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E-government strengthening services to the public

E-government strengthening services to the public

Speech to the GOVIS (Government Information Systems manager's forum) 2003 Conference, Wellington Town Hall

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be invited back to another GOVIS conference.

I would like to start with a story – which was originally told by Ashley Highfield, the head of BBC New Media and Technology.

There’s an article in the magazine “Electrical World” with the rather racy title “The Dangers of Wired Love”.

It tells the story of George McCutcheon and his teenage daughter Maggie.

George ran a successful newspaper stand in Brooklyn. He decided to get wired up to help him process the orders electronically. Not being particularly technically minded, he got his daughter to operate the thing.

Before long he discovered Maggie had been using it to flirt with a number of men and had actually met with a married man. Mr McCutcheon was naturally furious and forbade his daughter from doing so again.

Needless to say Maggie continued with her relationship and the infuriated Mr McCutcheon was eventually arrested for threatening behaviour.

A sobering tale. But not an unusual one I suspect these days.

The remarkable thing is that the article was published in 1886. The technology that Mr McCutcheon had installed was the telegraph – the “Victorian Internet” as it has been called.

The telegraph took off very rapidly in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1846 – some 40 years before it became the downfall of the unfortunate Mr McCutcheon – there were just 40 miles of telegraph line in the US.

Four years later there were 12,000 miles. By 1852 this had nearly doubled to 23,000 miles.

By the time Mr McCutcheon was thinking about jumping on the latest technological bandwagon, there were over 32,000 miles of cable and an estimated 5 million messages passing through them.

By the turn of the twentieth century the Postmaster General in the US accounted for an enormous 90 per cent of the federal bureaucracy.

During this time, incidentally Nokia started up as a paper mill. And we all know where that went.

Although uptake of the telegraph was rapid, more recent waves of technology have been even more rapid.

While it took 63 years for a telephone to be in 70 per cent of households in the United States, it took just 13 years for 70 per cent of US households to have a mobile phone.

And it took only seven years for 70 per cent of households to have access to the world wide web.

Use of personal computers has been changing the way people communicate since the mid 1980s. The wide and rapid adoption of Internet technologies since the mid-90s has accelerated that change.

Government cannot fail to respond to that.

The unique nature of the Internet is its global scale, decentralised basis, its interactive qualities, and the ease with which anyone can broadcast information at very little cost.

All this is bound to affect the way government deals with people and businesses – and so it should.

All governments to a greater or lesser degree are now getting to grips with e-government.

In New Zealand - thanks to all your efforts - we have achieved a great deal.

At last year’s GOVIS - which I think was somewhat earlier in the year - the E-government Unit was making final preparations to launch the government portal. This time last year the Prime Minister and I were in Auckland’s Mt Wellington Community Library to launch the portal. Within two weeks, the site had attracted over one million hits.

Today the portal processes about 2 million hits per week from all over the world. There are about 80,000 individual visits, split 50/50 between New Zealanders and people from overseas.

If you look at Internet use generally it is easy to see why.

Well over 70 per cent of New Zealanders now have access to the Internet compared with some 40 per cent in 1998.

Over half the homes in New Zealand now have a personal computer. But many more people access the Internet at work and as part of their work.

The Internet itself has grown hugely and there is not much sign of it slowing just yet. There are over 170 million web domains worldwide, and close to half a million in New Zealand alone.

Finding your way around this vast storehouse of information can be a real challenge. It is virtually impossible to think of using the web now without search engines like Google.

When it comes to looking for information from government departments, you want to get to it quickly. No one comes to government websites just for fun and if they did they might be disappointed. They usually want speedy information.

This is part of the reason for building a search engine for government. Put simply the govt.nz portal helps you find what you need quickly without having to sift through dozens of general websites.

But there is much more to it than that. The portal is an important manifestation of a change that is taking place in the public service and the wider state sector.

To create something like the portal you need to take an all-of-government stance.

Or to put in another way you need to see the world through people’s eyes, not through the lens of your department. What I mean is that it’s the New Zealanders out there who count.

This is an important goal for our government. We are intent on building a stronger public service that is continuously focussed on improving its delivery of services to the ordinary joe and jane bloggs.

This is also at the core of e-government thinking, and is a point I’ll come back to later.

The change I am talking about is not the kind of structural change that took place in the 80s. The kind of change we now focus on is evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature.

We are not about to merge departments because they always appear together on same page of the portal.

The nature of the Internet and the technologies it supports make that unnecessary.

A platform like the portal can ‘network’ agencies in many different ways to meet the specific needs of sections of the population.

The portal removes what are ultimately artificial divisions between the agencies and what they deliver to people.

People for the most part don’t see the divisions – or at least they shouldn’t have to.

Sure most people know to go to the Inland Revenue Department if they have a tax issue, and most people would know to go to the Department of Internal Affairs for a passport.

But there are many who might think the Immigration Service or NZ Customs deals with passports.

If we take the passport example.

Not many of us get a passport just because we can. You get a passport when you want to travel overseas. Getting a passport is just one of the things you need to do.

These days it’s probably wise to find out if your destination is safe. And you can now conveniently find foreign affairs’ travel advisories on their website.

If you are going away for a long period, you need to let Inland Revenue know. You might also need to find out about taking your pets overseas.

Is that MAF or Customs?

