Employing a single e-government body to coordinate agencies is a sensible approach that’s attracting international attention to New Zealand, said Canada-based Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) government specialist Michel Brazeau.
It is crucial that agencies cross-link with one another to be able to develop toward e-government with as much agility as possible, he said, and such coordinating bodies can be a valuable link in achieving this. They are often not given much authority, but can still provide “thought leadership”.
E-government, however, is only a small element of meeting the service needs of citizens and adopting an “agile” attitude to doing so, Brazeau said. A commitment to customer service, leadership and organizational change with an emphasis on breaking down the walls of silos, all come before the technology.
Organizational values can also be a “blocker” to desirable change, he said. It’s often too easy to say a change is difficult to make because of “a policy issue” and make this a scapegoat.
Brazeau defined agility as speed of change in response to perceived needs and factors in a changing environment. In this regard, systems should aspire to the behavior of bacteria, which can mutate at disturbing speed, through exchanging genetic material. “Bacteria don’t say ‘this is not my DNA, so I can’t evolve’; if it’s useful to them, they’ll acquire it” — so it should be with governments and information, he said.
EDS, with the London School of Economics Public Policy group and AT Kearney, conducted a study into public sector modernization, its driving factors and the question of agility. The full results were presented in London on November 25.
For several agencies to adopt the same standards in solving problems is often the most efficient answer, Brazeau said. In practice, by contrast, “it’s often cost that’s the big driver. The approach that says ‘let’s go to the lowest cost provider’ could get you seven different systems in your seven call centres and that’s obviously not efficient. Let’s have some standards.” It may cost more in the short term, but it will be to agencies’ and the people’s long-term benefit, he said.
Adopting a standard approach need not mean always buying the same product, he said, but if an agency is a Microsoft user, it is nonsense to define laborious requirements in an ‘open’ tender that effectively limit the choice to one, “because you can’t just say ‘we want the next version of Microsoft.'” The self-imposed requirement to be seen as ‘fair’ and ‘transparent’ has to have sensible limits.”
Governments also have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their people as well and to consider whether a purchase makes sense in that context, he said.
“We don’t want a lot of integration issues and a lot of APIs; let’s get it out on the table what those really cost.”
Should governments try to push people towards electronic access?
In answer, Brazeau cited the use of Eftpos debit cards, which Canada has probably taken to even more enthusiastically than New Zealand. You don’t have to force citizens to use an electronic system or approve data sharing between government agencies, he says. “You just have to give them a reason to use it.”