By now I think many agree that the evolution of e-government (and in particular the electronic delivery of information and services to various stakeholders) will follow a “government 2.0” path. While I really hate the term “government 2.0”, it is effective at summarizing the use of web 2.0 technologies that will have a transformational impact on the way governments deliver services and operate.
Most commentators, including consultants, vendors, system integrators, suggest that the main obstacles to this transformation come from government organizations themselves, due to a combination of risk-aversion and propensity to retain control. We all know that succeeding in this transformation implies to blur boundaries, to take risks and to let things go, all rather contrary to a government culture.
However if I look at many examples, such as the City of Toronto, the new US federal administration, the increasing presence and activity of thousands of civil servants on social networks, the often more permissive social media access policies in government agencies than in businesses, I am not entirely sure governments are the main problem.
Let’s have a look at ten years of e-government. Many millions of dollars have been spent on web sites, portals, call centers, middleware solutions, SOA efforts and many million dollars are being spent to operate all this. If it was so successful, why would so many be intrigued by web 2.0, if not to solve a problem that previous efforts did not fully solve (or – in many cases – did not solve at all)?
When people look at project failures or limited success of e-service take-up, the easiest culprit is government. But is it? What about the myriads of vendors, service providers, consultants and analysts (yes, we too) who have been relentlessly advising about the virtue of e-government? What about all those e-government rankings, from all corners of the world proving that the greater the “e” in e-government, the better off you are? Government plans are heavily influenced by the market, through consultation, lobbying, or just government decision-makers attending conferences and talking to “experts”.
Nothing wrong with that, but what happens when the confluence of consumerization (of tools and devices), commoditization (of infrastructure and appliocations) and socialization (of information) threatens the status quo? What happens when a government organization starts crowdsourcing the design of a web site? What happens when “we, the people” become software developers? What happens when the case for investing on enterprise 2.0 collaboration tools is not strong enough, as the value of consumer tools proves greater? What happens when budget-constrained agency starts turning toward “fully public” cloud services for their infrastructure or application needs, and discontinue lucrative infrastructure maintenance or software licensing contracts? What happens when a large government organization decides to discontinue or curtail a one-stop-shop portal?
In previous posts (see here and here) I have suggested that many of the early attempts at crowdsourcing and government 2.0 that we are seeing will still attract the “usual aspects”. On the other hand, as I wrote earlier today, certain solutions appear so immediate and almost inexpensive that they may drive governments to take bolder decisions about how to change their e-government course.
We should not underestimate the potential market impact of all this. More software as a service, more infrastructure utilities, more open source software, more consumer solutions, more critical reviews of on-going SOA efforts to support more RESTful architectures, more critical reviews of citizen-facing portals. On the other hand, at times when the public sector plays an important role in driving IT spending, maybe reducing investments on enterprise tools and solutions is not so desirable for the IT industry, and it may also have an adverse impact on innovation and economic development in many jurisdiction.
Just think about a medium size state or local government that employs a fair amount of IT professionals, pays software licenses for a variety of enterprise software solutions, engages contractors from the jurisdiction to develop applications, run infrastructure, staff a helpdesk. What if it moved massively to cloud computing, software-as-a-service and adopted consumer solutions for collaboration as well as some of its public web hosting needs?
Do hardware and software vendors, system integrators, consultants really have an interest to make that happen?
And which side will industry analysts like us take on this?