Benefits and Challenges of Innovating Public Services Through E-government.

This is my submitted essay for professor Ian Miles’s Service Innovation class. I got a really bad grade for this essay, probably the worst grade in my master’s course. However i believe there is some useful info in this essay and hopefully by posting here, it could be a stern reminder for me to keep getting better better again in writing. I hope it helps. 

E-government is an innovation in public services which aim to simplify and amplify the relationship between government and the citizens (Rodríguez, et al., 2011). The technology was seen not only to as a tool public service delivery but also a bigger platform which government can perform better in multiple aspects. Seeing this potential, increasing number of country are developing and implementing e-government. According to UN E-Government report, the number of countries providing services through the internet jumped five times, from 33 to 148 in the span of 2003 to 2016 (UN, 2016). However, the successful rate is very low due to the various challenges both from the technical and non-technical side.

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South Korean booth in UN Public Service Forum (source)

This essay attempt to discuss what is the prospect and challenges of e-government implementation as a public service innovation. First, the trend and historical context which help the conception of e-government will be explained. Following that, the essay will discuss several definitions and classification of e-government to shape the understanding about this technology. Subsequently, potential benefits and promises of e-government will be described. In the final chapter, several challenges regarding e-government implementation will be discussed along with ways to address that.

E-government as public service innovation

Benington and Hartley postulated that there are three competing paradigms of governance and public management (Benington & Hartley, 2001). The paradigm represents different power dynamics between policy makers and the citizen which influence how innovation happened in public service organizations.

competing paradigms.png
Competing paradigms of public management and its relation to innovation (Benington & Hartley, 2001)

The most common paradigm up to the early 1980s is the Traditional Public Administration (Hartley, 2005). Public service delivery is largely bureaucratic and policymaker act as commander which set the direction of the legislation. The population are seen as clients which have a little influence on the delivery of public services (Hartley, 2005). Local and national politician has a central role in innovation which happened in a top-down fashion with limited room for improvement and adaptation.

From 1980s onward, there was a global paradigm shift into New Public Management. Driven by the acceptance of neo-liberal approach in managing public service delivery, public population demanded bigger role in how government serve them (Hartley, 2005). Citizens were viewed as customer which have voices in determining services content, scope, and delivery method. This market dynamics forced politicians to facilitate innovative ideas to make public service delivery effective and efficient (Osborne & Brown, 2011).

During the same time, the rise of personal computers opened a new era of information and communication technology (ICT) adoption in the public administration (Yildiz, 2007). The technology was deemed transformative in making the government process, administer, and deliver information faster and better.

Subsequently in the 1990s, public service paradigm shifted again to Networked Governance which gave more power to the public not only to influence but also co-produce public services (Hartley, 2005). The introduction of internet also opened possibilities for public organization to be accessible anywhere and anytime. The amalgamation of both of this trend help the conception E-government as a public service innovation.

E-government: History and Definition

The early incarnation of e-government can be traced back to United States in the early 1980s. Information technology was used in public sector to automate repetitive operations and improve efficiency of clerical task (Schelin, 2007). During that time, the technology was perceived as supporting tools of day-to-day process rather than enabler to create new services. Following the diffusion of personal computer and the introduction of internet, movement to utilize ICT to reform how government operates started in 1993. US Government started National Performance Review movement in which one of the proposed idea was the formation of one-stop portal for government services called “Firstgov” (Aldrich, et al., 2002). This initiative became the stepping stone of larger e-government movement which culminated in the 2001 E-government act (Schelin, 2007). This legislation funded infrastructure and organizational development to support widespread e-government implementation in the US federal government. Inspired by this movement, Government across the world various initiated similar e-government strategy and plan in the year 2000 (Falk, et al., 2017). This band of the first wave e-government adopters include both developed and developing economies such as United Kingdom, France, Singapore, South Africa and India.

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 Top E-government countries based on UN Survey 2016

There are no universally agreed standard on the E-government definition. Various literatures postulated different definitions which diverse in scope and context. One of the earliest definition came from Means and Schneider in their book Meta-Capitalism which e-government was described as establishing relationships between governments and its stakeholder using electronic method (Means & Schneider, 2000). During the early adoption era of world wide web, United Nations in their public report further define e-government as providing governmental services and information to the public using the internet (UN & ASPA, 2002). OECD have similar definition from this with addition that e-government is also an attempt to achieve better government (OECD, 2003). Expanding from internet related definitions, Torres et al suggest that e-government is the broad utilization of information and communication technology (ICT) to not only deliver services but also transform government administration (Torres, et al., 2005).

