Speakers voice concern at obstacles to e-government

A lack of strategic planning is a major obstacle in the development of e-government in the region, claimed speakers at the Government Technology Summit & Exhibition, which took place in Dubai last week.

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By  Michele Howe Published  September 10, 2006

A lack of strategic planning is a major obstacle in the development of e-government in the region, according to Khalid Al-Tawil, director general at the National Information Center in Saudi Arabia. “Our problem is we don’t do strategic planning,” Al-Tawil said speaking at the Government Technology Summit & Exhibition, which took place in Dubai last week. Trust in e-government projects is another issue, he said, with people still sceptical about the ability of technology to deliver services. Al-Tawil also expressed concerns about the concentration of internet users in cities and the problems of reaching people in small villages and out-of-town areas. Other challenges of e-govern- ment included a lack of local IT professionals, a lack of sufficient and affordable facilities for education and training for locals, the high cost of internet access and the legal environment for e-government, Al-Ta- wil went on to add. Najat Rochdi, regional coordinator for the Information and Communications Technology Development for the Arab Region (ICTDAR) — part of the United Nations development programme (UNDP), was another speaker at the event, and stressed the importance of taking a long-term approach to e-government projects. “The technology is there. It is never a problem. The real constraints are elsewhere — either in the mindset or the procedures,” she said. “We are kidding ourselves if we think we can address e-government in the short-term, it has to be long-term,” she went on to say. While IT is essential to facilitate e-government, it should not act as the main driver of it, Rochdi argued. “We should not have any e-project led by IT. IT is only a tool and it is only used to improve what was already delivered institutionally. An e-service cannot replace a public service,” she warned. “It is important that when thinking about introducing any e-dimension in any e-government project or programme to make sure the driver is not about the ‘e’, but about the objective of the service, about the business process itself, about the economic objective at the end, about the social objective, and how we can use the ICT to improve this kind of objective which should be the driver,” Rachdi warned. The role of IT in e-goverment has already changed considerably over the last six or seven years, said Rochdi, with e-projects moving away from being IT driven in the early stages towards an increasing focus on improving public service delivery. She saw this as the right direction and said that in developing an effective e-government approach, it was crucial not to lose sight of the human face. “It is not a question of business versus IT or IT versus business. Another component is politicians. There are different stakeholders. The beauty of participation is to bring all the pieces together and to make something that makes sense for the people,” she said.

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