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Category Archives: Transparency

Since the presentation of the iPAD it is discussed how it will shape the future of internet. Many stress that it is a content consuming device rather than a content creating device. The New York Times application as well as the iBook-Store underpin this. Hence Apple enables traditional media companies like book and newspaper publisher to gain power back in a world which was flattened by the internet.

An article in the German FAZ points out that Apples products in combination with the appstore turns the iPAD into a remote control for the internet. With the advent of the remote control for TVs zapping through the channels came along. As a result media consumers wanted to see something to happen rather than wait for a plot or a political debate to evolve and in which different perspectives can be presented in detail. Hence something I consider to be the basis of a good discussion culture eroded more and more. With the internet a new space for this discussion culture emerged making it possible to discuss topics which are not covered comprehensively off-line. However, holding devices in your hand which you use to enter the internet through applications might limit the chance to stumble over new interesting debates. You’ll get what your apps offer you. Is there any evidence that supports this assumption?

As mentioned at the beginning the iPad is a content consuming device not creating. A recent PEW study reports that blogging decreased among younger internet user and instead micro-blogging booms. It is argued that the advent of smartphone might have caused this development as people enter the internet with devices that are not convenient to engage in lengthy discussions as it is rather painful to use those devices to present a comprehensive argument. So what does it imply for eGovernement?

Andrea DiMaio points out the potential impact of the iPad (or a comparable device) can have to tear down the wall of the digital divide. There is no doubt that such a device can connect technically uneducated citizens more easily to the internet and hence to services offered by public authorities online assuming easy to use applications will be provided. However, this is eGovernment and not Gov20. Also applications which use open data-sets can offer citizens to gain more insights but gaining new insights is still not Gov20.

Gov20 implies the interaction of citizens, politicians and officials. Having realised that content generating highly depends on the device you use the iPad can have a negative effect on active participation. I wouldn’t have written this blog-post if I had an iPad. Probably I would have communicated my opinion just via twitter.

I have to admit that I am afraid that the deterioration of a healthy debate culture declines further. Everyone who read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” should be aware of this development. When I read about the hourlong debates presidential candidates had with each other across the country and have a look at todays debating culture I wish we could have preserved some aspects of the old days.

Don’t get me wrong I love the aspect that a device like the iPad has the amazing potential to bridge the digital divide but it won’t necessarily enhance interactions with politicians. Hence the iPad and any similar device will be more eGovernment than Gov20.

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Since yesterday the candidates for the new EU commission take place in the European Parliament. Disapointingly even the most important German TV news like tagesschau and tagesthemen produced by the public TV station ARD didn’t devote more than a few seconds to it. Even the bit of snow that covered Germany got more attention in the news. Thus I decided today I gonna use online live-stream of the hearings with limited success.

As chrome became my standard browser on my MacBook it was obvious that I try the stream first using my favourite settings: Chrome on a Mac. The result was disappointing, neither did I receive a video nor audio livestream. Trying firefox gave the same result. Only Safari worked quite well. I received the audio and videostream in a somewhat decent quality. Unfortunately I got all languages at once. I felt like watching modern Babel at work. There were no options to select just one language. Hence it didn’t increase transparency except you wonder how politicians look like but that wasn’t what I was interested in.

I really would have loved to listen to Vivine Reding (Justice and Fundamental Rights), Joaquín Almunia (Competition), Neelie Kroes (Digital Agenda), Maroš Šefčovič (Inter-institutional Relations and Administration), Janusz Lewandowski (Budget and Financial Programming), Olli Rehn (Economic and Monetary Affairs) and Algirdas Šemeta (Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud) as I am especially interested in their fields. However, the EU tried and at least for me as a Mac user failed to provide a useful live-stream or was the Babelonic audio-stream on purpose?

John Moore names 2010 the year of the Social Anti-Guru calling to deliver real value rather than continuing the social media hype. So how does this relate to the public sector? The social media hype also reached the public sector, but it is slow to adopt. While public agencies in the US already started to offer open APIs Germany like many other European countries are still far behind to embrace traditional IT to deliver real value for citizens. But how to cut down the buzz about eGovernement and Gov 2.0 to deliver services that really matter? I wondered whether a traditional balance scorecard can be useful to decide wether public IT initiatives will make sense or not. As the traditional balance scorecard addresses four perspectives (1) customer, 2) finance, 3) internal business processes and 4) learning and growth) I discuss whether these are sufficient to evaluate governmental IT initiatives and which questions to consider.

