Government is pitching hard for private industry sharing risk and cost in its e-government developments.
A State Services Commission seminar late last month on e-government strategy and projects attracted more than 100 vendor companies – 220 people. SSC e-government unit head Brendan Boyle stressed the idea of collaboration between the state and the private sector on e-government, and told attendees "we [are] open to ideas about different forms of partnership, including sharing of risk and costs”.
The e-government unit spokespeople gave an outline of the current and nearer-term programme, and priorities and timetables for the various projects within it. Current high-priority items, Boyle says, are for software and a method to help control the programme itself; “services modelling” - an exercise to identify the services that government provides and establish how they might be migrated to the online environment; and work towards the whole-of-government portal.
“We are resourced now to go for the first cut of the portal,” says Boyle. That is likely to start operation in January next year, “and we’ll go back to the market in May 2002” to satisfy further needs.
IBM e-business development manager Anna Wells found the openness to new styles of private-public partnership particularly informative and helpful. The e-government people “presented us with an opportunity to develop relationships that were closer than arm’s length”. Wells quotes the unit’s Brendan Kelly as saying closer communications “reduced the hard sell”. The benefits of a different relationship between government and vendors were spelt out through studies of past and current projects with Tradenz, the Health Intranet and the Secure Electronic Environment (See).
Wells found the event valuable, and says there was “a fair degree of question-and-answer" to clear up concerns. Significant among these were assessment of risk and measurement of benefits. One point of concern was the provision of adequate “support and infrastructure” for agents like the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and libraries, who would mediate in many people’s online interface with the government. "And they emphasised it was 'people,' not [the often-used term] 'citizens'. You don't have to be a New Zealander to want to refer to a New Zealand government website." Boyle and Kelly made it clear that mass seminars to inform vendors were preferable to a lot of one-on-one talks, she says.
Boyle sees primary concerns at the meeting as cultural and attitudinal change among customers and issues of authentication – again done in a culturally acceptable way. “In Singapore, everyone has a digital certificate based on their fingerprint,” he says. “I can’t see that going down well here.” A third concern was the availability of funding, Boyle says. The project is currently funded to the tune of $16m over four years.
Not everyone was happy with the seminar. A smaller vendor, whose software is already being used in the developing e-government framework, had not even been informed of the briefing session. "It was a bit rude of them not to invite us," says the managing director.