March 5, 2008 By Tod Newcombe
It's always interesting when the mainstream press casts its eye on digital government. The Economist (Feb. 16) has a 16-page special report on the topic.
One of the most influential and certainly the most global of business publications, The Economist takes an international look at how e-government is progressing, examining how it is faring in such places as Singapore, India and Dubai as well as the UK and the U.S.
Their prognosis: governments around the world have pretty much mastered what The Economist calls "i-government, the provision of information." The Internet has also made it easier to share information between departments and among citizens. Some governments are moving closer to offering entire services online and others are looking at ways to deliver services to a mobile public (i.e., m-government).
But government has yet to master how to personalize what it offers, so customers can set their preferences and keep them the next time they visit government online; it still doesn't do a good job providing round-the-clock access; and finally, it has a long way to go before its online public services are as easy to use as those in the private sector.
To be fair, the special report balances the struggles with e-government against the special requirements and burdens the public sector faces, the impact of politics, unions and plain old-fashioned bureaucracy, and the constant struggle to protect the privacy of citizens in a digital world.
While none of the governments featured in the article are spared criticism, the United Kingdom comes under particularly harsh judgment for some of its projects that have gone off the rails (including the $25 billion National Health Service electronic makeover). Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.'s CTO Vivek Kundra receives somewhat flattering attention for his efforts to use IT to streamline how the district operates.
But overall, much remains to be done, according to The Economist. "Although hopes have been high and the investment has been huge, so far the results have mostly been disappointing. That reflects a big difficulty in e-government: It touches on so many other things. What exactly is it that public organizations are trying to maximize, and how can it be measured?"
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