Taking the "e" out

At a conference the other day one of my fellow presenters put forward the argument that it was time to take the “e” out of e-government. After all, he said, it’s not about e anymore, e-government is just government.

In many ways, that’s a fair point. Government, whether delivered online, through the ‘phone or via snail mail is still government. I disagree with his argument though for two main reasons, (1) e-government isn’t done yet and still needs separate focus and management and (2) I doubt that anyone would consciously care if we took the e out unless we put something else in its place.

Funding in government is usually controlled along project streams or initiative streams. Money made available for e-government is expected to be spent on e-government initiatives – and there are various tracking measures to see what the output is for the money that went in. Deleting “e” would lead to a bigger pot being applied to generic government projects and less clarity over output.

Another reason for keeping “e” in is that, for it all to succeed, the online aspect of government must become the default position. That is, any project starting must assume as its base case that all input will come through online channels, whether that is through pure Internet access from the consumer home, through an intermediary such as the Citizen Advice Bureau or through a call centre operated by government. Just no paper. If you assume paper, and provide a route in for paper, then that’s what you will get. And we have done, in spades (as in, we need spades to dig ourselves out from the piles that have accumulated). Taking the e off the front of e-government won’t make this happen any quicker because the need will quickly drop off the radar as it gets buried in amongst other initiatives.

Besides, it seems to me that “e” is still part of the mainstream vocabulary. The Econcomist published a 12 page feature on e-commerce two weeks ago, e-mail is still in every day use (although many tech folks in my team having long since given up on snail mail just refer to it as mail) and so it’s not just government that uses it.

On a trip to Japan a couple of years ago, I learnt that the character “e” is very similar as the character for the word “good”. So maybe e-government is really all about good government. No-one would argue about that – although clearly they will spend the next 16 years arguing about what it means, who gets to measure it and how we’ll know we’re there. But that’s another story for another time.

One thought on “Taking the "e" out

  1. As the culprit responsible for encouraging you to post this I suppose it’s little short of impolite not to respond. I write in somewhat pessimistic mood having spent a very interesting afternoon recently with a unitary council undertaking (in my opinion) some groundbreaking work with its CRM programme and customer contact services. With well over a £ million already invested, this same authority is keen to forge partnerships with others that may have built and implemented solutions fitting into their larger vision, the payback being the opportunity to ‘buy into’ (at a fraction of the initial investment cost) a working package already in place. The technology is there, the BPR has been done (at last count nearly 400 maps produced taking an estimated 15 man years to complete) and support, systems integration etc. available from their private sector partners if required. Visitors to this forward thinking town hall have been blown away by the efficacy and robustness of its systems. Yet time and again, these visiting authorities have seen fit to return home and do nothing or start re-engineering the same wheel, often failing in the process and certainly racking up un-necessary costs in both financial and human terms. With few examples of proper partnership working (real joint ventures, real pooling of resource, real clubbing together to achieve economies of scale with vendors) I can’t see how your ‘cross-business alignment and rationalisation’ or for that matter ‘more transactions grouped together’ will ever become a reality when most organisations seem to be suffering from terminal symptoms of the ‘Not Invented Here Syndrome’. And that’s just among local authorities.Add to this the zillions of miles of red tape in Whitehall and the hotchpotch of frequently incongruent systems in operation often in the same department is there really any chance of pulling this lot together to deliver a simple, one-stop experience for the citizen? Ever? With around 470 local authorities across the country it is they who should be holding the vendors to ransom not the other way round, yet my inbox is littered with sob stories of PSOs purchasing solutions only to find themselves locked into ridiculous licence and support agreements falling little short of banditry on the part of suppliers. Without sounding heartless, this predicament is largely their own fault because of the ‘go it alone’ mentality pervading the public service industry as a whole – often the result of ‘big P’ and ‘little p’ politics, which, without wishing to state the blindingly obvious, are the real enemies of progress in the tortured limp towards joined up government, whether \’e\’ or not.

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