Seven issues that will make or break the e-Government renaissance

Governments in Canada and the rest of the world are embarked on a renaissance of providing service to citizens. This renaissance is driven by the opportunity of the Internet to extend organizational reach and fuelled by the imagination of program administrators. The public, in its many manifestations, in the first decade of this century will have higher quality, faster turn-around and greater variety of government services than has ever been seen before.

Based upon its research and a multitude of consulting engagements, MONTAGE.DMC has identified seven important issues that will affect eGovernment success.

Patterns. Design Patterns were first introduced to the world of information technology and software systems with the 1994 book Design Patterns Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides. Since that book’s publication the value of design patterns has been universally recognized in software engineering. This book dealt with medium level of detail problems while other authors have moved to large scale patterns now dubbed Architectural Patterns. MONTAGE.DMC conducted research to determine if there are architectural patterns being used in the development of eGovernment systems. Five were uncovered in the Federal Government of Canada that we believe are universally applicable. Why is this discovery important? Patterns lead to re-use of a successful solution to a common problem such as how to provide an on-line program service. Re-use reduces design costs, promotes consistency which in-turn results in greater quality and all of these attributes reduce costs and speed implementation.

Scenarios. Scenario based systems put the development of the citizen experience in the hands of the program administrators- where it belongs. Scenario based systems provide a set of tools that allow business people to design the business rules and decision flow of the system in an graphical user friendly way that does not require a “coders” involvement. Why is this better? Scenario based systems encourage the development of Web sites which have the intimate involvement of program administrators- the very people accountable for knowing what citizens want in the program being offered through a Web. The result- more citizen centric web sites than ever before.

Privacy vs Interoperability. Most program services operate within the confines of one government organization. There exist programs that require cooperative exchange of data between systems. The trend in technology is to make systems interoperable such that a program component on one system can use the functions and data of another component residing on another system- possibly in another government department. However, in order to make this possible substantial personal data has to be moved between different government organizations. A good example where this might be useful is the validation of citizenship certificates when a passport is issued. Athabasca University with participation by MONTAGE.DMC conducted a Web survey to better understand business’ sensitivity to divulging private information versus getting better service. Almost 40% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: “In order to achieve service improvement, I support government departments sharing my business information with each other.” For government program planners these results indicate a potentially vocal minority who will oppose substantive changes to legislation to make exchange of data between government programs possible. This politically thorny issue will need to be resolved before significant investment is made in integrating the systems between departments. Although it is technologically possible to perform this integration, a large portion of the public may not want it done.

Standards. Standards in particular XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) will allow government systems within departments communicate meaningful data more easily with each other. Treasury Board and other departments are spearheading an effort to make it possible to seamless capture form information, adjudicate with the help of departmental databases and reply to applicants without intervention of staff administrators.

Portals. Government Web sites have until this year been design primarily around the organisational structure of the department. Insurance companies, banks and government now recognise that it is a more satisfying experience for customers to enter a Web site form the perspective of stage of life. In addition, regular users of a Web site will be able to personalise the view of a Web site according to their preferences. For example if a department is operating an information provider Web site such as Industry Canada’s Strategis citizens will be able to select what they will see in which frames such as new articles pertaining to the aerospace industry.

Inter-jurisdictional cooperation. The federal government in Canada is predominantly self contained. Departments are sometimes almost xenophobic in their approach to building systems. Those who leverage common services already built are more likely to finish their projects earlier. This also extends to co-operation with the provincial government. Most of the public has more contact with the provinces than with the federal government- licenses, birth certificates. Savvy federal government departments will have to leverage other departments and the provinces if they are to offer the public compelling on-line services.

Packages vs “From Scratch coding.” Traditionally government departments have built applications from scratch in the leading programming language of the time such as Visual Basic or Power Builder or COBOL. At the other extreme government departments have also bought and implemented for many millions of dollars large integrated packages such as SAP’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). Recent federal government RFPs suggests there is a middle ground. Frameworks that provide significant functionality “out of the box” such as a Web Server, an Application Server, a component container, and support for configuration via XML mean that most of the traditional coding has been removed but at the same time are more flexible and less expensive than the packages. Frameworks also allow organizations to implement “best of breed” solutions including integrating the best of the applications they have already in place. Organizations that can capitalize on the use of frameworks will likely be faster to the mark than those who code from scratch or implement a large package.

Program Managers who successfully deal with these issues will most likely succeed in having systems in place that will bring tangible benefits to the Canadian public by 2004. The proof will come when public opinion surveying is done in 2005 after the speech from the throne deadline of 2004.

The Author

Philip Sylvain is the Ottawa eCommerce Practice manager for MONTAGE.DMC eBusiness Services, a Division of AT&T Canada. Mr. Sylvain brings a wealth of experience in designing a variety of systems including B2B eCommerce, online collaboration and portal development. He has worked in the private and public sector in management roles and has an MBA from the University of Ottawa.

MONTAGE•DMC’s focus on eGovernment is designed to help public service organizations use the Internet to deliver premium service to their diverse client base. By applying the practice-based approach of eIntegration™, MONTAGE•DMC works with governments on all levels to achieve Government objectives by viewing the business of government through the eBusiness lens. The goal is to deliver efficiency, cohesiveness, enhanced performance, increased access to information and cost reductions – seizing the opportunity to provide service that is immediate, personalized and connected.

MONTAGE•DMC has designed and implemented Government solutions for all levels of government institutions including:

United Nations

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Revenue Canada

Public Works and Government Services Canada

Human Resources Development Canada

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Environment Canada

Bank of Canada

Transport Canada

Public Service Commission

Canadian Commercial Corporation

Quebec Government

Alberta Environment

Alberta Ministry of Taxation and Revenue

City of Toronto

City of Edmonton

City of Calgary

Calgary Parking Authority

Strathcona County