Financial Perspective

  1. Is the service a legal requirement?
  2. Who will benefit financially?
  3. How much to charge?
A state delivers services to it’s citizens such as security, justice, education and at least a certain level of social security. Each service costs money and has to be financed somehow. There are mainly two ways to finance these services either (1) indirectly by paying taxes which are not bound to a certain service or (2) directly meaning you pay for a service when you need it. Based on these two different ways it has to be considered who will pay for a service.

Legal requirement?

Whenever a service is a legal obligation (e.g. owning an ID-card in Germany) this service should be free of charge. Hence such services should become more efficient overtime and not more expensive when using IT.
However, if one loses his ID-card before it expired the full costs for issuing a new ID-card can be charged.

Who will benefit financially?

Redesigning current processes with help of IT public agencies as well as citizens and corporations should benefit finacially. However, if only companies will benefit they can be charged for the service.
How much is a new service allowed to cost?
The total costs of a new process has to be below the current costs public agencies and external parties have to comply with the current processes. Additionaly neither side is allowed to face higher costs.

Internal Business Perspective

  1. Can the public do the job?
  2. How detailed do we have to provide the information?
  3. Do we have to reinvent the wheel?

Can the Public do it?

The idea of open APIs can have a huge impact on whether a certain service has to be delivered by public agencies or not. Last february Newsweek made a call to open people’s data to people. It’s a great article discussing the benefits of open APIs. Additionaly San Francisco’s innovative mayor (at least from a German perspective) Gavin Newsom wrote: “the public will create innovative applications when given access to the information they need“. Hence the first question from an internal business perspective is: Is it likely that the public can do a better (and even faster) job? I assume that this is true for almost all kind of information providing services once the data is available.

How detailed do we have to provide the information?

For instance shall we publish the area or also the streetname when giving access to a database containing information about crime, accidence, firearlarms and so on.
Hence open APIs can enable public sector to deal with issues that really matter. Free the police and let them do real police work. Let internal revenue service member handle your income statements rather than providing statistics, which can be created by applications using an open API.

Do we have to reinvent the wheel?

When I attended a conference on the interoperability of databases of the European Comission one Danish representative stated that every municipality develops it’s own database structure as local officials have the mindset that smth. developed with local taxpayers money is not allowed to deliver benefits to another municipality. Does anyone really believe that citizens care who came up with an idea? If it works and saves money officials can be assured of public support (despite the limition of rational voter theorem). And if the inventing municipality charges money for the use of “their structure”  they would be still better of. Let’s be reasonable.

Customer Perspective

  1. Who is the customer?
  2. Does the customer benefit?

Who is the customer?

Public sector involves politicians who are supposed to act in the interest of their citizens as they not also govern their voters but all citizens. Unfortunately these interests might be contradictive from time to time. Hence, who is the customer? The politicians who want the citizens to be more transparent or the other way around? I prefer a transparent government. Thus citizens are the customers not the politician.

Does customer really benefit?

Benefits have to be measurable and well defined. Otherwise these benefits might be sold as benefits but are just well created pie charts.

Learning and Growth Perspective

  1. Flexible for future changes?
  2. Flexible for what price?

Flexible for future changes?

Is a new IT initiatives flexible to adopt to future changes is crucial. While private business always has the same goal (earning money) governmental goals might change over time (assuming politicians pursue different goals). Thus IT initiatives shouldn’t limit the latitude of future governments.

Flexible for what price?

Flexibility can come with a price, thus it is important to consider later changes upfront. Personally I like the idea of adopting open source like the French public administration or the city of Munich. Scaling down on proprietary software and process landscapes will freeup financial resources and will enable flexibility. Unfortunately the idea of flexibility is not necessarily appealing to officials in office nowadays as they might have an ideological agenda which they want to last as long as possible (the principal-agent dilemma again).

NEW: Law perspective

I would add a fifth perspective to the traditional balance scorecard, eventhough I tipped upon it sligthly when I discussed the financial perpective: The perspective of current legislation.
  1. Will the new processes be in line with current legislation?
  2. Is changing law a realistic option or a workaround to comply with current law not too pricy?

Will the new processes be in line with current legislation?

For instance is a written signature really needed or does law just ask for a unique identification? Once I talked to a public official who stated that their national law doesn’t require a signature but a way to identify someone. Hence a digital signature is sufficient as well. It is this way of thinking that will enable government using IT in a citizen friendly manner.

