E-government initiatives: The pressure's on

Government agencies lag well behind private industry when it comes to successful online services. Here's a look at how that may change, along with some ways IT pros can fuel e-government initiatives.

When U.S. President Bill Clinton visited India in March, he marveled at the fact that citizens can get a driver’s license online, and he observed, "You don't have to go wait in line, as you do in America."

The President—and the rest of the country—knows that the U.S. is a long way from achieving a successful e-government.

So what’s on the way, and what can IT pros do to make it happen? Here's a look at what some experts are saying.
Gartner Group, Inc. defines e-government as the continuous optimization of government service delivery, constituency participation, and governance by transforming internal and external relationships through technology, the Internet, and new media.
Bumps in the road to e-government
In the Internet age, federal, state, and local government agencies face pressure to implement new technologies and applications to better serve constituents. But these agencies can’t be expected to move as quickly as their counterparts in industry, and experts say they will face difficulty in meeting those expectations.

“E-government promises of operational-costs savings, improved service delivery, and positive transformations of the government workplaces are real. However, a high rate of e-government project failures in the next several years may be unavoidable,” said French Caldwell, research director for the Stamford, CT-based Gartner Group, Inc. “E-government transformation is manageable, and governments can take advantage of failures and cut innovation cycle times.”

Bringing agencies into the Internet age
Indeed, constituents will expect more Web-based services from the government, and insiders believe the delivery will be slow.

“Citizens are going to demand 24/7 agencies, like those that have moved ahead—the IRS, the government benefits, and the taxpayer benefits,” said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "Why is there all this resistance; why is it so slow? I believe there’s not quite enough movement yet to push it forward."

Miller added that “e-friendly” states such as Virginia, California, and Washington may be the real leaders in the push for e-government.

“There’s a certain amount of competition to be the most consumer-friendly, to have the most services,” he said.

Microsoft president and CEO, Steve Ballmer, agreed that a major shift in the way the government conducts business with business partners and consumers is about to take place. He spoke at the recent FOSE Conference in Washington, D.C., for the government IT market, where he was tight-lipped on the Justice Department’s ruling against Microsoft but instead cheered the company’s benefits to its largest customer, the federal government.

“The challenges of empowering knowledge workers is even greater in government than in private industry."

He also noted the importance of making everything readily accessible to constituents and workers. “People don’t want to navigate everywhere. They want one password or access code to do their business with the government.”

Agencies introduce enhanced services
At the FOSE show, Ballmer praised the e-government efforts of Microsoft’s customers. Among those were the State of Pennsylvania Web site, an integrated portal for community information, state agency services, and Pennsylvania businesses; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Digital Information Collection, which has saved taxpayers $5.25 million.

Ballmer said more of these types of services could be added when standards for eXtensible Markup Language (XML) are implemented. “XML will be important in terms of targeting new devices,” he said. “It will be the key to getting the world of e-commerce and e-government to the next level. A revved-up level of interoperability between operating systems [will be] very important to government services.”

Interoperability will also mean improved online services for constituents, according to ITAA’s Miller. He advocates an Ask Jeeves type of site for the government. “You should be able to go online and have one place where you conduct your business with the government,” he said. “A user should be able to ask how to renew a driver’s license and be directed to the right place very quickly.”

What the private sector can expect
With so much focus on streamlining and improving services, the vendors who sell IT products and services to the government are likely to gain more business. Gartner projects that spending for e-government—including e-business related hardware, software, and internal and external services—will grow from $1.5 billion in 2000 to more than $6.2 billion in 2005.

Government agencies are already moving from the client-server model of complex software that runs on powerful PCs to Web-based software that lives on the Internet. The concept of using the Internet to store applications and using PCs to access information via the Web will allow the government to save money on software and on the powerful machines that users need to run the applications.

Gartner also proposes that companies that are stakeholders in the e-government strategy are in a position to influence that strategy and that new vendors will have ample opportunity to do business in the e-government marketplace.

“The value propositions and innovative business models brought to the table by niche e-government providers are throwing down a gauntlet to the Tier 1 professional services and systems-integrator houses that have dominated the government market for years,” Caldwell said. “However, these traditional government vendors have a tremendous advantage in their expertise at navigating the government procurement and accounting processes.”
Is your company working with a government agency to improve online services? What should government agencies do to speed up these efforts? Give us your thoughts by posting a comment below. If you have a story idea you’d like to share, drop us a note.

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