Smarter public services

February 25, 2010

Imagine my surprise at opening the latest New Statesman, 22 February 2010, and finding an advertisement for ‘Big Blue’ i.e. IBM, entitled “Smarter public services for a smarter planet.” I can’t imagine why IBM are targeting left-of-centre politicians, perhaps a rare breed in the 21st century?

Included on the advertisement  from IBM is a link to a website where there is a PDF of a report entitled “IBM’s response to “Digital Britain – Online Public Services are a proxy for Digital Britain” dated March 2009, promoting amongst other things, the South West One partnership that has suffered a few problems to date, as reported by Computer Weekly and others. Having been involved in a complex public- private partnership myself they have my sympathy, but isn’t it too early to crow?

In general, however, the eight-page report is pretty sensible including the statement – “Apply the 80/20 rule: build for 80% of the customer circumstances and ignore the minority of exceptions that create disproportionate complexity and cost. Target services and educate customers to minimise the likelihood of exceptions occurring. Handle exceptions through appropriate existing off-line channels.”

It appears we are starting to learn and that electronic channels aren’t the answer for everything and will have to retain the others for those who will not or cannot use them, or for the inappropriate services.

The topic of e-government and partnerships was one covered by my academic acquaintance Paul Henman in his 2004 paper: Henman, P. (2004). “E-government and the Electronic Transformation of Modes of Rule: The Case of Partnerships.” Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics 2(2): 19-24. where he concludes that “Partnerships require a lot of organisational, relationship and technical work to establish and maintain. They require that all partners continue to extract mutual benefits from the partnership and maintain levels of trust. As such partnerships constantly need to be made and re-made.” So remember as well, it’s not all down to ICT!