E-FILES: Tangible benefits difficult to identify

When it comes to identifying the costs of public IT projects, it's a little easier to get information than in the private sector. As for the measurement of benefits, if anything it's more difficult.

www.justice.govt.nz

When it comes to identifying the costs of public IT projects, it's a little easier to get information than in the private sector. As for the measurement of benefits, if anything it's more difficult.

The Ministry of Justice - which is what is left of the old Department of Justice after yet another of those restructuring bouts that were all the rage a few years back - includes various bits of policy information and general data about what the ministry does.

"In the public sector I think everyone would acknowledge it's extremely difficult to identify tangible benefits from Web-enabling public services," says the ministry's chief information officer, Dean Martin.

Government departments and other agencies also have to grapple with broader concerns than do business sites, such as the overall desirability of making information public.

A better-informed public is a better functioning democracy, says Martin, and there are also issues around ensuring New Zealand does not turn into a society of information "haves" and "have nots". But trying to measure that, and to work out whether the costs and benefits balance favourably, is somewhat difficult.

However, government sites are no longer solely concerned with just providing infor-mation, he says. It is getting more interactive in the area of new policy measures by government.

A recent discussion paper on same-sex marriages was an opportunity for the ministry to use its Web site, which has been up and running for a couple of years, in a more interactive way. Not only could interested parties download the discussion document, they could make submissions on it via the site.

"Because it went on an already existing Web site, there were already sunk costs," says Martin. "But the project itself cost about $10,000."

The main target for that project was not so much the general public as the legal fraternity and academics - a tightly defined group, and one with ready access to the Internet.

Was it value for money? The ministry is still working that one out, says Martin. But overall he is positive about the process.

As for measuring whether the site is a worthwhile investment, that is even more difficult. The assumption is that making such information public is a good thing in itself, he says. It seems not unlike when Parliament was first broadcast in the 1930s - the broadcasts were seen as being a public good, and no one seems to have worked out any cost-benefit ratio.

Virtually all government departments now have Web sites with myriad public information. The recent change of government saw, for the first time, most of the briefing papers to new ministers available for downloading via the Web as soon as they were made public.

However having a Web site with information is one thing. Making that interactive, with a department's specific client base, is another issue entirely.

"The growth areas on the Web these days are more around accessing services than they are about accessing information. In fact, there's major information overload now - there's about 600 pathology sites on the Web. In 1996 there were two."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags costse-commercee-business

Show Comments
[]