Benchmarking sucks?

Bill Thompson (he of andfinally) notes some of the problems with benchmarking over on Voxpolitics. It’s not often that I disagree with Bill, but he’s plain wrong here. His stance is that benchmarking is wrong because it uses the USA as a reference point and many of the measures used have no relevance internationally – he quotes hospital appointment booking in Canada and Ireland as being irrelevant for instance.

I’ve travelled around a bit for the last 2 years and one thing is very clear. Every country that I visit or every one that visits me in the UK wants to know what every other country is up to. e-government is not easy and we’re all struggling with the same issues. Each country, of course, has its own degree of hype and many of those asking the questions are trying to get behind the hype to see if something really does work. If millions are to be spent on delivering transformational government it makes a great deal of sense if lessons learnt elsewhere are applied – first time round!

So benchmarking which, after all, is established as a pretty sound business practice in the corporate world, gives us some clues as to who is moving ahead, what’s working, what isn’t and sometimes (if we’re lucky) why. I agree that some of the measures used do not apply to all. But if it works for 10 out of 12 countries, why would you not use it? Besides, everyone loves a competition and who doesn’t want to know where they are in a league table? As long as that doesn’t stop everyone working together to solve the issues you won’t find me complaining.

I’ve been impressed at how much genuine learning is going on as project managers, senior government officials and ministers grapple with the delivery of e-government. None of us want to get this wrong, it’s too big, too important. For many countries, it’s vital – it’s the first chance that they will have to leap ahead of other countries and offer a genuine competitive advantage. If the regulatory burden is decreased or the time to market is reduced through these initiatives, there is a greater probability of additional investment in the country.

Bill also refers to an article by Mike Cross (former editor of Kablenet) in the Guardian noting the apathy with which Briton’s seem to regard e-government. This, unfortunately, seems to be a true. Mike thinks it’s because we describe it in such a boring fashion that no-one can be bothered. He may be right. On top of that though, it’s a lot to do with the mass of services that we have available – we are some distance from critical mass of transactional services. Also, the services that we do offer are not yet wrapped in sufficiently coherent information that we can just find what we need, complete the transaction and leave. A positive experience brings people back, a negative one puts their return in doubt. We need to do a lot more work to simplify the presentation of government to the citizen. Funnily enough, our model so far is pretty close to many other governments – so it could be that their citizens have a greater tolerance for frustration and boredom than us Brits!

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