June 29, 2009 By Fred Collins
With the rise of e-government initiatives, the majority of communication with constituents and related tasks, such as tax transactions, are now performed online. While they are convenient for citizens, the infrastructure required to support online services creates a large inventory of applications and technology platforms that must be maintained and upgraded based on new needs. An enterprise architecture (EA) approach makes organizations more aware of their current landscape, maximizes the IT investments they're making and ensures an optimal return to the taxpayer.
Every day, public CIOs around the world perform a balancing act between the need for new technology versus the need to contain costs, security versus collaborative processes and accessible data versus the need for business with IT strategies.
To achieve this balance, CIOs must close the gap between business and IT by becoming a business executive first and a technologist second. They need to build a hybrid skill set that enables IT professionals to understand the business's needs.
EA addresses this balancing of business and IT strategies. When properly implemented, EA initiatives can:
Public-sector CIOs are experiencing a newfound emphasis on collaboration and openness in their dealings with the public. President Barack Obama's memo on transparency and open government stated, "Government should be transparent. ... Government should be participatory. ... Government should be collaborative."
Web 2.0 embodies many of the principles for collaboration and openness set forth in the memo. Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of Web-based services -- social networking sites, wikis, blogs, user-generated content -- that let people work together and share information online. It is about connecting people and amplifying the power of working together. Web 2.0 emphasizes user-generated content, data- and content-sharing, and collaborative efforts. It is changing the way governments deliver services and engage with people.
E-government is a continuum: beginning with online government providing basic access to information and then online transactions, online service provision and in government collaboration. As one moves from access to integration and on-demand e-government, the infrastructure requirements to provide such services increases. Citizens are no longer content with the availability of online forms and static Web pages.
While Web 2.0 involves new technologies and new means of interaction with the public, it remains a simple evolution and extension of e-government.
As CIOs look to embrace the tenets of the Obama administration's policy on collaboration and openness, one should keep in mind certain Web 2.0 technologies are more appropriate for a given level of e-government maturity. Also keep in mind that Web 2.0 changes some basic beliefs of how the government provides services to citizens. With Web 2.0, the government's role changes from being the provider of services to being responsible for only part of a wider range of services that are collaboratively delivered as part of a much larger community.
In this paradigm, government may function as a facilitator or participant in systems and environments for which it's not directly responsible. Government might need to deliver (or make easily discoverable and useful) portions of government information for others to harvest, mash ups and reuse -- perhaps together with information gathered from nongovernment sources. Web 2.0 will also introduce interesting challenges for governing processes and accountability for information.
The Web 2.0 platform makes the online environment individual- and user-centric. From the government and business viewpoint, this means institutions will have to engage citizens and customers in places where they already are (on social-network sites and online communities) rather than create portals and all-purpose Web sites. This has implications for how service provision and uses of Web 2.0 are designed -- pointing to the needed shift away from portals toward citizen-centric Web 2.0 applications, such as mash-ups to deliver products and services to users' devices.
As citizens' expectations move governments to adopt new technologies in the face of increasing budget scrutiny, the question arises as to where cost savings can be implemented to free up funding for these new e-government initiatives. A holistic enterprise approach is needed. Note that today:
Governments are already working to cut costs through server consolidation, server virtualization and elimination of redundant, stovepiped systems. Web 2.0 technologies are amenable to server virtualization and centralized data centers. Green IT has also been embraced by many agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has its own Green Information Technology Strategic Plan.
But embracing green IT goes beyond the procurement of environmentally preferable and energy-efficient equipment. One very important aspect of green IT is the design of data centers. It has many dimensions, but a major component of cost savings involves increased utilization through application consolidation and server virtualization, and reduced power consumption though reduction of the number of active disk drives consistent with required service levels.
Efficient data center design can significantly reduce the fiscal impact of adopting new technologies that address Web 2.0 requirements. Effective implementation and adoption of such designs requires EA be in place. An effective EA is transparent yet effective. One tends to notice the absence, not the presence of an EA program.
When you're flying, you don't tend to pay much attention to all of the interconnected activities, events, processes, people, organizations, locations and technology that make the flight possible. Indeed, you're probably just hoping for an adjacent empty seat and thinking about how stingy the airline is about food. When the EA of air travel works well, all of its constituent parts work together so smoothly that you could say, from your point of view, that it's delivering its value transparently.
Likewise, as e-government initiatives often span agencies, effective IT governance is paramount. Effective EA programs feature a governance regime, EA framework, method, program office, evangelistic enterprise architects, a repository, and adequate funding and executive commitment to make everything work. In the air travel analogy, implementing an e-government initiative without an EA in place is like building a plane every time you want to fly somewhere.
Experience shows that without effective, integrated EA tooling support, implementation of formal EA methodologies is difficult, if not impossible. It's possible to use a collection of disparate business process, data and architectural modeling tools. However, the result is a collection of work products, not an EA. It should be simple and allow all the EA work products to be created and maintained in a single tooling environment.
For the most part, enterprises have collections of information on hand that can be used to derive value and drive modernization. The worth of this legacy data is often called into question, but you can always find some value in the data when it's integrated with other sources of information. The key to deriving business value is the collection, integration, normalization and presentation of this data to stakeholder groups.
Author's note: For more information about potential uses of social computing in government, barriers to Web 2.0, and what citizens think about Web 2.0, please see Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government by The IBM Center for the Business of Government.
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