Good (e-)government

The drive towards e-government is something which countries around the Middle East have been working on for some time now, often with conspicuous success. But how does what's happening in the region compare with global initiatives?

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By  Eliot Beer Published  June 1, 2006

|~|dimaio200.jpg|~|Di Maio: E-government issues are the same all over the world.|~|While regional countries may lag behind European nations and the US in e-government league tables, there are some who see states in the region as having an advantage over some western states, while at the same time suffering from exactly the same issues.

Andrea Di Maio, research vice president for government at Gartner, recently visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi to talk to regional government organisations and enterprises. He says that a number of factors in the Middle East could give regional e-government initiatives a boost.

“In the average European democracy, every minister is basically free to do what he or she wants and the prime minister has no power to tell the minister 'now you have to give up this system, and use somebody else's system or process'," says Di Maio.

“Now in that case the dynamics of this integration, of how you decide what is important or not important, from a whole of government perspective, are much more difficult.

“In this region I think there is a clear hierarchy; ultimately there is somebody, in theory, who can say 'this is the way we do it'. I've been with a client here where there has been a merger of different agencies into a single organisation, something that would take ages in a different country - here, it happens.”

Di Maio says the two main factors which make a difference are having a decision maker with real power, and having money which can be attached to these decisions. He points out that in many European countries, higher level decision makers in government tend not to have complete control over the budget process; here, every department ends up with its own budget for all its areas, based on the priorities the organisation had before the transformation process started, even though the departments' roles will be changing.

“Now if they are completely responsible for that budget, of course they can say: 'Oh yes, we really want to participate in this transformation project'. But if that requires some of their budget to be moved from them to some other department, they would say ‘no’, of course,” says the Gartner analyst. “If you have authority to move that budget; if you have someone who can say 'I don't care - you used to have US$100 million, and your neighbouring agency had $50 million; now you get just $50 million, and your neighbour will get that additional $50 million', then you can accelerate this move.

“In many countries this is not easy, because the budget process does not reflect the priorities of the transformation process. Here it is easier, because there is both the decision making and the money.”

Di Maio is struck by how similar the core e-government issues are everywhere, despite different types of government. He says he is no expert on the progress of e-government in the Middle East, but appears to have seen enough to confirm his views.

“If you go back to e-government again over the last seven or eight years - some of the very early experiences - what has happened primarily has been e-enablement, or some moderate transformation of individual agencies,” he says. “So you do websites, portals, some of the alliance services, all of that stuff has happened on the agency-by-agency level.

“Now we are at the stage which is transformational, so you have to break those silos. Breaking those silos means changing legacy, changing processes, agreeing on shared services and so on. Having the common model of the enterprise down into the technology architecture, and the process of prioritising what needs to be done - those are the main challenges.

“And I have to say, most of the client conversations I and the rest of the government team have had around the world, are on this issue. Of course politics are different, government structures are different, but everybody is banging their heads on this particular issue.”

E-government initiatives around the world have moved on from the technology-centred issues of a few years ago, according to Di Maio. Then, different standards and architectures, and competing vendors complicated the process. While these issues are still present to some degree, the rise in open standards, service oriented architecture and similar developments have largely eliminated them. Now, says Di Maio, the real issue is getting different parts of government to talk to each other: this same issue is one he comes across everywhere in the world.

“If we take an example: looking at the UK, they recently published their transformational strategy, and a big part looks at how should they transform their services to give a more constituent-centric view; how do they share infrastructure, services? These are business processes that are common across different parts of government, and are run - because of historical reasons - as separate business, separate services. Now you find those exact issues in the United States, in Australia, and in this region as well.”

For Di Maio, then, having a stronger decision-making process is a big plus. But when governments have to go to the next step, of joining these different agencies into one, he says the critical factor is how to make sure that the agencies and ministries are effective, efficient, and use the right resources.

Organisations need to make sure people inside the different silos that will still exist cooperate. Here, governments have exactly the same issue of enterprise architecture - how to make sure that those different components of the organisation have a common view of what these enterprises are about; what they consider an HR process to be; and what they think finance looks like.

“So if you are in Dubai, or Saudi Arabia, or in the UK or the US the issue is exactly the same,” he concludes. “But where governments have much more powerful levers to effect changes, this can be both a blessing and a curse. Efficiency and cost cutting are very powerful drivers, and it can be very distracting to have a lot of pilots covering different areas, which may not come to anything. Now I'm not saying that this happens here, but there is certainly the potential.”||**||

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