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Making the Transformation to E-Government a Reality

Written by  Ramiro M. Valderrama
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Ramiro M. ValderramaIssue:Latin America IV 2001
Article no.:12
Topic:Making the Transformation to E-Government a Reality
Author:Ramiro M. Valderrama
Title:Executive Director Global Public Sector, Latin America
Organisation:Oracle Corporation
PDF size:24KB

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Article abstract

Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject: the actual enemy is the unknown." Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain.

 

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For the past couple of years, a revolution has been under way in Latin America: it's called e-business, and it is based on the largest communications network in the world-the Internet. E-business is about using the Internet to run your organisation with dramatically increased efficiencies, while capturing the opportunities that arise because your clients, suppliers and partners are now online. The Internet also offers dramatically increased efficiencies for governments, enabling it to improve the ways it interacts with disparate groups of constituents. Methodologies for transforming businesses into e-businesses are similar to those needed to transform governments into e-governments. These methodologies will redefine how we govern and how we access government services via Internet-based technologies. The process by which government simplifies and incorporates electronic service delivery is straightforward. But as we have seen, it is a challenge to apply private-sector techniques to the public sector. In creating e-governments, the unknown of how and what connected citizens will do with public policy is causing some hesitation.One of the biggest challenges for Latin American governments is to allow public policy to be defined more and more by its citizens. Technology can be the key that opens the door to more discussion with and between citizens. It can reduce the costs of consultation and enable more people to participate in the policy process-an important success factor for e-government. The ideal is to make it easy for every citizen to participate. As technology and culture converge, a societal web will evolve, extending a sense of community, more generally, across the society. This is already happening at the local level, e.g., through 'smart communities' and the connection of community organisations to the Internet (which helps them to communicate internally, with each other and with other organisations, including the government). The true voice of the Internet is human, and this basic premise will change how businesses define themselves. From a governance standpoint, issues of accountability and accessibility will drive which services and information are provided to citizens. The supply-driven model of business and government will change to a demand-driven model. The challenge in building the societal web is that technology and community traditionally have had a hard time communicating. Once communication barriers are broken down and open language is used to converse, we will move into a new world of possibilities. New Concept, Old Concerns E-government is about new and old technologies working together; as such, there is a high susceptibility to risk. The forerunner to Internet computing-client/server computing-had many stops and starts as it evolved. Client/server describes the relationship between two computer programmes in which one programme, the client, makes a service request to another programme-the server-which fulfills the request. Along the way, this approach brought computer interaction to a level that we had never seen before. With client/server computing also came heightened risk awareness and assessment, and tighter project management-issues which are currently stalling the adoption of Internet-based computing with all its capabilities. While the client/server model had its advantages, it also had the effect of creating more isolated operational units within departments. It inhibited open-systems approaches, and made it difficult to share information across the government. To a certain degree, client/server computing created a very internally focused government. With a client/server computer model, it would be difficult to implement electronic service delivery: the costs would be unrealistically high. The Internet offers the prospect of overcoming these problems and enabling citizens, businesses and governments to become more connected to each other. In a speech in Halifax last June, Industry Minister John Manley described what Canada can become through the Internet: "a seamless community of homes and businesses where the optimum use of information and communication technology is a part of everyday life, as natural and as easy as turning on a radio. It's a place, quite simply, that is not bound by limitations but rather is propelled by limitless opportunity." To realise these possibilities, it is necessary to take the initiative in using technology to support government policy and strategy. Challenges Technology as such is not a stumbling block to the e-government of the future. If governments wanted to procure goods and services electronically today, they could. Rather, existing jurisdictions, processes and policies are holding things back. Issues of governance and accountability must be addressed in moving forward on e-government-and governments must take the initiative in dealing with these issues. As Jose Larios, e-government expert at KPMG, has stated at various government conferences, communication is fundamental for governments to succeed. Technology makes it easier to communicate and can save both time and money. In providing electronic service, a key challenge is to ensure communication and partnership within and across departments and jurisdictions. In moving ahead with e-service and e-government, strategy and policy are pivotal. Vision-and a sense of excitement for the e-government model-must be communicated by politicians and senior officials. They need to begin by focusing on high-priority services such as health care, education, and social services. E-Government Transformation Model I have been conducting research on governance, at Oracle, over several years, and found that the capacity of governments to communicate and to provide effective electronic service depends on their ability to make the transformation to e-government in four distinct stages. These are: Broadcast Almost all governments with web sites are at the stage where they push out information to citizens and other interested stakeholders. Tourism sites and government services sites are prime examples. A singular government portal (or window) is