E-government's identity crisis is no reason to perpetuate fragmented and inefficient ICT infrastructure
Governments face a growing challenge as they grapple with the evolving role of ICT in public sector reform. E-government once occupied a modernisation moral high ground, with the internet as a catalyst for citizen-centric, joined-up, government.
These days the imperatives are less clear.
In Canberra, for example, Australia's federal government anxiously awaits the announcement of the recommendations of Sir Peter Gershon's ICT review. It is expected that the review will advocate a stronger role for the government's CIO and, more contentiously, a move towards increased consolidation of ICT operations and procurement to cut the Government's $5 billion+ annual spend on ICT.
In Sydney, on the other hand, the New South Wales state government recently scaled back the ambitions of its People First technology strategy - backing off an unworkably centralized approach.
In Melbourne, the Victorian state government disbanded its Office of the CIO in 2006, and has embarked on a strategy to centralize a range of corporate service functions - including ICT as part of an Efficient Technology Services strategy.
What does all this mean for e-government's goals now‾ Easier access‾ Service innovation‾ Policy innovation‾ Better engagement‾ Better coordination‾ Shared information‾ Efficient operations‾ Aggregated Procurement‾ Better ICT governance‾ All of these‾
As ICT has become fully embedded into the operations of government, the e-government agenda itself has become ever more diffuse and devolved.
E-government is no longer synonymous with the top-down transformation programmes of the Government Online era, and has thus suffered a growing identity crisis over the past few years. As the "Ëœe' is absorbed into the "Ëœbusiness' of government it becomes less useful as an overarching lever of change.
The locus of innovation, and major ICT investment, remains within departments and agencies - perpetuating a fragmented programme-centric approach to ICT.
But wait. The harsh reality is that ubiquitous and efficient ICT infrastructure platforms are no longer a "nice to have". ICT underpins all aspects of modern government services, and is a rising cost. Rebelling against the perceived, and real, difficulties of whole-of-government reforms - with their centralization/decentralization tensions - is no reason to continue to support fragmented and inefficient approaches to ICT infrastructure.
E-government's identity crisis should not be used as an excuse for failing to move towards efficient whole-of-government provision of data centres, networks, desktops and common corporate applications. The practical emergence of cloud computing models in the private sector illustrates the potential for ICT infrastructure to become a genuine utility service.
In July the Victorian State Government launched a new centralised ICT service agency - CenITex, the "centre for IT excellence". This is a significant development in the evolution of the State's e-government agenda - most notably because CenITex was created as a state-owned enterprise.
CenITex is now outside of the line of control of the departments and their secretaries. Its CEO reports to an independent Board of Directors under the direct oversight of Finance Minister Tim Holding.