MIT chief hails govt plans for self service tech

Peter Weill surprised Prime Minister mentions Google when discussing government IT

When MIT luminary Peter Weill arrived in New Zealand, a lead article in the Dominion Post reporting that the government would replace face-to-face contact with technology caught his eye.

It is, he says, the kind of vision that will introduce self-service into government by using mobile technology and, ultimately, make jobs more interesting.

Weill is the chairman of the Boston MIT Sloan Centre for Information Systems Research and the co-author of several books on strategic IT topics. He was in New Zealand to present to senior business and IT executives on the need for organisations to make IT a strategic asset. The presentation was organised by Equinox.

"The world is digitising at an exponential rate," Weill says. "The stakes have been raised by how well companies digitise."

His research at MIT is focused on how well organisations transform themselves digitally.

"It's about moving from place to space, and it's very difficult. However, digitalisation allows lower cost of service and the creation of more interesting jobs.

"It's hard to pick winners and losers but the good news is that the citizenry usually wins. That's because digital allows them a stronger voice."

He explains that in the US this is largely achieved by measuring performance by external "net promoters". "That's how you get improvement," says Weill.

Industries can be divided into digital and non-digital, he says. "Government is digital because most services can be provided [that way].

"I'd love to see the New Zealand government taking the lead because in a country this size you can make progress quickly."

In 2009, Weill's team measured 650 organisations in terms of their performance. Of those which had digitised more than the average, 20 percent had improved profit, had achieved a 30 percent better return on assets, and managed three percent faster growth.

He says some sectors are moving very quickly, particularly the media.

"I credit [Rupert] Murdoch for the Wall Street Journal now charging for content."

Financial services organisations are high on the list of those digitising, followed by "a whole bunch", including government.

"We have to think about the way we provide value to the consumer -- more efficient service and an integrated experience. My guess is that there is still plenty of work to do in government, more services to identify and to retrain people in more interesting roles.

"It's a great opportunity for someone to provide net promoter measurement for government."

Independent measurement is the key, he says.

"US universities are now measured and league tables published. We resisted it at first but it's the best thing that has happened. It makes performance more transparent."

He says his centre does up to eight projects a year around time, impact and satisfaction. "It's about working smarter, not harder."

Bring your own device is a stepping stone. "Mobile and the cloud are changing everything, which will eventually look a lot like Amazon and Google. The digital native wants mobile access in a Facebook kind of way. It's about a single point of contact."

He says engagement is a big issue. "Our early conclusions show there are three important things: content, customer experience and the platform.

"Customer experience is the most important. We measure quality [of the organisations surveyed] and correlate that with performance," says Weill.

"Content is most important in attracting new customers but customer satisfaction is the most important in retaining customers. The platform is all about cost."

Weill couldn't believe that Prime Minister John Key spoke openly about meetings with Google when talking about using technology to increase government efficiency.

"A US president wouldn't dare do that, implying endorsement."

Key's office confirms two meetings with Google but says that in no way implies endorsement.

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