Technologies for Government Transformation: ERP Systems and Beyond
Edited by Shayne C. Kavanagh and Rowan A. Miranda
Government Finance Officers Association
$65 paperback

Tod Newcombe

Mention digital government and most people envision mouse clicks and Web browsers that allow citizens and businesses to interact with the public sector in seamless fashion -- an online world where they can find jobs, apply for welfare benefits, file taxes, register a business and even vote. This vision of 21st-century government has captured the hearts and minds of elected officials and bureaucrats at every level of government.

But the real transformation of government, driven by technology, will probably take place at the back end. The administrative systems that enable government to function are being overhauled, changing from fragmented, paper-driven processes designed during the Industrial Age into consolidated computer systems better suited for the digital age. The underlying technology driving the change is the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Technologies for Government Transformation is an in-depth examination of ERP's role in enabling government transformation. Editors Shayne Kavanagh and Rowan Miranda brought together 29 government practitioners, academics, industry analysts and consultants to explain ERP's fundamentals, evaluate its impact on all sectors of government, highlight its use outside traditional applications and explore the next generation of technologies.

The result is a sweeping look at one of the potentially most valuable technologies in government today. As Kavanagh and Miranda explain in their introduction, despite lingering debates about the value that is actually delivered, ERP is no longer a bleeding-edge technology, but a strategic tool for business process automation. It has ushered into government a host of modern business practices, including performance management, shared services and business process outsourcing.

Already, the private sector -- which jumped on the ERP bandwagon much earlier -- has driven down the cost of corporate finance and human resources based on how they used the technology. Now it's the government's turn to reap the value of ERP.

Despite consolidation in the industry, the public sector can pick from an array of tier 1 and tier 2 ERP solutions, explain Kavanagh and Miranda. Following an overview of the marketplace, the book delves into the meat of the matter: how to implement, launch and contract for ERP. As anyone who has dealt with ERP knows, these steps aren't easy. To give these matters some substance, several authors describe real-world rollouts for large and mid-sized governments.

And ERP is not just for finance, payroll and HR anymore. The book examines the nontraditional use of public-sector ERP in such areas as time and attendance, procurement, maintenance, CRM, customer information, data warehousing, and business process management.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the book's last half-dozen chapters that examine the changes taking place in the world of ERP now and what the future holds. Already the federal government and a number of states have made shared services the cornerstone of administrative transformation that will eventually sweep into all corners of the public sector. So too will mobile applications, as well as ERP services that reside on the Web.

While ERP has been criticized for being too complex and too expensive -- and rightly so -- nonetheless it has ushered in a new era as far as the business of government is concerned. Publication of a book on this important topic is well justified.