To create value, people need capacity and desire. In creating e-government, we've used capacity provided by the continuously growing power of Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law (the value of a network increases exponentially with the number of nodes). Computing that cost $100,000 when I worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay would have cost less than 20 cents in 1967 had today's technology been available. Damn impressive, eh?

Of course, value comes not from technology alone. We need to apply the capabilities of IT to create new production and organizational capacity. Over the years, applications shifted in focus from the centralized beast in the basement -- mainframes -- to a decentralized revolution of the masses -- PCs -- and most recently to the Internet as the source of network-delivered services -- "online, not in line." While we've used technology for many valuable things, the most important benefit for the public has been easier access to services.

What incentives made networked services possible? Note that two stakeholder groups made it happen: the technology community that built the infrastructure, and the public that invested and then learned their part in the electronic services dance. Boiling it down to CIOs and the public is, of course, a huge simplification.

The movement to online hasn't always been easy. We've put serious financial resources and leadership into it, and received great value from it. Online government has been well received, and as it's spread, has made society more productive. We've come a long way since the 1960s.

At the same time, however, it's important to realize online government has been pretty much a consensus effort. The distribution of government services changed dramatically, but production remained rather constant. As a result -- and unlike the case with many other economic, social and political changes -- there has not been a powerful opposition to overcome.

Unfortunately that's already changing.

Rough Ride Ahead

So far, e-government has worked mostly with technical workers and the individuals using or directly providing online services. Not much has been demanded of the vast number of workers in other segments of the value chain. Distribution changed. Production didn't.

For the future, however, change is needed throughout the value chain. We are moving to coordinate larger communities of interaction, getting them to work together in new ways. For example, it won't be just changing the few steps involved in reporting aggregated health data to the public. It will also be changing the countless steps involved in sharing medical records and analysis among doctors, nurses, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, patients, insurance companies, the government and the public.

For the next e-government phase, the unit of change is becoming much larger, extending to entire industries -- such as travel, international trade and health care -- and to policy communities such as environmental protection, criminal justice and education.

Such change is extremely "cross-boundary," meaning that many independent organizations must work together. Almost everything -- at least at first -- will require negotiation. For cross-boundary change, there is a difficult ambiguity about who has jurisdiction to resolve disputes. It's a frontier with all the newness, excitement, innovation and disorganization that it implies.

Look briefly at a few examples:

  • Integrated service delivery to the public: Some jurisdictions are creating new one-stop organizations to handle all channels of interaction with the public: face-to-face, telephone, mail and Internet. Jobs are changing, and people are being reassigned.

  • Integrated administrative services inside government: Some jurisdictions are adopting enterprisewide, even jurisdictionwide, systems for human resources, accounting, budgeting and performance management. Again, jobs are changing, redundant jobs are being cut and workers reassigned.

  • Health-care reform: Some jurisdictions are attacking the many information-related inefficiencies in health care,
  • Jerry Mechling  |  Contributing Writer