Build governance into e-govt, experts urge

Governments need to factor governance and collaboration into their e-government frameworks, not focus on IT and its application, said speakers at Singapore event.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Governance and collaboration are key elements of successful e-government frameworks, various speakers stressed at the inaugural iGov Global Exchange 2009 on Monday.

Delivering the conference keynote, Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the country's experience has shown that good governance--more than technology and the application of IT--serves as the foundation for successful e-government.

"It is tempting to think that to successfully implement e-government, the 'e' in e-government comes first. Too often, the marketing allure of new technologies blindside us into thinking that all we need is to roll out new hardware and software," he noted. "Putting a PC on the desk does not in itself raise efficiency; rolling out broadband does not, by itself, lead to higher productivity."

Governance in e-government, according to the minister, required three elements:

  • transparency, accountability and incorruptibility--government leaders have to set an example, and "every credible allegation of corruption" needs to be looked into. In public sector procurement, for instance, open competitive tenders are the norm, so much so that "many suppliers and vendors regard winning a project in an open competitive bid in Singapore as a valuable endorsement of their product", said Goh.

  • continuous regulatory review--administrations need to constantly relook rules and regulations to do away with obsolete ones, as well as re-engineer delivery processes. Without continuous regulatory reviews, the government would simply be importing inefficiencies into an electronic system.
  • working as one--breaking down silos in the public service is a necessary ingredient, as a silo mentality can create problems for investors and businessmen, noted Goh. Likewise, civic-minded individuals may also be discouraged from providing feedback if they are given the run-around.
  • Singapore: From integrated to collaborative

    Retracing the island-state's steps toward e-government, Lim Hup Seng, deputy secretary (performance) at Singapore's Ministry of Finance, pointed out that Singapore had evolved from being a computerized government to an online government to its current phase of becoming an integrated government.
    To date, Singapore has some 1,600 e-services, or 98 percent of all services deemed to be feasible electronically. Some 300 of such e-services are also optimized for mobile devices, and there are about 3,000 transactions per month using this platform.
    The next step, he said, was to become a "collaborative government", where the administration taps onto the network of public, private and people sectors to identify gaps in services and bridge those gaps. That, essentially, constitutes a shift from "government to you" to "government with you".
    During a panel discussion, Lim observed that this could mean that the "form of government may well have to change"--emphasis could be on more strategic issues such as diplomacy and defense instead of minding the communities.

    Good governance, the politician added, also enables the Singapore administration "to improve the effectiveness of government". For example, the Singapore government uses e-government systems to identify lower-income residents and provide them bigger cash payouts, which are automatically channeled as the government databases are linked to banking systems.

    Going forward, Goh said the role of the government "must evolve from being the sole provider of public services, to providing an open IT platform to nurture an ecosystem of IT services". In the new ecosystem, participants will be able to freely innovate and create value-added services on top of or even superseding existing public services.

    E-government challenges
    Qian Haiyan, division director for public administration and development management at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the government of the future is one that understands and correctly exploits e-government strategies and tools.

    From a UN perspective, e-government stands at a crossroads in many parts of the world, she pointed out. Many administrations acquire technologies that end up being redundant, because they did not fully understand or implement them. Echoing Goh's observation, Qian said countries sometimes equated e-government with having the best infrastructure and the most advanced technology.

    When implementing e-government, many also experience an "integration loophole", she added. Successful implementation requires the connecting of online platforms with offline processes, as well as government's partnership with the private sector to pursue targeted marketing in educating citizens.

    At the heart of e-government progress is a need for cultural shifts and to manage such shifts carefully. Ken Cochrane, CIO of the Government of Canada between 2006 and 2008, said from his country's experience of moving the public sector into a shared services model that changing user mindsets was often the most challenging part of the process.

    "Technology was the least of our worries; the biggest challenge was trying to convince departments to use our shared services," said Cochrane, currently managing partner of SSG Southside Solutions Group.

    Canada's e-government experience began in the 1990s, he shared, when it was merely about having online presence. Two other phases--"i-Gov" in 2003 and "Gov 2.0" in 2007--followed, where the emphasis was on making internal processes and systems more efficient, and modernizing the delivery of services and widening the services scope, respectively.

    Even with "solid agreement" among CIOs at various government levels, there continued to be cultural issues which mostly arose from middle management ranks, he noted. "A lot of the cultural issues need to be dealt with…by starting small…showing what can be done."

    Experts at the conference, agreed that e-government was a continuous journey. E-government is a journey that has "no clear beginning" and "no clear end", summed up Lim Hup Seng, deputy secretary (performance) at Singapore's Ministry of Finance.

    Editorial standards