This morning I had a conversation with a client from a provincial government who is dealing with a quite complex but interesting planning challenge. He is supposed to develop an IT strategy that meets the requirements of the current national e-government plan, while taking into account a longer term view, stretching as far as year 2020.
In other terms, this client needs to develop both a long-term vision for the role of IT to support how government will look like in year 2020, and a regular two to three year IT strategy, which is constrained by existing objectives, plans, budgetary commitments and capabilities.
Whereas this may be an extreme case, I expect quite a few government CIOs and IT strategic planners to be dealing with both a longer term strategy – most likely spanning as far as 2015 – and the usual two to three year planning horizon.
I would argue that, given the level of uncertainty associated with economic conditions and political priorities, and the accelerating pace of trends like socialization and commoditization, even the 2015 planning horizon will require the use of scenario planning techniques. These techniques support the development of alternative future scenarios, that depend on how forcers and drivers that cannot be predicted will play out.
A few years ago, a group of Gartner analysts developed a series of notes looking at the impact of technology on government. The main use of those scenarios was to identify families of technologies that would be relevant in each and every scenario (or al least in the majority of scenarios), as an indication that those technologies are likely to be the most future-proof.
Although this looks like a sensible approach, it is very possible that people will adopt a more prescriptive approach, based on one particular view of the future.
After all, isn’t this what we have seen happening for e-government plans over the last several years? Visions of citizen-centric government where the end result was supposed to be a single portal to act as the only channel for electronic interaction with constituents; maturity models assuming that the evolution toward e-government effectiveness was linear and – most importantly – the same across different jurisdiction; and so forth.
Today we do see other rather dogmatic views emerging, such as “everything will run on a cloud” or “government will constantly increase the amount of raw data published online” or “government is a platform” and so forth. Neither of these statement can stand the proof of time, so I hope that those who are engaged in strategic planning will challenge them as part of their scenario building exercises.
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