In the last couple of decades organisations have tended to ride over several management movements like management by objectives, zero-based budgeting, decentralization, right sizing; reinventing government to bring in incremental change but almost all of these movements have failed to deliver on their full promise. Would E-Government turn out to be yet another buzzword or can it truly transform Governments in their dealing with different stake holders? Perhaps e-government is different as it uses as one of its foundations, a truly discontinuous innovation in technology i.e. a marriage of Internet, the World Wide Web, and mobile computing. It rests on both vendor/consultant push who stand to benefit from increased investments in hardware and consulting but also benefits from a growing demand for better services from citizens, who now experience vastly improved services from the private sector. The benefits of a changed way of doing things accrues to all stake holders: citizens, businesses, and Government employees. The motivation to adopt is therefore stronger as almost all supporting technologies and infrastructure are in place. The biggest barrier in is managing change. The developed world continues to be concerned with issues of security and privacy of information. In the developing world these issues are less important but the necessary infrastructure is not always in place.
What is E-Government
Specifically, e-government harnesses information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.
E-government is about a process of reform in the way Governments work, shares information and delivers services to external and internal clients. Specifically, e-government harnesses information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.
E-Government applications range from the very simple (web pages with information) to complex (processing payments or interactive services). E-Government is in the early stages of development in both developed and developing countries. A number of developing countries from Asia and Latin America are implementing e-Government applications as part of improving public sector management and being more responsive to the needs of citizens. In some cases, the e-Government initiatives have been supported by public sector reform and improved service delivery – while in other cases the initiatives have been designed to encourage investment or quell criticism about transparency issues. A plethora of developing and middle income countries are now preparing e-Government strategy plans.
E-Government comprises alignment of IT infrastructures, business processes and service content towards provision of high-quality and value-added e-services to citizens and businesses. Ubiquitous e-Government services require relaxation of time, place and other accessibility constraints and compliance to architectural principles such as true-one-stop services and life-event orientation. Critical issues arise with respect to prioritization and pilot scoping of e-Government services projects, exploitation of multi-device/multi-channel access technologies, re-engineering and security of back-end IT infrastructures as well as evaluation of operational schemes.
Different models (as compared to developed countries) of service delivery are being explored. Unlike the self-service model where citizens interact with a portal, many developing countries deliver on-line services at public kiosks where government or private sector employees interact with citizens and computer screens to process transactions.
How prepared are Developing Countries to Implement e-Government
Preparedness of a Government to implement e-Government initiatives effectively depends upon:
- Support from the political establishment
- Frameworks for improving or reforming public administration
- Human capital
- Financial capital
- Technology infrastructure
- Enabling policy and legal framework
Developing countries need various types of technical assistance in implementing e-Government:
- Assessing e-Government readiness
- Developing an e-Government strategy which outlines an application portfolio,
- Assessing impact of e-government applications
- Design and building of secure data networks
- Design of Government on-line Portals
- Re-engineering administrative processes within departments and re-organization of information ownership and flows to promote sharing across departments
- Setting up a certification authority, payment gateways and an enabling e-commerce legislation
- Sourcing packaged solutions for generic e-Government applications like e-procurement, on-line portals, processing customs duty and property sale transactions.
- Software development, implementation and change management
Why are Developing Countries adopting e-Government quickly?
Interest in e-Government within developing countries is growing exponentially. These countries already expend 1-2 % of their GDP on ICT, largely in the private sector. Investments in ICT by Governments are likely to increase because of the factors outlined below.
Aggressive Marketing by IT vendors: Most large IT vendors have established a significant presence in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. Spending on ICT by Governments has lagged behind that of the private sector. IT vendors have been conscious of this fact and have created specific initiatives on e-Government to open up the market. With the recent slow down in the US economy, these IT have vendors are likely to become even more aggressive in their marketing pitch to Governments in developing countries.
Citizen Expectations: Citizens in developing countries are also experiencing a significant improvement in service levels in e-commerce, vis à vis the private sector. They feel that if the private sector can make systematic improvements in service delivery, why can’t the government use the same technologies? So, the citizens in some countries are, in fact, asking the government to go online.
Economic and Institutional Reform: In the last decade, many countries have gone through a process of economic liberalization and economic growth. Many large countries like India and China have grown at 6 to 10 percent over the last decade. Having accomplished the first phase of economic policy reform, the next phase of reform is really governance reform. E-Government pilots have demonstrated a positive impact on corruption, transparency and quality of service. In fact these early successes have spurred competition amongst states and countries to go on-line.
National/Community Pride: These successes are also a source of pride. Some countries have already demonstrated that as a consequence of their experimentation and innovation in this field, there is a competition taking place with developed countries. So, for example, Brazil launched an electronic voting system: they are very proud that it is a better system than that of the United States, and it seems this has become an incentive for these countries to catch up with the developed world
Expansion of service, not cost reduction as a prime motivator: Initial fears that ICT use in Government will lead to unemployment is turning out to be unfounded. To date, increased efficiency through e-government has not led to unemployment in developing countries. In developed countries, the focus of e-government is mainly on productivity, including the capacity to cut costs of public administration. In developing countries, however, the net is being used not only to become more efficient, but also to expand the coverage. Many countries are now delivering services to areas that could not be served in the past, and this was made possible by the use of the net. So, e-government is a real opportunity as it allows you to do more, as well as work more efficiently.
Critical Mass of Internet users: The spread of the Internet in the urban areas of many developing countries is starting to create a critical mass, not as considerable as in most developed countries, but large enough to lead the government to deliver online services. In the large and highly urbanized countries in Latin America or Asia, it has become possible to deliver these services. In some places where e-government has been introduced, it has shown that it can work, and it can have a wide impact on government efficiency and effectiveness.
In isolated pockets, innovative e-government applications have already been implemented. However, the real challenge is to have a wide-scale impact and that means that the digital divide problem will have to be solved, the net access will have to be taken to many rural areas, and many more kiosks will have to be created. A few political leaders and civil servants who believed in the idea of reform have innovated, but the vast majority have not. A major task is to build institutional capacity for governance reform, because once the capacity is there, people will use the technologies to deliver services and information.
An important challenge is to create a greater awareness about e-government within the multilateral institutions. Application of ICTs in sectors like education, health, agriculture or transportation, is not being deployed as it ought to be. Another challenge is to motivate civil servants and project leaders in developing countries to be more involved with reforms and to use IT as an enabling technology for innovation in their own spheres of work.
Web Resources Accessible Through this site
Different types of institutions are actively engaged in work related to e-Government. There are a large number of web sites that publish material related to e-Government. Click on Information Sources for a selection of these sites and brief descriptions of their content.