There seems to be a common misconception around the use of the term “smart” when used in direct or indirect connection to “government”. Smart cities, smart public transportation, smart planets, smart communities: all these and similar terms are being used mostly by vendors, but also by government business and IT executives who aim at setting their cities and counties on the map of the most progressive local authorities.
The way these terms are used suggest the pervasive use of technology in operational systems, such as public lighting, road tolls, electrical grid, video-surveillance cameras and the improved connectivity between these systems and IT applications that allow to better manage resources, improve traffic flows, make public safety more effective.
However there is another, and – I would argue – far more important dimension of “smartness” that has not to do with being a cool and progressive jurisdiction, but with being able to survive. Survival means sustaining statutory services and processes. I appreciate that after so many years of waving the flag of the transformative and innovative role of IT speaking about survival may sound a tad depressing. However reality is biting in many parts of our planet, from Greece to Minnesota, from Washington DC to Ireland, from Iceland to Spain.
I have covered this in a recent post, and will be speaking about what smart government really means in a session entitled Smart Government: Beyond Cities and Planets in four Gartner Symposia (Cape Town in August, Orlando in October, Barcelona and Gold Coast in November). There will be an increasing amount of research on smart government in the coming months and Gartner clients are welcome to look at what has already been published under the “smart government” key initiative.
We have been many times through cost containment and efficiency review discussions between 2003 and today. When a shutdown approaches (which is the case for the US federal debt these days), there is a heightened attention to the need for changes in IT planning, management and sourcing. However after the emergency is over, there are only marginal changes to the way IT and business executives behave.
What is happening is that the margins for such an “elastic” behavior are becoming thinner and thinner, and we have to accept that the statutory services that agencies deliver may not be sustainable at all, or at least not without radical changes in how they are managed. This is compound by the difficulty (if not the sheer impossibility) of securing sufficient budget for radical transformation initiatives, let alone having the luxury of waiting for such initiatives to deliver results (should the budget not be a problem).
It is time to stop about looking at IT as a way to be better than other jurisdictions, and to think closely (and smartly) to how to leverage IT to stay afloat – and improve along the way.