Fifteen years ago, citizen-centric e-government drove transformation efforts. Today, the new frontier is digital government. Andrea Di Maio is managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research. He will argue at GTEC 2014 on Thursday that, to be effective, digital government innovation needs to blend both citizen-centric and data-centric approaches. He spoke with editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe.
What’s the difference between digital government and e-government?
If one looks at the declaration of what digital government is and what different countries and states and cities do, I have to say that it’s very hard to see the difference. Most of the approach is the same. It’s about citizen centricity, it’s about better experience, it’s about greater efficiency, effectiveness and so on.
E-government puts its emphasis on services, looking at what services are delivered to citizens or enterprises and how to merge those services in a way that makes them more natural and easy for citizens or enterprises. In digital government, the emphasis is no longer on service but is on data and information. In other words, whereas in e-government one would look at how do I put together two different services, what I can do in digital government is look at what data each of these services is using and how I can leverage that data to combine those services in entirely different ways or – and this is the most interesting part – to even create services that were nonexistent before.
Does this mean that governments should not be pursuing a citizen-centric approach when focusing on the digital opportunities?
It should always be citizen-centric, of course, but my concern is that the term citizen-centric has been overused. I think we have been using that for about 15 years now and it has baggage coming with it. If you start saying digital government is to be citizen-centric, you go back five, 10, 15 years ago and say, “Well, haven’t we done this already? Should we continue doing that?”
What technology offers today is much easier ways to use data and information, not just inside government but across governments and even other industries. So it has to be citizen-centric, but it also has to be, as we often say, data-centric. So we have to find a combination to make sure that you start from the data in order to combine services in a way that makes the experience truly citizen-centric.
E-government was largely the domain of the Chief Information Officer. If you’re developing the kind of scheme you’re talking about, I assume the policy and program people need to work closely with the technology experts?
Yes. But to some extent that was not different, or should not have been different, for e-government because as you start combining services there will always be certain policy implications. I think the difference is that in the past, and still today to some extent, there has always been the CIO who has to be aligned to the policymakers, the business, and the heads of departments and so forth. Which is okay, and will continue.
In the new scheme of things, there are examples where the CIO may identify possibilities for data to be used in different ways and actually flag it to the policymakers, saying, “Look, we could do something different here.” In some cases you don’t need a change of policy, in other cases you might. So I think what changes here is really the balance between who is pulling and who is pushing.
In some jurisdictions there is this new role emerging called Chief Digital Officer, sometimes called Chief Data Officer, and in my view there is no fundamental difference. This role could well be played by the Chief Information Officer. But the point is, who has responsibility to look at the information, more and more of which is generated in digital form? And how can we use it differently? How can we be more efficient? And how can we be more effective or transform our business or our relationship with the citizen by leveraging that information? That may, in certain cases, play a driving role vis-à-vis the policy discussion.
You said in one of your blogs that governments need to “temper their enthusiasm about the digital economy.” What did you mean by that?
This is not different from what happened many years ago around e-government and e-business. I think government has to use digital data in better ways to do its business, providing better services to people, being more efficient, as well as to have an impact on the digital economy. And this is mostly regulatory or by using the procurement arm or grants or funding schemes and so forth.
When you had e-government or e-business or information society programs, they depended on the part of the world you were in, where you had this ambiguity between the role of government in using technology to be better at doing its own business and the role of government as a regulator and a stimulus to the rest of the economy.
This time it’s going to be much faster. But, like past experience has showed, government from a regulatory perspective will have to run after what businesses and individuals will already be doing. If you look at how concerned people are with privacy when it comes to government, and how little concern they have when they share the data on social networks for completely different purposes, that sort of dichotomy is something governments have to come to terms with. So that’s why I said it looks simple, but it was not simple in the past and it’s going to be more complex now than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
And what are the risks for governments if they don’t deal well with the digital economy?
It depends. It is very different from what happens for a commercial enterprise because the risk, unless you get it right, is that you may be out of business. Governments will never be out of business because they do something that pretty much nobody else can do. They are intrinsically a monopoly. They are very different kinds of organizations so, from a service delivery perspective; even if they don’t get it, or they get it very late, people will have to put up with it.
A great example: unless you become faster at dealing with enterprises, there is going to be an impact on the economy. But still, you are the only entity who is going to be responsible for allowing the enterprise to exist so you are a monopoly in that respect. So I think the main consequence is going to be not on governments themselves, but on the economy. And as economies, of course, compete in a more global environment, if your governments get it, it makes it so much easier for people and businesses to operate. Those will become preferred destinations for investments and all the rest of it.
I think to some extent, ironically, the responsibility is more on the regulatory side than on the service delivery side. But again, the extreme is – and this has been shown earlier – if they do very little, not much is going to change unless you can start saying: “If a global company has to decide where to open a new branch, they are most likely to go to a place where it’s easy to do business with government.”