The fact of the matter is you contact government departments when you want to do something or achieve something in your life. In the jargon, these are “outcomes”.

E-government is more about outcomes than outputs. Although you cannot deliver e-government without the individual e-government initiatives that agencies are working on and delivering today – over 100 initiatives at the last count - the whole is far bigger than the sum of the parts.

The real end game for e-government is to capitalise the power of the Internet to transform the way we conduct the business of government.

This means working collaboratively to join together the services we now provide on the Internet in a way that maximises the benefits for the people of New Zealand.

The E-government Unit has already begun to look at how to take the portal to the next level by associating services with what people do to achieve the outcomes they desire.

Again this has great symbolic as well as practical value. A portal that shows you how to arrange all your affairs to go overseas, is a long way from one that alphabetically lists all the services to do with international travel.

What we want to see emerging is a move from silos of activity within each agency to a network of processes that straddle multiple agencies.

Initially this network might just be a set of links on a page arranged in a logical order, but it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how it might be better to provide some guidance between the links to help people understand what they need to do.

To do that departments will need to develop business networks to sit alongside the technical networks that make a website like the portal possible.

To develop and support business networks you have to have people networks too. And we have already seen these take shape to get the e-government programme off the ground and to support innovations such as the WorkSite portal.

And so we have technical networks supporting business networks supported by people networks to deliver outcomes for people.

That’s a far cry from setting and measuring each department’s e-government outputs.

It’s a transformation of a quite fundamental kind. And to paraphrase one of New Zealand’s more famous exports “it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”.

That is why the government has extended the e-government programme out from 2004 to 2010.

The transformation will take time and there is more foundation work to set in place. A consistent approach to online authentication in particular is a necessary part of the picture if we are to provide online services that deliver high-value outcomes for New Zealanders.

To achieve this transformation I expect to see some profound changes in the way departments operate. I expect to see more all-of-government initiatives and processes becoming part of the ordinary business of departments.

This won’t happen unless the approach runs through the whole organisation from the top down and from the bottom up.

To bring this down to a practical level, I expect departments to be in a position where they don’t see a conflict between managing their own web sites day-to-day and providing metadata about their services on their website to the all-of–government portal.

I expect agencies not to view the guidelines we have laid down for all government websites as a collision between their individual objectives and the collective interests of government as a whole, but rather see them as a way in which we can better meet the needs of all New Zealanders.

Likewise, I expect agencies not to view the e-GIF (e-government interoperability framework) as an imposition of unnecessary cost, but rather as an important mechanism for enabling cross-agency collaboration and achieving better results.

The goals government has set for the e-government programme will be achieved not through extremes – silo versus central control – but through a balance between the two.

It is your job as the creators of e-government to find that balance and to make it work.

What will this mean in practice – since that is the theme of this year’s GOVIS conference?

For many agencies the advances in e-government have been layered on the top of other business. There are a lot of chief information officers, business managers and IT professionals under pressure to respond to e-government. It takes time to make a meaningful contribution to all-of-government standards like the e-GIF, to be part of helping to shape the way we do e-government collectively.

I expect departments to be making these contributions by being increasingly focussing on what really matters. Does it matter what brand of PC your department buys next? No, by and large it doesn’t. What is suitable for one department is probably suitable for the next. PCs are commodities that several departments as a syndicate can procure rather than get bogged down in individual requirements specification and negotiations with suppliers.

Does it matter that your department’s requirements for document management or human resource management or financial control are ‘special’? Probably not.

Again these kinds of electronic systems – which are part and parcel of e-government – are commodities and should be treated as such. Agencies need to work together to consolidate their financial investment and knowledge of such things.

In fact there are a great many support systems that are standard technologies and processes that almost every organisation needs, but which at the end of the day make very little difference to the level of service you can deliver to people.

Even when you look to some of the front-end technology and processes that agencies are developing for e-government it is not hard to see smarter ways to operate. The E-government Unit has called these ‘components’ and likened them to the LEGO building blocks.

The E-government Unit has made some components available as a by-product of running the government portal.

There will be agencies developing e-government initiatives that have aspects that can be made into components and provided to the rest of the sector.

It only takes one agency to develop a smart way of checking address details in an online registration form for the benefits to be shared across the whole sector.

I expect agencies to increasingly work together by making these components available through the E-government Unit. I also expect that whereever possible, agencies will use these components rather that developing similar systems from scratch.

Put the real effort into the systems that are genuinely unique to your agency - the ones that make the real difference between success and failure.

You can look at it another way, and I’m sure a few of you will have seen this diagram in the latest version of the e-government strategy. It tells the same story in a slightly different way.

The message is a simple one: In the back office – consolidate. In the front office – integrate.

In between move towards government-wide shared standards, componentry and infrastructure. This will be the backbone of the business of government in the future.

ITANZ (Information Technology Association of NZ) believe about a third of all ICT expenditure in New Zealand is public sector expenditure. That is a huge amount annually.

It is only by taking this collaborative cost-efficient approach that I will be able to look a taxpayer in the eye and say that the taxpayer’s dollar is being well spent.

ICT is as essential to the New Zealand economy today as no 8 fencing wire was in the last two centuries. We have already demonstrated how we can be smart about it with the portal.

Over the next few years there will be many more opportunities to show that we can deliver e-government for New Zealand in better and smarter ways.


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