available to the public.

3. Online discussion of the issues with other citizens.

4. Online discussion of the issues with subject-matter experts.

5. Online discussion of the issues with government officials.

6. Contribution of ideas relative to the issues undertaken by the government.

7. Voting on the issues.

These goals highlight just how far e-government still has to go, even in the worlds leading high-tech countries.

Management Is Key

In part, implementation of e-government initiatives gets bogged down in poor IT management. In a study of e-government initiatives, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded that most governments experience problems when implementing large IT projects. "Budgets are exceeded, deadlines are overrun and often the quality of the new system is far below the standard agreed to when the project was undertaken," one OECD report stated. "Moreover, governments are not alone in failing. Evidence suggests that private-sector companies have similar problems. The Standish Group, for example, estimates that only 28 percent of all IT projects in 2000 in the United States, in government and industry, were successful with regard to budget, functionality and timeliness. Twenty-three percent were cancelled and the remainder succeeded only partially, failing on at least one of the three counts."

For most governments, large public IT projects can pose great political risks. Ministers and governments are held accountable for the failures and the accompanying waste of taxpayer money. Yet, firmly confronting and admitting past failure seems to be the way through the quagmire, as the UK recently demonstrated.

In May last year, UK Minister of State Ian McCartney, who is responsible for e-government, issued a report that tackled Britains dismal track record of government IT project management. This outlined the many serious problems encountered in that governments IT projects, resulting in tenders frequently being delivered late, over budget and, on occasion, scrapped at tremendous cost to the taxpayer.

The report made 30 recommendations to improve the performance of major projects. These focused on business change, strong leadership, supplier management, improving staff project-management skills and breaking projects up into smaller chunks to reduce the risk of expensive failures.

Focusing on better IT project management has worked for Britain. McCartney recently announced that Prime Minster Tony Blairs target of delivering 25 percent of government services electronically by 2002 has been reached more than a year early. In fact, more than 40 percent of Britains government services are now online, and the figure will be nearly 75 percent by 2002.

Additionally, citizens are making increasing use of the online services. According to research by National Statistics, one in five adults (18 percent) who use the Internet do so to access government services or official information.

In December, the UK online citizen portal <www.ukonline.gov.uk> went live, and it was officially unveiled in February. Dubbed cradle to grave Internet services, the portal guides Internet users through the maze of more than 1,000 government sites -- making searches easier and providing a single information access point for life events, like having a baby and dealing with crime. It has become a leading example of a full-service government portal.

Small Can Be Beautiful

When it comes to meeting e-government goals and effectively managing IT projects, size does matter. Last November, Estonia announced that it had become the worlds first paper-free government.

All government business in Estonia is now carried out via a secure Web server using HTTPS. Cabinet meeting sessions are now prepared and conducted electronically. Ministers read proposed laws and make comments and suggestions online. If all ministers agree on a particular agenda point, these can be adopted a priori. And as soon as the country adopts a digital signatures act, ministers will even be able to participate

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor