Blog post

Second Thoughts on E-Government?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 09, 2009 | 2 Comments


Over the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with clients who are revising or developing their portal strategies, either at a whole-of-government or at a domain level. Almost inevitably the discussion shifts toward how many services, how much automation, how much seamless integration are really needed to meet customer expectations, taking into account the unfavorable budget situation in many places. This is pushing a very healthy reflection on what is the value of e-government.

You may recollect those maturity scales (Gartner had one too), ranging from level 0 or level 1 where the web would be used just to provide information, to level 4 or 5 where data would flow seamlessly across agencies or tiers of government, electronic processes would be integrated across organizational boundaries and citizens would not need to know anything about how government is organized. There have been also many rankings and surveys measuring the progress of entire jurisdictions according to those scales.

This crisis may be a wonderful opportunity to take a critical look at the role of portals, on-line services, interoperability, joined-up government and the likes. I remember a slide I was using many years ago, showing how the greatest value increase for constituents would come from the earlier stages of e-government (i.e. providing reliable information about how to get a service, who to contact, which web site to access to get which part of a process done), while moving toward greater integration and interoperability would provide only marginal additional value.  Things have not changed: doing a triage between necessary, desirable and optional functionalities, which was advisable at the time, becomes imperative today.

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  • Camille Woodson says:

    I agree, Andrea. This perspective takes an interesting turn however when considered in the Health and Human Services arena, particularly at the state and local government levels. Record numbers of first time recipients of services are already causing overloads and scrambling by the C suite as they grapple with how to do more with less — less staff, less resources and less [dated] technology. Many states in the US are already becoming overwhelmed with requests for services for a number of reasons: staffing reductions, inadequate eportals and inadequate capacity of their existing systems overall to handle the volume. I’m sure this issue likely exists globally as well.

    In the past, I’ve had concerns about automatically flipping the switch to e-government overnight with the ‘build it and they will come” assumptions (e.g. the Medicare enrollment for Seniors nightmare of the not so distant past). I read an article last week about a midwestern state in the US that recently invested millions in outsourcing for a new system that only reaches approximately one-third of their target population. “Traditional” recipients of Human Services have not often been privy to the technological advances of the ‘haves’ due to a myriad of issues ranging from basic literacy to availability of PCs and internet access.

    On the other hand, the dramatic change in the demographics of those in need today — and for at least the foreseeable future — will demand more accessibility and functionality through e-government. Staffing cuts combined with the overwhelming need for services will require more careful triaging NOW. The level of tech sophistication and knowledge of the internet of those seeking UI, Food Stamps, and other services in the current crisis will compel state and local government to at least provide more online preliminary screening options and current information to enable people to self-assess potential eligibility.

    I fully agree with that in that hard choices will have to be made between more conceptual, visionary solutions and what’s truly needed to address more emergent needs of citizens today.

  • Andrea

    Another supporter! My past years of research, along with practical experience has me in agreement.

    We need to focus on how, where and when the citizen wants the services delivered rather than making assumptions. That’s not saying we don’t prepare for the future, but do it with supporting research!