Synthetizing from all the definition above, the e-government definition which will be used in the remainder of this essay is the utilization of ICT to improve public administration and service delivery to the citizen.

Classification of E-government

To understand various value of e-government in different context, it is imperative to classify e-government in several categories. In this chapter, I will categorize e-government implementation using three classification method to understand more about the nature of E-government initiatives.

Based on its user interactions, E-government can be divided into five broad categories (Yildiz, 2007): Government to Government (G2G), Government to Citizen (G2C), Government to Business (G2B), Government to Civil Society Organization (G2CS) and Citizen to Citizen (C2C).  G2G E-government establish relationship between government agents, usually for coordination and communication reasons. G2B is directed to open collaboration with private sector.  Both G2C and G2CS are intended to communicate with citizen for transparency and accountability purpose. The difference is G2CS is organization level while G2C is in individual level. Lastly, C2C aimed to facilitate peer discussion between citizens for information gathering, coordination or other purposes. Summary and more detailed explanation on each category can be seen in the table below.

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Subcategories of E-government based on its communication actor (Yildiz, 2007)

The next method to classify e-government is by its objective. In 2005, Grant and Chau introduced generic framework in which they described four common strategic focus areas (SFA) of e-government: Service Delivery, Citizen Empowerment, Market Enhancement and Development, Exposure and Outreach (Grant & Chau, 2005). Service delivery e-government aim to provide better government services through ICT. Citizen Empowerment leverage internet and other technology to encourage participation from the people. Market Enhancement aimed to facilitate business development process while the Exposure and Outreach type of e-government seek to give information access to the public. Summary and example of the four e-government SFA can be read in below table.

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 Subcategories of E-government based on its strategic focus areas. (Grant & Chau, 2005)

Another classification method came from Layne and Lee which proposed that e-government implementation has four common developmental stages (Layne & Lee, 2001). The stages of development correlates between the rate of changes in the government process as they progress toward increasingly advanced functions of e-government model. These four stages are: Cataloguing, Transaction, Vertical Integration, and Horizontal integration. These stages will be described in terms of the technological and organizational complexity involved and the varying degree of integration in the graph below, followed by brief explanation for each.

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Dimension and stages of e-government development (Layne & Lee, 2001)

In the Catalogue stage, e-government was developed simply setup government presence in the internet. The functionalities are limited to data presentation. Government usually organized various documents, forms and other related information in a portal-style website or index pages. In the second stage (Transaction), E-government attempt to put database links using web interface enabling citizens to conduct electronic transactional services. Example of this will be renewing licenses/ registrations and paying fine online. As the citizen increasingly use the functionality, policy makers usually will face pressure to provide more services online. To do this, integration process with different function and level of government will be needed which is the gateway to the next e-government stage.

Integration can happen in two direction, vertical and horizontal. The third stage is Vertical Integration which is the service amalgamation between different government levels but still on the same branch. For example, personal tax data is synchronized between local and national government systems. This type of integration is generally required less effort than integrating different function between the same level. Hence in order to achieve horizontal integration, vertical integration will need to be done first. Lastly, the fourth stage is Horizontal Integration. In this mature stage of e-government, citizen can access single point of government services and complete plethora of transactions across multiple level and function.

Prospect and benefits of E-government implementation

With the widespread adoption of e-government, one can wonder what are the promised benefits which enticed government institutions from both developed and developing countries to pursue this endeavor. Several research has highlighted various potential impact for citizens, private sector, and the government itself. This chapter will discuss several of the e-government benefits of which have been summarized by Srivastava, Teo and Haldenwang (Srivastava & Teo, 2007a) (Haldenwang, 2004).

Improving Government Service Delivery

As discussed in the first chapter, The New Public Management paradigm of public services put emphasis on improving the quality of services (Benington & Hartley, 2001). Policy makers are being pressured to deliver services to citizen in a better and innovative way. E-government played important role in this objective in three areas: information, interaction, and transaction (Haldenwang, 2004).

