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.