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A Better e-Government Maturity Model

23 March 2015 1 comment

e-Government develops over time.  Researchers want to track this; practitioners want to benchmark where they are in relation to others.  The result has been the development of e-government maturity models.  But there are difficulties with the most popular models, and here I propose an alternative.

There are many e-government maturity models: Fath-Allah et al (2014)[1] provide a helpful overview that identifies and then analyses 25 different models.  By far the best-known is Layne & Lee’s (2001)[2] four-stage model (see below): not just the most highly-cited model but the most highly-cited of all e-government papers.

Layne & Lee eGov Maturity Model

This foundational model has been revised (e.g. Andersen & Henriksen 2006[3]) and revisited (e.g. Lee 2010[4]).  Drawing on this past literature but also additional insights, three key challenges to the Layne & Lee model can be identified:

1. US-centricity. All models are a product of their context. Layne and Lee’s model derives solely from e-government experience in the US.  As a result – even 15 years after its development – the model focuses mainly on higher levels than actually achieved by most governments worldwide; at least judged on the basis of the UN e-Government Survey (e.g. UNDESA 2014[5]).

To address this, it will be useful for a revised maturity model to disaggregate two pre-transactional stages; one related to one-way publication of government information; one related to two-way interactive capabilities of e-government.

2. Beyond Integration. All models are a product of their time. At the time Layne and Lee were writing, it was perfectly reasonable to identify integration – joining up e-government services vertically across levels of government, and horizontally between sectors of government – as the pinnacle of e-government’s achievement: the completion of all of a citizen transaction online.  Subsequently, however, e-government has moved beyond this.  Maturity model designs that move beyond integration are therefore the focus for a number of the revisions charted by Fath-Allah et al.

One example now visible is government undertaking a transaction proactively; e.g. proactively reissuing a passport when the old one nears renewal or an auto license with payment set up via an automatic direct debit mandate.  Or, governments now customise processes so that services are individualised; e.g. providing personalised information matched to the known needs of the individual citizen.  Or, governments may even eliminate a process, no longer requiring anyone to do it; e.g. government proactively issuing a birth certificate from hospital records so the citizen no longer needs to register a birth.

These types of further development need to be incorporated into any revised maturity model.

3. Disaggregated Dimensions. All models are a product of their mindset. Not just the Layne and Lee model but also its suggested  variants have a single-path perspective on e-government maturity.  At first glance this can be hard to notice since the Layne & Lee model plus some variants is illustrated within a two-dimensional space.  But that space is not used: these models are functionally-equivalent to a one-dimensional ladder model.

As a result, there is no differentiation between the “front-office” nature of the interface / interaction, and the “back-office” nature of the underlying process.  Yet these can progress at different rates.  Some e-government applications are quite transactionally complex but not integrated with other services.  Other e-government applications – such as a number of government portals – are simple in interactional terms but integrate across all of government.

A revised maturity model should take this into account, and provide a truly two-dimensional space within which e-government can mature.

The Manchester e-Government Maturity Model

The Manchester e-Government Maturity Model seeks to incorporate the responses to these three challenges:

  1. It reflects current global realities of e-government by having separate categories for “Informing” (one-way publication of information) and “Interacting” (two-way communication between government and users).
  2. The extent of change in underlying government processes includes the Layne and Lee components via categories of “Digitisation” (simple automation of existing processes) and “Improvement” (bringing processes together via horizontal or vertical integration). But it then moves beyond these to more fundamental process change via categories of “Redesign” (such as proactive or customised transactions) and “Transformation” (complete reworking of processes such as their elimination or reversing from government- to citizen-led).
  3. Delinking front-office interaction from back-office process change.

The figure below shows the model, including some examples at various different points in the maturity space; with growing maturity understood to be movement from bottom to top, and left to right.

Manchester eGov Maturity Model

[1] Fath-Allah, A., Cheikhi, L., Al-Qutaish, R.E. & Idri, A. (2014) e-Government maturity models: a comparative study, International Journal of Software Engineering & Applications, 5(3), 71-91 http://airccse.org/journal/ijsea/papers/5314ijsea06.pdf

[2] Layne, K. & Lee, J. (2001) Developing fully functional e-government: a four stage model, Government Information Quarterly, 18(2), 122-136

[3] Andersen, K.V. & Henriksen, H.Z. (2006) e-Government maturity models: extension of the Layne and Lee model, Government Information Quarterly, 23(2), 236-248

[4] Lee, J. (2010) 10 year retrospect on stage models of e-government: a qualitative meta-synthesis, Government Information Quarterly, 27(3), 220-230

[5] UNDESA (2014) United Nations e-Government Survey 2014, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York, NY http://unpan3.un.org/egovkb/Portals/egovkb/Documents/un/2014-Survey/E-Gov_Complete_Survey-2014.pdf

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Steering e-Government Projects from Failure to Success

2 August 2012 3 comments

How do you turn a relatively unsuccessful e-government (or ICT4D) project into a relatively successful one?