Information

Important innovation in a government-citizen relation is the development of public websites and portals. Using personal computer, mobile devices and internet access, citizen can access government information practically anytime and anywhere. This level of information provision wouldn’t be happening without the emergence of e-government.

Interaction

Providing access to information is the first and early step of e-government, as categorized in Layne and Lee framework in the previous chapter (Layne & Lee, 2001). The next step is to enable remote interaction between government institutions and its citizen. This can be done in various ways, from the simple email, call center up to sophisticated one-stop-services portal. By facilitating this, e-government enable public agencies to react swiftly and flexibly to the citizen demand (Haldenwang, 2004).

Transaction

The third way e-government transform service delivery is by enabling citizen to do administrative transaction online. For this to be successful, government organization need to integrate front office, back office and the online e-government website or portal (Layne & Lee, 2001).

Increase Government Efficiency

Subsequent benefit from e-government implementation is making bureaucratic public administration better and cheaper. Surveys in the United States stated that 83% of government CIO believed that e-government implementation made the government more efficient (West, 2000). This benefit can be realized in two ways: raising government employee productivity, and decreasing the cost of public procurement (Haldenwang, 2004).

E-government raised employee productivity by automating repetitive transactions. Automation can reduce the time which employee spends finishing the task and in an advanced e-government system, replace the need for human interaction altogether.

Another way for e-government to increase government efficiency is by improving public sector procurement. Open and accountable procurement conducted through e-government or e-procurement system prevent fraud and corruption. Prominent example for this is Seoul Metropolitan OPEN system. This web-based e-government services allows public to track all civil application regarding permits, registration, procurement, and contracts in real time (Cho & Choi, 2012).  The system not only successful in reducing the corruption rate but also increasing good public perception of the institutions.

Achieve Better Democracy

Intensification of communication between state and citizen which e-government facilitated, drive transparency and openness of not only administration but also political process (Haldenwang, 2004). Example of this is the development of E-voting to encourage public political participation. E-voting remove the hassle voting especially in the country where citizen must register before voting (Haldenwang, 2004). However uneven penetration of internet services can be the problem especially in developing countries.

Other way e-government improve democracy is by giving constituent access to their representative (Edmiston, 2003). Similar impact to the service delivery, e-government enabled access and interaction channel for government official to get feedback from the public instantly using the internet. For example, In the United States all US senators and public representatives are required website to allow constituents to directly voice issues and concern (Edmiston, 2003).

Increase National Business Competitiveness

An efficient, transparent, and fast administrative government process will also bring positive impact to the public sector too. Increased information availability and bureaucratic reduction through e-government will made various national systems more effective and efficient (Srivastava & Teo, 2007b). On the other hand, national business competitiveness is determined by economic productivity and efficiency (Porter, 2005). Hence E-government development level in a country is positively associated with the level of its business competitiveness (Srivastava & Teo, 2008).

Challenges in developing and implementing E-government

According to UN E-government survey, the number of countries providing online e-government services increased fivefold in the period of 2013 to 2016 (UN, 2016). Inspired by the early adopters and enticed by the potential benefits, more countries are investing state budget to build plethora of e-government platform. However, as implied by previous varying classification of e-government developing and implementing this technology is no simple matter. In fact, up to 85% of e-government implementation failed in one way or another (Helbig, et al., 26).

In this chapter, I will address several challenges in the development and implementation of E-government.

Managing Multiple Stakeholders

Reflecting from the interaction-based classification in the third chapter, we can see that e-government can involve multiple stakeholders ranging from other government institutions, business, citizen as group or citizen as individuals (Yildiz, 2007). Stakeholder e-government implementations may have different financial, social, or political motivation. These interests must be aligned and addressed to avoid conflict and ensure long term effectiveness (Freeman, 1984).

Based on Rowley’s Stakeholder Benefits Analysis Tools (SBAT), there are three steps which e-government initiators need to do to map different stakeholders interest: identify the type of involved stakeholders, recognize their interest, and lastly align the interest relative to their participation (Rowley, 2011). This high-level framework may not be applicable to every project however it can give ample direction guideline on how to approach stakeholder issue in the e-government implementation.

