• United States



by Steve Kolodney

Digital Government: Moving Beyond E

Jul 02, 20038 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Government is on a journey of transformation-one that will have a profound effect on the very institutions of democracy.

Rewind five years to the top technology issues of the day. Organizations were working feverishly to update and modernize their aging infrastructures for the year 2000 and the Internet was about to become the hottest thing around.

Government was quick to respond to these developments, learning to use technology more effectively while staking out territory in cyberspace, creating a recognizable brand for public entities. Over the past two years, government has furthered this exploration by moving from merely providing information to delivering services online. This transition is leading to yet another technological inflection point in history the move from e-government to digital government.

Digital government is digitally enabled government from end-to-end, using modern Web-based technology as a channel for delivering information and services to citizens and businesses. It transforms the structure of government by using the Internet to meet the long-standing imperatives for economy, efficiency, and accountability.

The fact is that today’s citizens are Web-savvy and pressed for time. They expect self-service access to government information and services at any time, any place. Like all of us, they want one-stop shopping. At their convenience, they want to pay fees and fines, find out how to renew a driver’s license, get a passport application, apply for Social Security, submit address changes, file complaints-and much more.

For citizens, it’s about accountability, access and control. For government, it’s about serving citizens effectively and efficiently-the primary goal of any government organization. And by doing what citizens demand, governments reap many benefits. The integrated, self-service model improves business management, decreasing costs due to less duplication of function while increasing compliance. Everyone wins.

The compelling, worldwide vision for digital government encompasses:

  • One-stop, 24/7 self-service convenience
  • Consistent services through multiple delivery channels
  • Integrated back-end activities with front-end customer interactions
  • Integrated activities across government organizations
  • Reduced processing time, transitioning to real-time government
  • Strategic outsourcing of functions and processes
  • Reduced intergovernmental operational costs and controlled redundancy in capital investment
  • Performance-based program planning and management

While the vision sounds simple enough, there’s no doubt that it will take a Herculean effort to reach it. How can government executives manage this transition? What tools and opportunities are available? Most importantly, how do you get started?

Constructing the Roadmap

Developing a next-generation digital government, although complex, is far from impossible. Providing services involves transforming business processes and integrating with other key government agency applications. Often-but not always-this involves migrating legacy applications to newer, more modular and modern technology.

For many government agencies, the first step isn’t reworking the enterprise architecture, but creating it. In most cases, the lack of an enterprise architecture-which hampers many efforts at modernizing government-is due to years of project-by-project design and development that results in myriad stovepipe systems that simply don’t talk to one another. To achieve the vision of integrated digital government, agencies must take an architectural approach. That means understanding business processes, roles and responsibilities, where the data resides and how it flows through the agency’s systems.

Success involves more than technology, however. It takes dedicated leadership, a commitment to quality and best practices, a willingness to experiment, the knowledge that you are responding to the needs of your citizens, and the expectation of success. This success should be linked to creditable measures that explain and substantiate the need for investments and determine the accomplishments of investments made.

Providing the Glue

Enterprise integration is the catalyst for government transformation-not only is it the critical link that leverages reusable components and shared services, but it facilitates the interoperability between an enterprise’s applications. This enables the cross-organizational interaction of government. It allows changes to the infrastructure to be made in one place, quickly and easily, while updating technologies and processes with ease. Workflows can be altered in near real-time without compromising their effectiveness.

With the technologies and techniques now available, organizations at any end of the enterprise integration spectrum can benefit from identifying and sharing services across the enterprise, reducing duplication of effort and investment. This is key, especially in a fiscally constrained environment.

Accomplishing this, however, is not without its challenges. It’s not uncommon for organizations to find themselves with incompatible platforms. Fortunately, new technologies can provide “wrappers” around legacy systems to extend their reach in enabling interagency and cross-agency processes.

Creating the Gateway

It’s not too surprising that the companies with the top three most visited Web sites in February 2003 were America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo. Perhaps more surprising, however, is that U.S. government sites ranked fourth in the ratings, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

Despite this promising ranking, most government Web sites remain static, offering only basic information. With a public eager to interact with government on the Web the same way they interact with, eBay and other Internet powerhouses, a lack of interactive services can lead to frustration and disappointment.

With integrated digital government, citizens can accomplish a variety of tasks through one Web portal. The time required to navigate a government Web site drops from hours to minutes, increasing citizen satisfaction while lowering government costs.

For government executives, this means that the portal must extend beyond a thin Web interface to an integrated set of back-end processes and systems that connect with citizens, businesses, employees, partners, and other government entities. The portal offers the infrastructure to seamlessly aggregate and deliver cross-government capabilities, and allows audiences to define their relationship with government.

The portal is a focal point for achieving the real results of government transformation. Best practices in creating next-generation portals include providing customer-centric information architecture with common navigation and interfaces. Consistency of both the interface and the navigational experience are key; without it, site visitors can experience frustration.

Next-generation government portals also must employ greater cross-agency search capabilities and interactive services, reaching beyond content to connect constituents to applications and information in a secure manner that maintains government trust.

Unlike building a physical structure, these enhancements can be made over time. But to ensure that improvements map to a larger strategy, governments should use enterprise architecture to create informed and strategic decisions that enable the enterprise integration that links the back-end systems of government.

Making Vision Reality

Clearly, becoming a digital government takes work. Here are some tips that might ease the transition:

  • Develop a vision. Building a roadmap for your enterprise will ensure that you are providing the services your citizens want, the way they want them.
  • Plan strategically, build modularly, and demonstrate quickly. Success depends on building your next-generation infrastructure incrementally. This gradual approach requires smart planning and leveraged investments. Visible, early successes will lend credibility and support, and help sustain momentum for the big picture vision.
  • Focus on consistency across existing channels while piloting new channels. Constituents often find different answers to the same question on the Web, in print, and in call centers due to the creation of duplicate systems. Component-based architectures allow organizations to build content stores and applications once and use them in call centers, government offices, Web sites and mobile device channels such as notebooks, handheld PCs and cell phones.
  • Integrate content across the enterprise. Deploy tools and processes that manage information delivery as a mission-critical core process. Deploy a single infrastructure to deliver targeted information to Internet, intranet, mobile and voice channels.
  • Start with the low-hanging fruit. Choose applications that are in highest demand. By doing so, you’ll be able to show success early, building support for future applications. And by building modularly, you’ll be better able to add functionality and applications, as they are needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to innovate. Now is the time to take chances. It’s when you don’t push the envelope that your agency will be perceived as being behind the curve and failing to respond to your citizens’ needs and requirements.

Not merely the next phase of e-government, digital government is an imperative in a rapidly changing world; and those responsible for delivering public service are up the challenge. They will create engaging gateways to interact with citizens, developing a roadmap and integrating processes and technologies that allow for achievable, scaleable improvements.

Digital government delivers on the core tenets of government, enabling citizens to receive a new level of responsive public service.

Steve Kolodney is an AMS vice president with 30-plus years of government experience, most recently as the state of Washington’s chief information officer, where he also served as a member of the governor’s cabinet. Governing magazine named him one its Public Officials of the Year 2000 and Federal Computer Week cited him as one of the top 100 executives to have the greatest impact on the government systems community in 1999. For more information on building a digital government, visit the AMS Digital Government Series.