In these hard times

September 16, 2009

A recent Computer Weekly (8 – 14 September 2009) contains a piece entitled “Hard Times for local government IT” written by Dr Simon Moores a Conservative district councillor and former advisor to Tony Blair! Strangely, it’s largely the content of an earlier posting from his blog. I tend to agree with his conclusions to the state we are likely to be in, but as one of advisors behind the e-government race, I think he should consider his role in bringing us to the current situation we’re in.

The rush to 100% targets with little process improvement brought us to a place where, in order to share services, we are trying to rationalise a vast range of systems without any standard architecture. He bemoans his own council’s situation for being on Groupwise and “fat” desktops – I moved my own towards “thin” some six years ago against some resistance and avoided Novell at the outset, however many neighbours still use Novell and still employ “fat” desktops, which can limit some of the “quick wins”.

Many authorities and government are forced down the Microsoft path by interfaces and joining up, open source won’t make things easier, if anything it will possibly make them harder.

IT is just the glue of service delivery, e-government is just a group of channels to deliver information and services. What is needed is standards for applications to enable them to be shared across boundaries.

Will a change in government bring that?

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I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found enlightenment, well almost!

March 1, 2009

Idling away and wondering how to lauch myself on the world of ‘tweats’ I Googled ‘twitter’ and ‘e-government’ and found the following e-pamphlet: “New Labour’s Digital Vision: A Survey of E-government in the UK since 1997”, I then backtabbed and found the site – http://www.knowledgepolitics.org.uk – and the interesting group of researchers e-huddled within.

The content of this very piece was the stimulus for PhD, this second time around anyway! It was having spent so many years trying to fulfill the Whitehall dream and then seeing it for the puff of smoke it was, I felt the need to analyse.

In my opinion this paper, like so many others about UK e-government, might have benefitted from:

  • some input from practitioners – most of the references are to the media or government documents
  • a review of the academic literature – there has been some good research including that by McLoughin & Cornford and Cornford & Richter (see references below).
  • taking a look further back – e-government was actually started by the Conservatives, Nu-Labour picked it up taking along the New Public Management baggage, which was probably the downfall of e-government
  • looking at the bureaucracy – there was little central control, which was actually needed, and a lot of money wasted as a result. The Ministerial control was continually in flux – the Labour brains behind e-government, Liam Byrne, never had power in that arena.

In addition, one thing that seem to be missed was pointing any fingers at Tony Blair. It was his continued raising of the bar that set the ridiculous target (100% services by 2005), presumably to outdo colleagues abroad. Fortunately, other governments were better advised and maintained some rational restraint. The paper almost admits that we never met the targets and accepts that “the reality never met the rhetoric”, however it can’t see the wood for the trees and that essentially e-government is all about using ICT to facilitate improved services to the citizens, which will only be done by improved processes, and much of what has occurred in the past ten years has obfusticated processes and frequently changed them making improvements difficult.

The author is right to criticise it as a failed experiment, but is wrong to use decentralization as a cure. Part of the problem is too much autonomy at Whitehall, whilst continually bullying local government from the CLG/ODPM/DTLR/DETR/DoE. Central government want to get the mote out of its own eye to employ a biblical metaphor.

Incidemtally, if you are “twitterpating” I can be found at http://www.twitter.com/greatemancipato

References:

McLoughlin, I., Cornford, J., (2006). “Transformational change in the local state? Enacting e-government in English local authorities.” Journal of Management & Organization, 12(3): 195 – 208.

Cornford, J., Richter, P., (2007). “Customer Focus in UK e-Government: Or, Putting the Politics back into e-Government.” International Journal of Business Science and Applied Management 2(1): 34 – 46.