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Opening Address To Government Online Conference

Hon Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. I’ve taken a look over the programme for the conference, and I think you have a very interesting and topical two days ahead of you.

It is my job to talk to you about the strategic direction for e-government. This is very timely, because the E-government Unit is very close to delivering a draft of the e-government strategy to me.

Before I discuss the strategy, I’ll step back in time just a little, and set some context for the comments that will follow.

When I took up my State Services portfolio responsibilities, I received a briefing on e-government.

What was made clear to me is that if government is to deliver the type of value to New Zealanders that they will expect in the future, we require an all-of-government approach to the way information and communications technologies are put to use.

This advice was quite innovative in two ways. Firstly, during the last decade the idea of an all-of-government approach to anything was fairly uncommon. In fact, such an idea sat fairly uncomfortably with some of the conventions of public management that had emerged as a result of the State sector reforms of the late 1980’s.

Secondly, the fact that an agency and a group of chief executives could join together to brief an incoming minister was unusual. I think that this reflected the importance of the message that the briefing provided. An e-government programme that covered the whole of government - that is, the public service, Crown entities, perhaps the State Owned Enterprises, and also perhaps local government - is an essential part of ensuring that the New Zealand public sector is fit for business in the information age.

The Government’s response to this advice was to develop an e-government vision that reflected its broader agenda. We commissioned a four year e-government programme with a budget attached to it, and we authorised the establishment of an E-Government Unit at SSC to start the process of change that e-government represents.

You may have all seen the e-government vision, but in case you haven’t, it states that:

New Zealanders will be able to gain access to government information and services and participate in our democracy using the Internet, telephones and other technologies as they emerge.

There are some important ideas that can be picked out of this statement. Firstly, e-government is focussed on people first. Meeting New Zealanders’ needs to access information and services in ways that suit them, not government agencies, is a top priority.

Secondly, it focuses upon people’s ability to participate in democracy. This can take a number of forms, from voting in a general election, to accessing legislation online, through to commenting on policies as they are developed.

Thirdly, it talks of a variety of ways of interacting with government, and the fact that we live in a rapidly changing technological environment that e-government will have to keep up to speed with.

All of these things are very important to keep in mind as we now work on setting the strategic direction for e-government. E-government will mean major change for the way the public sector is designed and operates in the future. It will also mean major change to the culture of government. Keeping these overarching issues firmly in mind as we go forward will be very important – they will help remind us of why we are doing this.

When I talk about changing the culture of government, I can almost hear people's apprehension in the air. While changing a process can be fiddly, in reality it is much easier to change than culture.

I was in the UK recently and spent some time talking with officials and Ministers about their e-government strategy. While the UK is ahead of New Zealand in their strategy and planning, my impression is that implementation will be longer and slower. That is because I strongly believe the main issues with transition to e-government are cultural, not technical ones. Massive bureaucracies, entrenched thinking, being risk averse and 'institutionally conservative' are all barriers the UK faces to developing an e-government culture.

If you ever feel it is taking a long time to get your staff tuned in to e-government thinking - to changing the 'the way we do things round here' - spare a thought for your counterparts in the UK. The shear size and scale of the UK public service makes coordination across departments, let alone culture change within them, a major challenge.

Take the customs service for example. That service alone has 75,000 staff. Just contemplating getting them linked in to the government's e-government strategy in a practical, let alone a cultural sense, is enough to make you shuffle the papers in your in-tray looking for an easier task.

So I suppose one of the key lessons I learnt from the UK, is that while the task of getting the New Zealand public service linked in to a government-wide strategy might seem intimidating, the task is much, much simpler than the one facing our colleagues overseas.

With that positive thought in mind, I now want to talk to you about how our e-government strategy is shaping up.

Since the e-government programme commenced in 1 July this year, there has been a lot of action behind the scenes. The E-Government Unit has had to establish itself. At the beginning of July it had three people. It is now quite a bit larger, and involves staff at the SSC and people located in other departments.
Also, the State Services Commissioner’s E-Government Advisory Board has been formed, and is now actively steering the development of the programme and work of the Unit.

While the Unit has been getting of the ground, it has been pushing forward with a range of what are best described as ‘foundation’ or ‘no-brainer’ projects – things that are absolutely required if e-government is to develop in New Zealand on a robust basis.

Some examples of these foundations are:

 developing a range of policies and standards for data and system management;
 the beginnings of an interoperability framework for government agencies;
 the development of a government-wide metadata system; and
 development of a secure extranet for agencies to use (the SEE project).

Now that the E-Government Unit and programme are solidly established, and the early projects are all progressing well, the major task ahead is to develop the e-government strategy. The strategy will identify the major overarching goals, programme level objectives, and supporting activities that will allow the Government’s vision to be achieved.

I expect that this strategy will have implications for every government agency in one way or another. It is therefore very important that it is available to them in time for relevant elements of it to be incorporated into the next round of agencies’ business planning early next year.

While I can’t comment in detail on the strategy, I can cover some of the major strategic concepts that we are developing. Hopefully this will help you in your thinking about how your organisation will be using the Internet in future.

