Being an analyst is often about seeing something that most clients (and vendors) do not see or would not admit, or do so earlier than they do, in order to advise them about how to prepare and deal with the consequences. Sometimes those predictions are controversial, sometimes they are not precise enough, sometimes the timing is not accurate. In other cases, they do generate a lot of internal debate in the analyst firm as well, since different analysts take a slightly different spin or viewpoint on a given topic.
One position that I have consistently pushed forward is that the future of generalist government portals the way we know them is doomed. I posted about this a few times (see here, here and here), and I wrote about this well before government 2.0 or even web 2.0 was in sight, in a research note about Why Today’s Government Portals Are Irrelevant (Garner login required).
In my last trip I met two large government organizations responsible for jurisdiction-wide portals. The topic of the conversation was social media strategy but, as it happens in these cases, it steered toward how social media influence the role of the government portal. I remember that I had met one of them at least twice in the last three years, and they had always been very skeptical with, if not openly annoyed by, my line about the bleak outlook for portals. But this time, they seemed more interested and ready to admit that their channel strategy may have to be reconsidered.
The second organization went even further, when one of the folks in the meeting posed a straight question: “Should we stop caring about the user interface, which has been sucking so much of our efforts, and rather focus on APIs and build widgets that would be used wherever clients want?”. Yes, of course. Go figure out for which information and service needs the portal will provide a better value proposition than a search engine, a social network, an agency or a third party web site, if any.
I know I will still get some comments – mostly private –.challenging my position and inviting me to weak a pair of pink glasses when I look at the future of portals. Some will point to USA.gov or Direct.gov.uk or others as very successful portals that pave the way for how things are going to be. But then, why do so many people nod when I tell them that uptake of government portals has been below (and sometimes way below) expectations? Why do they admit that they are successful only for a small subset of services,which could be equally effectively provided through an agency web site? Why do they struggle with questions like “how can we use web 2.0 to make our portal more compelling”?
The problem is that they can’t, and the earlier they look at this as an opportunity rather than as a risk or disappointment, the better they will be able to rebalance their efforts and focus on what does really make the difference.