Yesterday I had an interesting meeting with a municipal authority which is in the process of revamping its e-government strategy. Their objective is provide better and integrated services, to identify common building blocks, to meet the executive leadership’s appetite for visibility and success. Incidentally they said that they already had the system integrator lined up and were evaluating proposals for a consulting company that would help them oversee the work.
I told them quite honestly what I thought: they seemed to have tackled the whole issue in the reverse order, and they could not both please the mayor’s desire for prestige and recognition and meet the most immediate citizen’s needs, nor could they select a contractor, let alone decide what to make it do, without clearly highlighting the program priorities. The problem is: how and where to focus?
As we were driving toward the city in the morning, I had been stricken by the number of cars commuting out of that city in the morning and queuing for hours, I picked “commuting citizens” as one promising market for e-services: people stuck in a car have plenty of time to do simple interactions with government. I went even further by suggesting that they could launch a mobile application contest for people to come up with innovative ideas and apps about how government information and services may make the commuter’s life less miserable.
At that stage they told me that they had award mechanisms in place to reward ideas that improve government services, and they had a bunch of SMS-based services that, guess what, were well received (such as notification of the stage of a case). The more we were discussing the more it looked like they already had a pretty comprehensive baseline in place to build such an initiative.
A former boss of mine used to say that one can rarely be young, rich and beautiful at the same time, and this is what this municipality, like many others, wanted to be by addressing too many conflicting objectives at the same time. Why not focusing on existing strengths as well as on an understanding of citizens really need, and proceeding with somewhat narrower initiatives that have an immediate and demonstrable impact, before venturing into more complex and ambitious transformation programs? You can be just young and become richer and wiser as you grow older, so that not being beautiful is no longer an issue.
They listened carefully and nodded. But will they change their plans and move away from the very ambitious and unfocused approach that they discussed at the beginning? I doubt: too much damage has been done by EU, UN, Accenture, Brookings Institution and all those who sponsor and perform rankings, issue international e-government awards and publicize best practices, forgetting that each jurisdiction must build on its strengths and challenges to aim at sustainable success.