There’s not a lot of guidance on this question.  Lists of success and failure factors are generic rather than specific to any one project, and need to be analysed before the project starts.  Evaluation methodologies focus more on impact than implementation, and generally apply only after the project has ended.

What is needed is a “mid-implementation toolkit”: something that will both analyse where you’ve got to in the project, and recommend an improvement action plan for the future.  Researchers working alongside an Ethiopian e-government project have recently published the results of testing just such a toolkit.

Using the “design-reality gap” framework, the researchers gathered data from four different stakeholder groups involved with the e-government project, which had introduced a land management information system into one of Ethiopia’s city administrations.  The system was only partly operational and was not yet fully integrated into city administration procedures: it could therefore be described as a partial failure.

The design-reality gap framework helps measure any differences that exist between the project’s initial design expectations and current implementation realities.  It does this along seven dimensions (see figure below).

Where large gaps are found, these highlight the key and specific problem areas for the project.  In this particular e-government initiative, significant design-reality gaps were identified in relation to:

  • Management systems and structures (a failure to set up an ICT department and to hire permanent IT staff).
  • Staffing and skills (hiring only five of the required nine IT staff, and undershooting the necessary qualifications and experience).
  • Project objectives and values (allowing some culture of corruption to remain among lower-level administrators).
  • Information systems (absence of one core system module and of digitised documents).

These gaps demonstrated that the e-government system had not yet institutionalised within the city government.  The gap analysis was therefore used as the basis for a discussion with senior managers.  From the analysis and discussion emerged two things.

First, identification of small gaps that had lain behind the partial success of the system – the commitment of project champions, process re-design being conducted prior to introduction of new technology, and stability in the information that was digitised onto the e-government system.

Second, identification of an action plan that would close the main extant gaps between design and reality: creating the proposed new ICT deparment, hiring additional IT staff, and setting up permanent positions with clearly defined salary scales and promotional criteria. These, in turn, would provide the basis for implementing the missing module, and scanning the missing legal documentation.

Not all the gaps can readily be closed: it will take a much longer process of cultural change before the last vestiges of corruption can be eliminated.  Nonetheless, design-reality gap analysis did prove itself to be a valuable mid-implementation tool.  It is helping steer this e-government project from partial failure to greater success.  And the authors recommend its use by e-government managers as they implement their projects: it has helped to focus management attention on key e-government project issues; it digs beyond just technical issues to address underlying human and organisational factors; and it offers a systematic and credible basis for project reporting and analysis.

Feel free to comment with your own experiences of design-reality gaps, or other mid-implementation techniques for e-government project analysis and improvement.

e-Government Benefits And Costs: Why e-Gov Raises Not Lowers Your Taxes

29 September 2011 2 comments

Often, IT companies sell e-government to politicians, and politicians sell e-government to citizens on the promise that it will save money.  These claims regularly appear as “news” items, especially in IT- or government-related media.  This has in part encouraged the huge expenditure on e-government: a ballpark figure would be US$3 trillion during the first decade of the 2000s[1].

So here’s my question: “If e-government is so great at cutting costs, how come my taxes haven’t gone down?”

Of course, taxes depend on far more variables than just e-government.  But the simple answer to the question is “. . . because e-government does not save money, it costs money”.  That seems likely the case in the global North where e-government seeks to cut costs by replacing expensive humans with cheap technology.  It is most definitely going to be the case in the global South where the technology is more expensive and the humans are much cheaper.

Despite the obvious importance of the topic, good quality cost:benefit calculations are rare but can be found.  Six years of e-government in UK local government saw £3.90 billion of investment release just £0.97 billion of savings[2].  The aggregate cost:benefit ratio of e-government projects in Australia was 1.64:1[3].

Rarer still is good quality work from developing countries.[4]  However, a recently-published study of e-government in Bhutan by Mayumi Miyata provides a model for systematic and comprehensive evaluation of e-government costs and benefits. The case study focuses on the Road Safety and Transport Authority of Bhutan, which issues driving licences and vehicle registration documents.  This was traditionally a paper-based process, and often slow; particularly for driving licences which had to be sent by post from regional offices to the head office in Thimphu.  In the mid-2000s, an Internet-enabled database system was installed so the main information associated with these processes could be passed instantly between offices.  (This was therefore an “e-administration” application for use by government staff rather than an “e-services” application for use by citizens.)

