Below are some of the interesting imperatives I have observed as key drivers for changing how governments do things, especially in Australia. I thought it might be of interest for some of you Particularly those trying to understand “digital government”, and why technology is now so vital for government services delivery:
- Changing public expectations – public expectations have fundamentally changed, not just with technology and everyone being connected to each other via ubiquitous mobile computing, but our basic assumptions and instincts are changing, such as the innate assumption of routing around damage, where damage might be technical or social. I’ve gone into my observations in some depth in a blog post called Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom (2011).
- Tipping point of digital engagement with government – in 2009 Australia had more citizens engaging with government online than through any other means. This digital tipping point creates a strong business case to move to digitally delivered services, as a digital approach enables more citizens to self serve online and frees up expensive human resources for our more vulnerable, complex or disengaged members of the community.
- Fiscal constraints over a number of years have largely led to IT Departments having done more for less for years, with limited investment in doing things differently, and effectively a legacy technology millstone. New investment is needed but no one has money for it, and IT Departments have in many cases, resorted to being focused on maintenance rather than project work (an upgrade of a system that maintains the status quo is still maintenance in my books). Systems have reached a difficult point where the fat has been trimmed and trimmed, but the demands have grown. In order to scale government services to growing needs in a way that enables more citizens to self service, new approaches are necessary, and the capability to aggregate services and information (through open APIs and open data) as well as user-centric design underpins this capability.
- Disconnect between business and IT – there has been for some time a growing problem of business units disengaging with IT. As cheap cloud services have started to appear, many parts of government (esp Comms and HR) have more recently started to just avoid IT altogether and do their own thing. On one hand this enables some more innovative approaches, but it also leads directly to a problem in whole of government consistency, reliability, standards and generally a distribution of services which is the exact opposite of a citizen centric approach. It’s important that we figure out how to get IT re-engaged in the business, policy and strategic development of government such that these approaches are more informed and implementable, and such that governments use, develop, fund and prioritise technology in alignment with a broader vision.
- Highly connected and mobile community and workforce – the opportunities (and risks) are immense, and it is important that governments take an informed and sustainable approach to this space. For instance, in developing public facing mobile services, a mobile optimised web services approach is more inclusive, cost efficient and sustainable than native applications development, but by making secure system APIs and open data available, the government can also facilitate public and private competition and innovation in services delivery.
- New opportunities for high speed Internet are obviously a big deal in Australia (and also New Zealand) at the moment with the new infrastructure being rolled out (FTTP in both countries), and setting up to better support and engaging with citizens digitally now, before mainstream adoption, is rather important and urgent.
- Impact of politics and media on policy – the public service is generally motivated to have an evidence-based approach to policy, and where this approach is developed in a transparent and iterative way, in collaboration with the broader society, it means government can engage directly with citizens rather than through the prism of politics or the media, each which have their own motivations and imperatives.
- Prioritisation of ICT spending – it is difficult to ensure the government investment and prioritisation of ICT projects aligns with the strategic goals of the organisation and government, especially where the goals are not clearly articulated.
- Communications and trust – with anyone able to publish pretty much anything, it is incumbent on governments to be a part of the public narrative as custodians of a lot of information and research. By doing this in a transparent and apolitical way, the public service can be a value and trusted source.
- The expensive overhead of replication of effort across governments – consolidating where possible is vital to improve efficiencies, but also to put in place the mechanisms to support whole of government approaches.
- Skills – a high technical literacy directly supports the capacity to innovate across government and across the society in every sector. As such this should be prioritised in our education systems, way above and well beyond “office productivity” tools.
Note: I originally had some of this in another blog post about open data and digital government in NZ, buried some way down. Have republished with some updated ideas.