No justification for 'e-waiting': Boyle

The head of the e-government unit is rejecting suggestions that his organisation has been sending out mixed messages over its endeavours.

The head of the e-government unit is rejecting suggestions that his organisation has been sending out mixed messages over its endeavours.

A representative of a government agency was asked last week what stage his agency had reached with e-government endeavours.

“We’re at the e-wait stage”, the man, whom we will not name, said. Waiting for what? “Waiting for someone [in the State Service Commission’s e-government unit] to say the same thing twice.”

It’s almost certainly an exaggeration and not typical, but SAP’s public sector industry unit director Dietmar Pfaehler, having seen e-government plans throughout the world, says this reaction is not unusual. While e-government-coordinating units throughout the world have good vision and a good store of knowledge, they are not necessarily good at “marketing”, he says, and messages are sometimes perceived as confused and inconsistent.

However, e-government unit chief Brendan Boyle says he finds it difficult to understand such comments in connection with the New Zealand effort.

“We’ve been careful to be consistent with all our messages. I don’t know whether [the objector] is getting that impression through direct messages from us, or whether he’s hearing messages from different sources and it’s become a bit confused in transmission.

“If someone claims they’re waiting for that reason, then I suggest that’s a cop-out. They should be taking some initiative themselves to get things moving [in their own agency].”

Computerworld cites the apparent lack of clarity on government’s e-procurement development plans in the question of whether Winz’s pilot would set the tone for the whole-of-government development or the latter exercise be independent, but Boyle says this was possibly due to vendors muddying the waters because they wanted the former course.

“We were always clear that a separate whole-of-government project was planned.”

Boyle, who was at the meeting Pfaehler addressed and the objector attended, questioned Pfaehler on a topic that has hung over e-government in New Zealand since its inception: what balance should be struck between centralised control to facilitate inter-agency communication and the right of government agencies to make their own decisions?

It is important to keep a certain distance, Pfaehler says. A central agency should prescribe needs and standards, but leave it to the individual agency to decide how the solution should be implemented.

Pfaehler says in his study of various nations’ e-government efforts he has never found a public-private-sector partnership (PPP) to outsource government services that has worked. “I’m not saying they don’t work, just that I’ve never seen one that did.”

Often the model is structured so the private partner has to do initial setup free as the price of future benefit from a role as the official government partner. In the long term it gets what it sees to be insufficient profit, and some private partners have collapsed financially as a result.

By contracting a private partner to supply a service, the government cuts competitors of the private party out of the picture and effectively creates a near-monopoly, Pfaehler says. The citizen resents being told whom to get service from and goes deliberately to a competitor.

The New Zealand e-government unit was strong on PPPs in its initial strategy, but in practice has not carried any through yet.

Boyle concedes “very few PPPs worked properly” but this was because governments went into it imagining they could get rid of all the risk. That can never be achieved, he says. It’s still governments’ risk and the sharing of risk should be managed carefully.

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