Yesterday I met with a government-funded organization that develops innovative e-government solutions for various departments, through a combination of national and European funding schemes. Earlier I had also discussed with a central agency in charge of common architectures and interoperability.
The topic of both conversations was how to evolve their mission and strategic objectives recognizing that all government departments will be struggling with tough budget cuts for the foreseeable future.
While in this particular jurisdiction e-government has been quite high on the agenda, also to close the gap with other jurisdictions in the region, there has been a sudden awakening to the reality of much tighter budgets and closer scrutiny.
Whether these central organizations realize this or not, there is a shift of priorities from electronic government to affordable government, from providing better services to being able to maintain existing service levels, from debating enterprise architectures to making sure resources are available to pay salaries.
Of course investing in technology and greater automation helps reduce costs in the longer term. But resources for those investments are not available, and the focus must shift from improving processes to radically changing the way outcomes can be achieved.
This requires a very deep reflection by business owners about the role of technology, how to harness the power of individual workers enables by inexpensive, consumer technology, and how to squeeze all possible value from their IT departments. It also requires those IT departments, as well as any central or shared service organization, reflect about the value it adds to individual IT departments and its business users.
Some of these central government organizations have the feeling that they will become more important going forward. After all, centralization prevents duplications and enforces standardization, doesn’t it? However the pace at which technology is evolving toward commodity solutions casts doubt about the value added by centralization at the lower levels of the technology stack (e.g.. infrastructure). Further, the effort required to set effective governance structure around shared services, and the resistance met to centralize functions and assets, are unlikely to realize cost savings in the short term, especially if compared to the economies of scale that some vendors can realize on very large client bases.
Whole of government CIOs and central or shared services organizations may actually become less rather than more relevant if they don’t chose the right battles to fight and win. And those battles may be very different from those they set themselves for fighting. In most cases, they have to figure out how to exercise more power with less control: not sure many are ready for this.