Identification of Stakeholders

From the interaction type of e-governments, one can assume that stakeholders can be divided based on Individuals (G2C) or Organizations (G2G, G2B, G2CS) (Yildiz, 2007). However, Rowley asserted that e-government stakeholders should be categorized using roles instead of groups (Rowley, 2011). This is because in e-government, individuals and organization can play multiple roles both concurrently or sequentially. For example, an individual can be a citizen, employee in a business firms and government officials while organization might be a business or other government institutions.

Synthetizing from various researches, Rowley proposed 12 types of stakeholders commonly involved in the e-government implementation (Rowley, 2011).

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Typology of e-government stakeholders (Rowley, 2011)

Recognition of diverging interest between stakeholders

In his Harvard Business Review, Mintzberg proposed “constituents” model to explain stakeholder interest in public sector (Mintzberg, 1996). The first stakeholder category is Customer which purchase commodity from government agencies. Clients which receive services over period of time. Subjects which is the recipient of mandatory government services without having influence power to the service. Lastly, Citizens which is also the government service recipient but with influence power over the service.

Each of these categories have different interest. What important for Customers is the cost of the transaction. Lowering them will be in their best interest. Clients are more concern about the service quality. Subjects aimed to get fair and consistent service delivery while Citizens wants to ensure accountability and fair outcome of the process (Mintzberg, 1996).

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Mintzberg constituent model of interest in government services. Summarized by (Rowley, 2011)

Aligning stakeholder interest

After recognizing the different type of stakeholders and their interest, the next step is try to align them with each other. The step can be done by having interview session with each stakeholder and mapping the type and the interests in a two by two matrix. In her research, Rowley summarized the top three interest for each type of stakeholders which can be seen in the table below (Rowley, 2011).

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Top three interest from each type of e-government stakeholders (Rowley, 2011)

Addressing Digital Divide

Digital divide is the gap between certain population which have access to ICT and the one who don’t (Bélanger & Carter, 2009). The gap can divide between the economic, demographic, and social boundaries (Edmiston, 2003). This is become significant challenge as government around the world started developing widespread e-government because the population with have limited ICT access would be left behind in terms of receiving public services. Digital divide can further be classified into access divide and skills divide (Bélanger & Carter, 2009).

Access divide, the disparity between population with and without internet access, is major contributor in digital divide. Even in the country with more than 90 percent internet penetration such as US, there is a significant gap in the internet access between ethnicity, income, education, and age (Bélanger & Carter, 2009). For example, according to Pew Research only 2% of the citizens with college degree have limited access to internet compared to 29% of the population with high school degree (Pew, 2017). Among all population, the young and educated are most likely to have internet access (Bélanger & Carter, 2009).

contributing factor to digital divide
Identified factor which contributed to digital divide (Bélanger & Carter, 2009)

Another part of digital divide is the skill divide which is the significant part of the population which didn’t have the necessary skills to effectively access e-government. These can be because of technical competence such as the ability to operate computer and internet. But it can also be because of the lack of information literacy to digest the e-government data. Pew research found Skill Divide tend to clusterd in the old, less-educated and minority population (Bélanger & Carter, 2009).

Digital divide is a serious issue in e-government because unlike in private sector, public agencies have mandate to serve all the citizens equally. However, the distribution gap of access and skill hindered realization of e-government promise. Government should aware of this challenge and take actions to address this issue. For the internet and computer access, infrastructure development and market push from private sector could lessen this gap. However, for skill divide, e-government services agencies must deliberately design the system with usability and understandability in mind (Bélanger & Carter, 2009).

Adapting from developed to developing Countries

Digital divide not only happened in the boundary of population. There is also disparity between the implementation of e-government between developed and developing economies. The potential of e-government technologies which have improve lives of the citizen in the established country might not be realized yet in the developing countries. The gap can happen due to majority of developing country simply prefer spending money poverty alleviation and infrastructure rather than investing in e-government (Gupta, et al., 2008). Population in developing countries also typically reside in rural areas which become additional challenges for ICT infrastructure development. Despite the disparity, developing countries which decided to build e-government still followed best practices from successful implementation in developed countries (Chen, et al., 2006). Hence addressing the contextual difference in developed and developing countries is beneficial to the general e-government implementation as well.

