Double Jeopardy

Double Jeopardy

Online service delivery is a two-edged sword.

Governments across the Asia-Pacific region have launched ambitious e-government initiatives to use information and communications technology to improve both public service delivery and internal operations. For governments, some of the key benefits of e-government include improved business processes and greater satisfaction among both internal and external stakeholders.

The growth of Internet users in the region illustrates why governments in the area are increasingly focused on providing online services. IDC forecasts Internet users in the Asia-Pacific will grow from 68 million people in 2000 to more than 245 million people in 2005, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 per cent and making the region one of the fastest growing for Internet use in the world. Already in many countries a sizeable proportion of the population is using the Internet for personal and business transactions. As global Internet penetration continues to steadily expand, and a growing number of citizens and businesses consider it routine to do business over the Internet they expect to have online access to government information and services.

In responding to and anticipating the needs of citizens and businesses, governments are using the Internet as an important new channel for interacting with stakeholders. By moving online, governments can encourage them to get involved in the policy-making process, increasing public satisfaction while providing the governments themselves with valuable feedback and the opportunity to be more responsive to stakeholder needs.

While the potential rewards of e-government are great, governments that embrace the technology are in jeopardy of making the same disastrous errors as organisations in the private sector that endeavour to become e-businesses. In IDC's recent study of e-government initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region, we found that a combination of optimism and fear was driving governments. They wanted to improve customer service and nurture the growth of an information society, but they were also afraid of being left behind. This has often caused a piecemeal and haphazard approach to implementing e-government initiatives, of which one outcome visible to the public has been the development of poorly organised and managed government Web strategies.

What's Holding E-government Back?

Some of the most advanced e-governments in the region, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, have recognised the need for an integrated approach to online service delivery. These governments have each unveiled what aims to be a whole of government, one-stop portal that meets the needs of all stakeholders. However, this is no small task, and each of the governments realises that it must continue to work toward this goal.

IDC's study identified a handful of challenges faced by every government, which need to be addressed for e-government initiatives to reach their full potential. Two of them are particularly important: a lack of leadership and a lack of resources.

The lack of leadership is considered by many seasoned e-government stakeholders to be the serious inhibitor of e-government - and in fact any government - initiatives. A concrete commitment to e-government at the highest levels of government leadership and across individual departments and agencies is necessary for success. One way to facilitate this is by designating or establishing a central authority to champion the cause of government and drive e-government initiatives among parts of the organisation that may otherwise find it more convenient to drag their feet.

Strong and centralised government leadership in Singapore is a key contributor to its rapid e-government advances. In decentralised, multi-level governments like Australia, the support of leaders across government levels and across government agencies is fundamental to providing integrated, efficient government services.

The lack of adequate funding for e-government projects is a universal challenge for governments being asked to provide more public services with shrinking budgets. While electronic service delivery, e-procurement, and other e-government initiatives can help government save money over the long run, implementing e-government projects often requires significant up-front investments. IT expertise is another resource in short supply. Particularly for IT skills in high demand in the private sector, the talent shortage is particularly acute.

Governments should keep an open mind about forming partnerships with private sector organisations, which can help them produce faster progress in developing and implementing e-government initiatives with lower government risk and investment . For example, as demonstrated in Australia's state of Victoria and in Hong Kong, governments can partner with private sector ventures to build government portals. As demonstrated in Singapore, governments can also form joint venture firms with private sector organisations that draw upon the strengths of both parties in developing government services.

Lisa Shishido is senior analyst, e-government & e-business at IDC Australia. She is the author of Asia Pacific E-Government Strategies, a report based on IDC's study of e-government initiatives across the region

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