Since when we have launched the concept of smart government I have noticed that there are some government clients, some technology providers and even some of my own colleagues who do not seem to grasp the importance and nuances of this concept.
This is mostly due to the connotation of the term “smart”, which has been often associated to substantives like “city”, “planet”, “community” and – indeed – “government”. The term usually refers to how urban or regional areas could become much more successful at achieving sustainability and economic development objectives by deploying and leveraging a mixture of infrastructure (including sensor-based networks), data exchange and analytics, and applications that would allow a multiplicity of different systems to be seen and coordinated as a whole.
So when you look at some of the “smart city” examples around the world, you often see one or several diagrams illustrating the interconnection and interaction between usually distinct systems overseeing public safety, traffic management, energy distribution, budgeting, resource management and so forth. Smart has become a synonym of collaboration between different domains, and usually implies the use of real-time operational technologies alongside more traditional information technology.
Smart government is not this. Smart government is about pursuing sustainable public value by tackling one or several processes that cut across distinct domains or jurisdictions, and doing so in an affordable and evolutionary way.
Smart government approaches can be used – indeed – to wisely develop a sustainable smart city initiative. But they can be equally used to develop a cost-effective channel strategy, to more successfully pursue a shared service initiative, to join up data and applications in a specific domain (such as health care or public safety) across different tiers of government.
Smart government is not about lavish spending, long term goals, and science-fiction movies. It is about how to face the harsh reality of tighter budgets, uncertain political and economic environment, changing societal needs, how to keep providing statutory services and still remain capable of innovation.
Smart government implies changes to the way government departments and agencies relate to constituents and other stakeholders, the way they manage and leverage their workforce, the way they do strategic planning, utilize enterprise architecture, perform portfolio management, source their IT services, and how they shape the role of their own IT organizations.
Smart government is a quiet revolution in the way governments use IT, pushed by budget constraints, the need for agility and a state of uncertainty as the new normal. It does challenge a lot of the common wisdom that has been accumulated over decades of public sector IT spending, and it is unlikely to be welcome for those who have thrived in the “old normal”, be they government executives, consultants or external service providers.
Maybe this is why some people do not seem to get it. It is not because they don’t understand it. It is because they are afraid of its consequences.
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