Factors influencing e-government implementation in developed and developing countries

This chapter will discuss factors which influence e-government implementation and how are they generally different from developed and developing countries based on research by Chen et al (Chen, et al., 2006).

History and Culture

Historical context between developed and developing countries are different in various aspect. Generally, developed countries have early start to make economic growth. This translate into more mature government structure and process. Developed countries also tend to have political stability which have positive impact on the implementation of e-government (Rodríguez, et al., 2011). Developing countries also gained independence much later which made the structure and government process less mature than the counterpart. Cultural difference also impact adoption aspect due to social norm restricting citizens to do something which are common among developed countries (Chen, et al., 2006).

Technology infrastructure

The breadth and depth and ICT infrastructure of developed countries are better than developing countries. As indicated by global spread of internet penetration in the picture below, most of the Asian, African, and South American countries are still left behind compared to the US, Australia and European countries.

internet penetration by countries.png
Internet penetration by countries (Worldbank, 2017)

The insufficient ICT infrastructure will be a problem for e-government development.

Technical Aptitude of government employee

Government employee for the most developed countries has been well-established. The US and UK have been implementing ICT in public sector since the early 80s (Aldrich, et al., 2002). Compared to government agencies in the developing countries where implementation of ICT is more recent hence on average their ICT competency is lower than developed countries.

Citizens

Due to lower penetration of internet infrastructure, the ICT aptitude level of the citizens in the developing countries. According to Rodriguez et al, country with greater technological aptitude will show greater development in e-government (Rodríguez, et al., 2011).

Government official and policy-maker

Similar to aptitude level of the employee, ICT capability of the official and policy makers also pivotal in the level of e-government development. Officials need ample level of technology literacy to understand the impact and the complexity of e-government initiatives. Hence, computer-literate policy makers will be able to place e-government initiatives as priority. Moreover, developing country tend to still adopt traditional public administration paradigm in managing public services hence the role of ICT-capable policy maker is more crucial (Benington & Hartley, 2001).

developed developing.png
Main differences in e-government implementation between developed and developing countries (Chen, et al., 2006)

Recognizing the gap to develop implementation strategy

Incorporating from the difference factor above, Chen proposed conceptual framework to assess and guide strategic development implementation considering different context of developed and developing countries (Chen, et al., 2006).

framework to develop egov.png
Chen’s framework to develop e-government implementation (Chen, et al., 2006)

Due to the difference in the influence factors, developing countries should not directly adopt developed countries best practice in e-government. E-government actors in developing countries can use Chen’s framework to find where is the biggest gap between the best practice and their current condition. The actor then can decide what is the best way to close that gap to ensure the implementation can be successful.

Conclusion

E-government is an application of information and communication technology to enhance how public services operate and deliver services. This innovation was the result of shifting paradigm in public services which give more power to citizen and the early emergence of the internet. Started in the United States in the early 1990s, e-government has been developed around the world both by developed and developing economies.

E-government is a broad concept which can be interpreted and implemented in many ways.  According to interactions which the system facilitated, e-government can be Government to Government (G2G), Government to Citizen (G2C), Government to Business (G2B), Government to Civil Society Organization (G2CS) and Citizen to Citizen (C2C). From the objectives that the system intended to achieve, E-government can be divided into four strategic areas: service delivery, citizen empowerment, market enhancement and development and exposure and outreach. Also, one of the most common classification of e-government is by the stages of its development. From the early Catalogue state which only provide data and information. Transaction state which enabled business processing remotely. Finally, the later stage which are Vertical and Horizontal integration which aggregate multiple level of function of government in one publicly accessible system.

Implementing e-government can bring various benefits for the public agencies. It can improve public service delivery by enabling information, interaction, and transaction from government to stakeholders. Administration process can be more efficient as e-government facilitate transparency and productivity-enhancement through automation. The more efficient government process also increase the business competency. Further implementation of e-government such as e-voting drive better democratic process due to the interaction between citizens and government become easier and more convenient.

These implementation benefits of E-government enticed many countries to start implementing E-government. However due to its complex nature, majority of the implementation were failed in one way or another. Three major challenges have been discussed in the essay: the importance of managing multiple stakeholder interest, disparity of ICT access between the population and also the problem of merely adapting successful case studies from developed countries. Understanding the challenge and addressing them is important in order for e-government implementation to deliver its promise.

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