fundamentally a broadcast mechanism. For government to increase buy-in from citizens, it must keep increasing the range and quality of the information which it makes available. Interact The first step beyond broadcasting is to allow citizens and/or companies to access some of your processes by extending your existing systems to web-based technologies. The world's leading online book seller, Amazon.com, is successful because it gives customers access to its entire organisation through a simple browser window. Citizens will come to expect similar services from governments. The technology used to provide self-service applications should evolve from broadcast systems; otherwise, you run the risk of expending too much time and money. Web-based applications are all about reducing the level of complexity that faces end-users: the more niche solutions you incorporate, the greater the risk of failure. Transact You must be able to tie together process and content in order to facilitate transactions between government and citizen and/or business. It is imperative that your technological infrastructure be able to accommodate your current and emerging business needs and to build the functionality needed for interacting with your stakeholders. The countries which build and maintain superior IT infrastructures will tend to produce economies and societies which will thrive and prevail well into the next century. Integrate The end-goal of e-government is to integrate with citizens, suppliers, internal clients and employees, and to provide broad, deep and focused government service to the citizen, while facilitating their participation as citizens. Integration is the Foundation Integration is fundamentally important in facilitating the transformation to e-government. When you build a house, the first step is to establish a solid foundation using high-quality materials: otherwise, the structure will fail. In building IT solutions, organisations must establish a reliable and capable foundation (or technological infrastructure)-and the materials (the standards and protocols for building it) must be flexible and durable. The e-government vision: services online all the time, anywhere A building becomes an integrated structure when the foundation and materials work together. For years, organisations have searched for best-of-breed solutions to address specific information-management challenges. Despite embarking with the best intentions, many have left themselves with the often-impossible task of integrating a myriad of solutions from various vendors based on differing standards. Increasingly, experts have come to recognise the importance of an integrated solution based on products designed to work together and exchange information efficiently, instead of trying to retrofit disparate solutions. Furthermore, an integrated IT infrastructure allows organisations, ultimately, to lower the total cost of the overall solution, manage more components from one location, secure access, and centralise access control. An integrated infrastructure is the intelligent service broker for a specific line of business or organisation. An integrated IT infrastructure encompasses directory servers, which accommodate profiles and access-control policies as well as messaging, workflow, protocols and communication. Unlike private-sector companies, government organisations cannot shut down any channel of access, but rather must support all forms of communication to provide a service or gather relevant information. Government can, however, off-load some processes into the channel of the Internet, allowing more resources and attention to be given to the more time intensive channels. Building a robust communication mechanism between citizens and government requires an integrated IT infrastructure that can centralise access control and manage the communication of information across all channels. Maturity Model for E-Government Government, like business, must keep three key concepts in mind at all times. It must: o keep the current and emerging needs of the end-users (citizens and businesses) it serves in complete focus; o provide citizens and business with controlled access to its information-management systems; and o ensure that what it offers to citizens and companies has detail and depth. If government is about citizen focus, it is also about citizen access and attention to detail in the provision of service. Combining policy, technology and process requires change-and change takes time. Even if the entire government were to become completely integrated via shared systems across multiple virtual government departments, there will be always be issues to resolve. One of these issues is accountability. A government knows that the moment it opens the door to provide service and information to citizens, it becomes accountable. More specifically, with how many citizens and businesses can the government communicate, in how many ways can it communicate, and how effective are those channels of access? Given the disparate needs and expectations of its many constituent groups, it is difficult for the public sector to shut down any channel of access. It is unlikely that over-the-counter, telephone, facsimile and e-mail points of entry will ever go away. The web site, however, is a channel unto itself. It has the capability to support process-heavy or resource-intensive channels. The trick, though, is to understand which channel can do what. Single Access Point The approach taken by the government is to define a single portal of access into the government. The portal needs to be a web application-not just a web site. There is a big difference between web applications and web sites. Web sites are static and do not necessarily react to each user. Web applications are dynamic and can react to the distinct needs of individual users. A dynamic web portal facilitates communication through interaction, which is integral to the ongoing success of the e-government model. Conclusions So how do we put an 'e' in front of Latin American governments? Our governments are large and complex-and the requisite solutions and strategies will be equally complex. Suffice it to say, though, that the e-government model of broadcast, interact, transact, and integrate will form the nucleus. Thanks to the Internet, the key enabling infrastructure now exists to seamlessly connect all the links in service chain. Internet-based and web-enabled technologies will allow the government to communicate cheaply, easily and quickly. For executives, the challenge is to understand technology as part of the big picture-not so much the specific acronyms and details, but the ways in which the components fit together and help support and define your strategy to serve your clients and stakeholders.

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