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E-government – Today Not Tomorrow

E-government – Today Not Tomorrow

Hon Paul Swain
Minister for Information Technology

Presentation to IPA Seminar
27 March 2000

The information age has arrived, it's no longer just the talk of tomorrow. The new Government is faced with an undeniable imperative - to adapt government in New Zealand to the information age.

Around the world we see Governments moving quickly to facilitate in two parallel, technology driven, areas. In the area of national economies, many Governments are seeing great potential in the adoption of e-commerce, and are acting to ensure that their countries are not left behind in the rush to take business online.

To this end the new government is planning to run an ecommerce leaders summit later this year, the development of an ecommerce readiness strategy is already underway. The key focus of that work is on small to medium enterprises – we’ll be announcing more details on this in a few months time.

In the public sector arena, governments see that many of the drivers of e-commerce apply equally to government agencies. They are formulating and implementing plans to create what is becoming known as egovernment.

New Zealand is behind the 8-ball. We have spent a lot of time on restructuring, now we need to be thinking about the type of government needed for the future. This government is keen to move as quickly as possible.

Achieving egovernment is both exciting and challenging. It is an opportunity for the Government to fundamentally alter many aspects of the way government operates and relates to New Zealanders. This will require a solid commitment, and will inevitably require some change in our approach to public management in NZ.

Egovernment has very strong overlap with ecommerce. This overlap is particularly acute in three areas. Firstly, the Government uses the same information and communications technologies as the private sector. The latest generations of these technologies are geared towards an “e” model of doing things, which often requires changing the way we’ve done things in the past.

Secondly, ecommerce and egovernment require changes to some of the legal and regulatory environment. Many of our laws and regulations reflect a paper-based world that is rapidly changing, and must now be changed to allow for the use of electronic technologies.

Thirdly, businesses are already interacting differently with their customers. People are demanding better access to information and services. This is the challenge of egovernment.

In part, egovernment is very similar to ecommerce. What is common to both is the requirement for government vision and leadership. Egovernment is not just about IT projects. It is about the services that governments deliver, the policies developed and the relationships between citizens and their elected representatives.

This last area is crucial - if Governments are to maintain their legitimacy in the future, they are going to have to be more responsive to the needs of individuals and communities. Government is going to have to find new and better ways of engaging with its people, and delivering them a better deal.

Essentially, egovernment is about addressing the new social and economic imperatives that arise from the information age. It is an issue no less important than the future of democracy itself.

When you look at the business world, you can see companies racing to provide new and better services to their customers using the internet and the world wide web. Customer expectations of business will translate into public expectations of what Governments do, and how these things are done.

Egovernment is important because the very nature of the latest generations of technology literally demand a new way of doing things. Traditional organisational boundaries are beginning to erode; management approaches of the 1980’s (and even the early 1990’s) are quickly becoming outmoded. Government must take advantage of both the risks and opportunities presented.

As I said before, New Zealand is a latecomer to egovernment. The one advantage of that is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We will however be required to deliver a distinctly New Zealand solution.

So our egovernment objectives will be:
 to improve the quality of government information and services;
 to enhance relationships between citizens and the government; and
 To improve the performance of government agencies.

In developing our egovernment strategy there are a number of things that we have to take into account.

 People are not particularly interested in what part of government they are dealing with – they just want the issues resolved. For this reason, we will need to work more closely with local government.
 More and more citizens will want, and be able, to receive government information and services electronically.
 The ‘silo’ model for the provision of information and services is becoming dated. The future lies in a network type model, where agencies work together to deliver services across agency boundaries.
 The compliance costs government imposes upon the public are considerable, and should be significantly reduced.
 If government does not become more responsive to New Zealanders’ needs and legitimate expectations, then we face a potential threat to the very legitimacy of our institutions of democracy and governance.

Bearing in mind these and other issues, work to date leads to the conclusion that egovernment can make government:

 More inclusive - through facilitating better engagement with New Zealanders, and enabling them to participate in the “knowledge society” we see emerging.
 More integrated - through streamlining and customising the delivery of information and services, and finding new ways to organise agencies to work together toward common goals.
 More flexible - through establishing ways for people to interact with government in the manner that best suits their needs and situations.
 Greater transparency – through easier access to more government information.
 Higher quality - through ensuring the quality of services, and of policy and decision-making process, are the best they can be.
 Lower cost - through reducing the compliance cost government places on New Zealanders, and through being more cost-effective in the way things are done.

There is a lot already going on. Officials from many agencies have been working on the best way to meet egovernment objectives. A package is being prepared for consideration by the government. It includes the need for:

 Central government vision and leadership.
 A comprehensive implementation strategy
 Collaboration between government agencies
 Integration of public services
 Resourcing
 Law changes to assist the development of ecommerce and egovernment
 A citizen focussed approach

Requests for funding required to get this new initiative moving are before ministers as part of the budget process.

By later this year a new vision, a suite of e-government initiatives, an implementation strategy and the necessary funding will all be launched.

In summary the challenge for government is to get cracking. Ebusinesses are now focussing on the ‘market of one’, the trick for government is to continue to provide services collectively while continuing to meet the unique needs of each and every citizen as far as possible. It's a question of balancing collective social responsibility with individual development.

We are going to organise ourselves differently in the “back office” of government. We have to break down the ‘silo mentality’ that we have relied on in the past. Government agencies will have to be more networked, working together will be paramount.
We are going to find new ways for New Zealanders to interact with government, be that in the design of services, the administration of laws and regulations, or the making of policies.

It is important to note however that egovernment will not become a substitute for human contact between New Zealanders and their government. It cannot be used as an excuse for the faceless bureaucracy to hide behind more and more 0800 numbers and websites. There will still be a need for people to be able to talk to people. The strategy we’re developing needs to be flexible enough to take that into account.

As part of our broader policy we have to address the digital divide problem which sees the emergence of a gap between those who are ‘information rich’ and the ‘information poor’. This is a huge challenge for New Zealand's economic and social development and we are determined to close this gap.

There are a number of other issues that will have to be addressed; these include privacy; security; the ownership of information; consumer protection and managing IT projects to name just a few. These are issues the private sector is facing as well.

Finally, in developing egovernment, it is vital that we work with New Zealanders to ensure that they derive the benefits it can deliver, while also ensuring that their rights are not diminished, and that they are not marginalised in other ways. The partnership approach is the cornerstone of the new government’s policy agenda.

There is a lot to do – the new government is keen to get on with the job – democracy depends on it. Thanks for your time.

ENDS

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