Booked review: Delivering on Digital
Author William D Eggers examines practices and principles in eGovernment
Delivering on Digital is priced €24.99
Delivering on digital
William D Eggars
The problems associated with delivering eGovernment initiatives are amply illustrated by the opening passage of this book which details the disastrous launch of President Obama’s HealthCare.gov website.
This was an administration-defining project, designed to help millions of uninsured citizens sign up for health insurance. Just two weeks before its launch in 2013, the US government decided to make users register on the site before they could shop around for healthcare plans. This created a massive backlog in its registration system as did the site’s unnecessary insistence on identity controls for users who simply wanted to browse. The eligibility system also mistakenly excluded multitudes of eligible individuals.
The embarrassing failure of the system forced the president to admit that “the way that the federal Government does procurement and does IT is not very efficient”.
It had a positive dividend, however. The shock to the system triggered radical changes, including hiring 500 of the IT industry’s brightest and best into the federal government, including a SWAT team to fix problematic digital problems before they ballooned out of control.
These new techies, dubbed by Fast Company magazine as “Obama’s Geeks” brought a new perspective. In contrast to the mainframe mentality of much of the public service, open-source and agile technology were the tools of choice. Critically, the focus of attention shifted to the needs of users, who were now viewed as partners in designing more efficient solutions to everyday needs.
According to the author, digital transformation combines five key components. Firstly Social, prioritises allowing people to communicate electronically in real time, while Mobility, connects people wherever they are. Analytics uses data to perform sophisticated analysis across programme and policy areas, while Cloud Computing stores and processes information remotely which changes how you use technology and how you pay for it. Finally, Cybersecurity provides secure communication and data security.
Moreover, thinking digitally is no longer a mere option. It’s a necessary mindset that focuses on putting customers first and improving the way governments serve their citizens. For those who grasp it correctly, it is also a game changer.
The book singles out Estonia for its remarkable eGovernment initiatives. This tiny ex-communist state with a population of just 1.3 million, led by a visionary President Toomas Hendrik, who was raised in the US, has realised how it can overcome its lack of scale to be a leader in digital. Estonian children learn to code from kindergarten and every citizen has a unique online identity so they never have to fill out the same information twice when dealing with government. Tax returns can be filed in five minutes.
A pioneering e-residency programme provides any citizen in the world with a government issues digital identity and the opportunity to run a trusted company online.
Elsewhere, the eGovernement revolution has been slow to deliver in many cases. The reasons are myriad but suffice to say that too often, what has been constructed in the past is merely a pretty storefront in the form of websites at the entrance to systems stubbornly built for the industrial age.
The conditions now exist for all that to change, however. The enabling technology exists for one and moreover, citizens are demanding digital solutions. Digital native millennials are now consumers of public services, with millions now working in and around government while Gen Xers and baby boomers have become more savvy consumers of digital products and services.
Past failures provide lessons for future success and a much more favourable climate exists for those in the public sector and for their private sector partners to implement successful projects.
There is a much better approach to procurement for one. Where once the award of a contract was seen as an end stage, now there is much greater scrutiny of the implementation stage. Winners are no longer chosen because they are the cheapest or because they know how to navigate the tender process. Instead of the award of major contracts, smaller modular ones are now being awarded with faster cycle times.
Well researched by an author who has a consultancy background in the subject area, this book provides good analysis of past and current performance and best practices and principles in eGovernment.