate the transaction fee. Utilisation jumped substantially when the fee was eliminated.
The lesson gleaned is to be creative when it comes to funding and financing: bring in or develop the right skills and competencies and leverage outside resources.
Many jurisdictions, including the government of Canada, have established a fund to finance e-government initiatives that meet specific criteria. Canada has pledged $190 million over two years to design and launch Government On-Line. About one-third was set aside for projects that link services from different departments, help the government meet its 2004 commitment, or address such policy issues as privacy, security, and information management. Departments are encouraged to submit proposals for central funding and more than 150 have already been received.
Imperative 4. Invest in the Building BlocksThe fourth imperative centres around developing a basic infrastructure. The Internet might be the most obvious, but it's not secure and legacy architectures can't take full advantage of it. Governments need to invest in secure, flexible and efficient infrastructure building blocks to enable electronic service delivery. Some government agencies, such as the Australian Tax Office, are now working closely with key vendors, such as Microsoft, to help meet this challenge.
To leverage its mainframe and client/server legacy systems, North Carolina uses a "service broker" architecture. In essence, legacy systems are turned into functions and data sources that can be called on to service Web-based applications. By investing in building blocks, e-government initiatives seek to overcome the technology roadblocks that cause delay and sometimes failure.
Imperative 5. Maintain the Pressure
Announcements of e-government initiatives are often made with great fanfare and media coverage. After the initial fervour wears off, the long battle begins. The fifth imperative is about continuing the pressure for progress on many fronts. This means really understanding the political processes in which you work, particularly the "hot buttons" of key stakeholders.
Committed sponsors, champions and leaders use whatever means is available to keep the pressure on. The IT Advisory Board for the State of Missouri, for example, presents "Make a Difference" awards to IT staff who have been especially creative or expended extra effort to benefit other departments. Hennepin County, in Minnesota, offers the unusual "The Best Idea That Did Not Work" award to foster innovation.
Effective e-government leaders work with legislators and regulators to update legislation, regulations and policies. They resolve political infighting and power struggles early by setting measurable objectives that can be used to track progress.
Canada's e-government accomplishments have consistently been ranked in the top one or two worldwide. Canada was the first major country to connect all its schools and libraries to the Internet. It also built the most advanced coast-to-coast fibre-optic network in the world. Having these building blocks in place provided a strong base for its e-government initiatives.
While the situation in Australia is somewhat patchy, we are consistently in the top five worldwide. In preparing our recent Gartner Executive Programs report, E-government: revolution in progress, we had more examples from this part of the world than we could use. This is not because we have had a coherent vision throughout and across our over-governed country. Rather, in key areas, we have had people with focus who have given real leadership, who have garnered the resources (often against the odds), built the infrastructure components (sometimes by stealth), and maintained the pressure with real public service as their ethos.
As I am fond of saying, if you think leading and managing and achieving e-enablement in the private sector is difficult, try the public sector. Now that will really test you.
Dr Marianne Broadbent is group vice president and global head of research for Gartner's Executive Programs
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.