What has been happening in the world during the last few days gives a glimpse of the level of uncertainty government and business are and will be operating within for the foreseeable future.
- A country like the U.S., where many economists and political leader thought they were out of a recession and growing at a healthy pace, has been confronted with a downgraded sovereign debt, another plunge of the stock markets and a slower growth than originally anticipated.
- A country like the U.K., where people had been looking at riots in North Africa and the protests in Spain as something relegated to the foreign affair sections of their newspapers, is now dealing with one of the worst series of incidents, spreading like wildfire across multiple cities.
- A country like Italy, whose politicians were looking at Portugal, Ireland and Greece as very distant cousins and were praising the solidity of their financial sector, is now under close watch by the European Central Bank and other large EU countries as the possibility of defaulting on its huge sovereign debt is no longer as remote as it looked just two weeks ago.
Uncertainty and variability characterize stock markets, the price of commodities, the political stability of jurisdictions and entire regions, and the challenge of finding the right balance between long-term policy goals, delivering statutory services, and reacting to emergencies is becoming unmanageable for governments worldwide.
A few examples:
- The last recession and global financial meltdown have been addressed by transferring the debt risk from corporations and financial institutions to national and supra-national government institutions. But this leaves them almost powerless facing the possibility of major national debt defaults.
- Civil unrest fueled by the unavoidable social costs of countries slashing their debts, compound with inadequate immigration policies and decreasing employment, will strain resources in public safety agencies.
- The tension between international cooperation to face financial and economic challenges and national interests to protect the local job markets and debt rating may lead to trade wars, if not real conflicts
The only option for governments is to become significantly smarter at using their decreasing resources to create sustainable public value. This implies completely new ways of planning, appraising performances, managing and empowering staff, sourcing processes and services, collaborating within, across and beyond organizations, using the wisdom of the crowd to solve immediate problems rather than just to be more transparent and participative.
Many factors play against these changes: the risk-averse nature of government, the need for accountability, the dynamics of democratic processes, including consensus building and electoral terms that are many times shorter than what required to fix some of the structural problems at hand.
Perhaps for the first time since the dawn of IT, government IT professionals and their vendors really have to do more (and better) with much less, rather than paying lip service to this.