Firstly, a number of strategic outcomes from e-government are being proposed. Examples of these outcomes are:

 Better service – government services will be more convenient, lower cost, more reliable.
 Cost effectiveness and efficiency – people will face lower transaction and compliance costs in the delivery information and services. Government will get a better return on taxpayers’ investments in information and technology.
 Improved global image and reputation – e-government will contribute to building an image of New Zealand as a modern information age society that is an attractive location for people and business.
 Greater participation by citizens in government; and
 Proactive delivery of services - government will actively meet peoples’ needs.

Three major themes, or overarching goals, are emerging from the outcomes being sought. These are:

1. Convenience and satisfaction – where appropriate, we want to provide convenient and efficient access to government information and services through a number of service delivery channels. Services and information should be available anywhere, anytime, anyhow, for anyone and with access to anything (appropriate information or services).

2. Integration and efficiency – seamless access to services will require integration of government functions. These functions can be integrated via a number of mechanisms such as:

 adherence to common policies and standards;
 data exchange between agencies;
 shared applications and technology infrastructures; and
 service redesign.

The aim here will be to create the ability to provide a ‘unified customer view’ of government. This will require integration in both the front and back office of government.

3. Participation – new technologies will enable easier access to information about government and enable commitments on information disclosure to be met. People will be better informed and better able to participate in our democracy.

These goals will translate into a number of strategic objectives for the e-government programme. At this stage, it is proposed that they include:

Seamless access - Integration of services will provide seamless access for government’s customers. People using government services will not necessarily need to know how government is organised, what a department or agency does, or whether central or local government exercises a function.

Multiple channels - government services will be available through a variety of channels. The Internet will be central. It could be accessed through a personal computer, digital TV, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phone or other technologies, or it could be mediated by a call centre operator or face to face contact with a public servant or agent. In other words, citizens who choose not to use online services will still be able to interact with government using traditional channels, but the internet will be central to both methods.

Anywhere, anytime - all government services which can be practically and legitimately delivered electronically should be available anywhere, at anytime. The customer should not have to go to a government office, or complete a transaction during business hours unless their personal presence is an absolute necessity.

Seamless back office - e-government will require common policies for key elements of an integrated electronic service delivery platform. These policies will form the foundation of a seamless back office of government necessary to support seamless access and integrated service delivery.

Common infrastructure - integrated service delivery will require processes and technologies that can be cost-effectively integrated where this is necessary. Integration and rationalisation of infrastructures will also leverage improved returns, both fiscally and operationally.

Integration mechanisms and tools - shared software applications and data will support the integration of common business processes, in order to allow agencies to jointly deliver services to government’s customers.

Easy Access to Information - new technologies will make access to information about government easier and government’s commitments on information disclosure to be met.

Easy feedback to Government - Electronically delivered services will be designed to be responsive to feedback about the content and quality of services.

Open and inclusive policy development processes - there will be more information about policy development, so that those who wish can be better informed about, or contribute to, proposed policies and legislation.

These things will be very important to you and your organisation, as achieving them will be the responsibility of all government agencies. In effect they are the point where the e-government rubber hits the road. I don’t want to say too much more about these things now – they are still under development, and there will be opportunities to contribute to the final shape of the strategy before it is finalised.

One development that I can point to, however, is guidelines for government use of the web. Many of you will already have had the opportunity to be involved in the development of these guidelines, which are now being reviewed by the E-government Unit. The early draft looks very promising. These guidelines will help government consistently deliver much better quality web based information to people – an area where there is currently much room for improvement. Once these are finalised, the Government will expect that all government agencies put these guidelines into use.

The portal strategy
The development of a government 'portal' will be another major component of delivering these outcomes, goals and objectives, which will have a major impact on how agencies use the web and other delivery channels.

There are lots of different ideas of what a portal is or might be, and work has begun on defining its meaning in the New Zealand e-government context. One thing I can tell you about a portal at this stage is that it is far more than a website that simply aggregates a raft of other sites together in the manner of the current New Zealand Government Online website.

In effect, building a portal means building the ability to deliver seamless, people centric and integrated services to New Zealanders through a number of channels – from the Internet to across the counter. It means creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ type of front end to government, which is where all our efforts to tidy up, standardise and rationalise the back office side of things will deliver results to people.

The way my address was billed has set an expectation that you will get a sense of how your organisation’s Internet presence will be affected by e-government policies and initiatives. What I’d like you to take away from this is that the Government is making a major commitment to using the Internet to change the way things work in government, and radically improve the way government delivers value to people (and business) in New Zealand.

Government agencies have been using the Internet for quite a while now, and we have examples of both the best and the worst. This is what you would expect when the basic approach during the 1990’s was to let a thousand flowers bloom in the absence of overarching Government vision, and supporting all-of-government strategy.

Those days are over, and people should be under no illusion as to the fact that e-government is going to mean dramatic and positive change for them in many ways, no matter which agency they work for, or how well they have done to date. The strategy that we will put in place will build upon the good examples we have of what can be achieved, and enable every agency in government to be up with the best in the world in terms of the results they deliver to the public using information and technology.

I wish you all well for the rest of this conference. I am sure that you will leave with some great ideas for how you can move forward separately and together. I can’t overemphasise that last point enough – if e-government is about anything it is about building a spirit of collaboration across government, about breaking down the silos that stand between us and the results we will deliver in the future, and about harnessing your talents to achieve these goals.

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