Australian gov’t CIOs battling a three-headed beast

Implementing a successful e-government strategy is like battling the Chimera, a three-headed mythological beast, according to the former deputy CIO of the Australian state of Victoria, Dr Steve Hodgkinson.

Claiming public sector CIOs face contradictory tensions, Hodgkinson said CIOs can’t be expected to play the role of the lone warrior Bellerophon, who according to ancient myth, defeated the Chimera.

Recently appointed as Ovum’s public sector research director in Australia, Hodgkinson said e-government is being pulled in three different directions.

He described the first head of the beast, which is a fire-breathing lion, as outputs, pulling towards a vertical focus on discrete services and programs which leads to decentralization and fragmentation.

The second head, that of the goat, Hodgkinson calls outcomes, which is pulling towards holistic policies that require collaboration and integrated, horizontal solutions.

The third head is a serpent, which he labels inputs that pull towards means rather than ends.

“To improve horizontal interaction across the sector, there is a need to manage people, processes, and IT infrastructure on an enterprise-wide basis in order to create organizational glue,” Hodgkinson said.

“The Chimera’s tensions arise from the fact that strategy and structure are out of alignment. On one hand, governments are seeking to implement e-government strategies that require improved horizontal interactions across agencies and departments.

“On the other hand, the structure delivers vertical accountabilities and tactical, fragmented management of key inputs such as people, processes and technology.” CIOs need to be armed with two important weapons.

“The first is for innovative public sector leaders or policy entrepreneurs, to step forward and join forces with the CIO against the Chimera,” he said.

“Experienced executives with a sound grasp of how to create sustainable public value need to support the CIO.

“CIOs will only win the struggle if they can become part of a broader operational reform team, and if they build the capabilities to actually deliver on their strategic IT management responsibilities.”

The second requirement, Hodgkinson said, is for CIOs to understand the nature of the Chimera and how it can be defeated.

“It is not a matter of simply aligning IT with the business. The CIO needs to adopt a strategic management style that is more centralized than that of the public sector generally, creating ongoing alignment tensions,” he said.

“The bottom line is that CIOs are engaged in a battle with one of the toughest operational reform monsters in the public sector today.

“Generations of bureaucrats have developed and refined the output-based management model, and it has served the public sector well.

“However, the strategy has changed and the fragmented approach leaves the public sector ill-prepared to deliver the government’s outcome-based policy aspirations.” The federal government is currently implementing an e-government strategy that will ensure all departments are fully connected by 2010.

Special Minister of State Gary Nairn said the strategy was progressing well and will lead to greater efficiencies by simplifying processes.

“It will mean less queuing and fewer forms to fill out,” he said.

“Work is progressing well on the architecture and discussions with other CIOs via the CIO Committee, chaired by the Australian government CIO, Ann Steward.”

According to a federal government report entitled “Australians’ use of and satisfaction with e-government services 2006” which measures the uptake of government services through the Internet, usage has increased significantly since 2005.

The percentage of users accessing government services via the Internet has risen from 39 percent in 2004-05 to 48 percent in 2006. The percentage of people who did almost all of their dealings with government over the Internet also increased from 14 percent in 2004-05 to 19 percent in 2006.

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