Data for Miyata’s research was gathered both before and after the introduction of this e-government system including detailed observation and timing of work processes, a breakdown of departmental accounts, and a survey of citizens.  The “after” component was undertaken in 2007; two years after implementation of the system, allowing plenty of bedding-in time.

Activity-based costing showed that the direct labour cost for issuing licences and registrations fell 24% following introduction of e-government; from US$15,080 to US$11,530 per year[5].  For example, the direct cost of issuing one driving licence fell from US$1.57 to US$1.17.  This was achieved largely through a significant redesign and decentralisation of internal decision-making and workflow.

However, introduction of e-government brought additional costs – hardware, software, internet connectivity and the cost of IT staff – totalling US$11,080 per year (set-up costs being amortised over 10 years).  The only indirect saving was in reduced postal cost (US$720).  Thus, overall costs were US$15,800 per year before e-government; US$22,610 after e-government.  A rise of 43%.

We need to recognise some specific features of this case that make it typical of a least developed country:

  • the particularly low labour costs and high IT costs;
  • the relatively low volumes of transactions across which costs can be spread (the case is more akin to a local than national government in size);
  • the use of e-administration rather than a web-based self-service system which, while still requiring human back-office intervention, would automate some processes.

Miyata’s research thus provides a model that should be replicated for a broader set of examples.

On the other hand, Miyata’s work misses out three additional reasons why e-government globally fails to deliver cost savings:

  • the relatively high rate of e-gov project failure, the costs of which must be included in any overall cost:benefit accounting[6];
  • the learning curve – often of some years – that must be traversed before e-government applications can be used efficiently and effectively[7];
  • the need for government e-services to be run in parallel with existing face-to-face, phone and postal service channels in order to bridge the digital divide and avoid excluding large sections of the population from access to government services; public e-services thus being a supplement to, not substitute for, other channels[8].

Does this mean e-government is a waste of money, and we should ask for our US$3 trillion back?  No.  What it means is that e-government is not going to save money for government and help bring taxes down.  The benefits of e-government lie elsewhere.  Again, Miyata’s paper is a good illustration:

  • External savings: the lead time from application to receipt was reduced by minutes, weeks, even months for outlying offices.  Wait times in offices may also have come down.  Other studies report shorter waits and fewer journeys.  Saving of journeys can be monetised, and saving of citizen time might be (it depends how that saving is spent).  The key cost savings of e-government may thus be external not internal: for service users not administrators.
  • Internal control and accountability: e-government provided managers with greater oversight of work processes and staff.
  • Service quality and equity: citizens reported the quality of service and the fairness of treatment improved after introduction of e-government.

Other research shows further qualitative and external benefits delivered by e-government including: greater transparency of public services; greater accountability of public servants and politicians; reduced corruption; lower costs for business; greater attraction of foreign investment[9].  Please comment to add your own examples of evidence.

So e-government may not bring your taxes down, but – if properly designed and implemented – it will bring a positive economic and social return on investment.

 


[1] Heeks, R.B. (2006) Managing and Implementing eGovernment, Sage, London http://books.google.com/books?id=hRzAnMulatUC&dq; WITSA (2008) Digital Planet 2008, World IT Services Association, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; see: http://www.witsa.org/KL08/DigitalPlanet2008_ReportTables.pdf

[2] Kable (2005) Implementing Electronic Government 4, Kable, London

[3] Foley, P. & Ghani, S. (2007) The Business Case for e-Government, paper prepared for High-Level Seminar on Measuring and Evaluating E-Government, Dubai, 12-13 March http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/44/42/38404094.pdf

[4] There is a good study of e-government projects in India but it was unable to capture cost data, so focuses only on benefits.

[5] These are costs for issuing just over 31,000 documents.  Note this excludes the cost of materials for licences/registrations, which was the same before and after e-government.

[6] Heeks, R.B. (2006) Managing and Implementing eGovernment, Sage, London http://books.google.com/books?id=hRzAnMulatUC&dq; Gauld, R. & Goldfinch, S. (2006) Dangerous Enthusiasms: E-Government, Computer Failure and Information System Development, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, New Zealand

[7] Poostchi, M. (2003) Implementing E-government, MBA dissertation, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON

[8] Helbig, N., Gil-Garcia, J.R. & Ferro, E. (2009) Understanding the complexity of electronic government, Government Information Quarterly, 26(1), 89-97

[9] Accenture (2004) eGovernment Leadership: High Performance, Maximum Value, Accenture, Dublin; Bhatnagar, S. & Singh, N. (2010) Assessing the impact of e-government: a study of projects in India, Information Technologies and International Development, 6(2), 109-127 http://itidjournal.org/itid/article/viewFile/523/231

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