Is changing law possible?

But if legislation might require a traditional signature, why not lobbying to change the law? Consider whether it makes more sense to lobby for a change of identification requirements or to build a work around. In general I would prefer changing the law. Especially as the eGovernment initiatives provide a great chance to review current legislation and consolidate bureaucracy where appropriate. It might be the last chance before bureaucracy is implented into IT processes. Use the momentum of change to change government for real and not just a process!

Conlusion

Summing it all up, the classical approach of a balance scorecard can provide a guideline to evaluate governmental IT projects upfront but also on the way to check whether expectations and the latest developments are in line. However, I think the four classical dimensions are not fully sufficient, hence I added a fifth perspective: Law

The interesting Gartner Blog Network also addresses Government 2.0 and the challenges the public sector faces to embrace new technology. A few days ago Andrea DiMaio posted an entry called “Vendors and Consultants Should Not Be Driving Government 2.0” a followup on his post from last July Why The IT Industry Could Derail Government 2.0″. Both entries discuss the influence vendors and IT consultants might have on e-Government initiatives and highlights that neither consultants nor vendors should drive Government 2.0. He points out an all time classic principal-agent dilemma. In this case: Do vendors and consultancies want to provide an optimal solution for Government 2.0 projects which might reduce IT spending significantly (e.g. by switching to Linux instead of sticking to Windows)? I differentiate three kind of external IT partners w.r.t. their own economic interests and stress some aspects on side of the public sector.

Vendors, Consultancies & Vendors and Consultancies

In the case of vendors this dilemma is apparent and everyone working for the public sector should be aware of this. Hence ideas coming from vendors should be considered carefully and evaluated against other ideas. In the case of consultancies it should be reasonable to assume that their solutions exhibit a greater degree of independence from proprietary IT solutions than vendors. However, consultancies differ in the degree of freedom from IT-vendors. Why do vendors such as Microsoft differentiate between “Certified Partner” and “Certified Gold Partner”? Assuming no economic interest would be naive. Really complicated the entire issue turns if consultancies are owned by IT vendors like Perot Systems (acquired by Dell). Hence, there are at least three categories of partners which the public sector deals with: 1) independent IT consultancies, 2) IT vendors and 3) IT consultacnies which are owned by IT vendors.

Public Sector

While IT initiatives in the private sector are either aimed to increase revenue or to cut costs the goals for governmental IT initiatives are less tangible. The first question is of political nature: Shall governmental IT strategies ease the bureaucratic burden of citizens or is it to gain more control about citizens? Hence, shall IT serve the citizens or the political system? It’s a question about power. Is this question answered a second one arises: How can one assure that bureaucrats implement a policy if “bureaucrats are people who are, at least, not entirely motivated by the general welfare or the interest of the state” as Niskanen stated? Is it realistic to ask bureaucrats help to make themselves obsolete because IT will take over their job?

While I agree with Andrea DiMaio’s analysis w.r.t. to vendors and consultancies I don’t perceive government and bureaucrats as the perfect decision maker either. This holds true especially in countries where the tradition of  the US “Freedom of Information Act” is missing and even more complicated in countries with a strong federalism like Germany. Hence, politicians, bureaucrats, vendors and consultants should always ask themself the question whether a certain IT project helps to facilitate the open society. If you’re answer is no, please don’t do it!

While the last post addressed transparency among MPs this one addresses transparency among processes in the public sector.

The Directive on Services in the Internal Market requires EU members to provide the option to handle some bureaucratic processes online by 01/01/2010.

With just a few days to go Dataport (the joint IT devision of the two German states Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg) announced it won’t be able to offer all services as planned. According to egovernment-computing.de (in German) the software vendor SAP was unable to deliver new infrastructure modules in time. However, Dataport said all required services will go online in time, despite the missing modules, using a limited infrastructure. It is reasoned that the project was outsourced to India and this might have caused the failure. As a consequence Dataport terminated the contract with SAP for this project.

Outsourcing offers a lot of gains for each party involved. However, the main rule I experienced during the course of my studies is: processes need to be well defined when handing them over. Whereas the private sector strives to maximize profits, public sector implements policies. These policies are usually qualitative in their goals. Public servants have a margin how to interpret and hence how to implement the policies and might have an own (hidden) agenda they pursue. Thus it defining process properly becomes more challenging.

You might argue that IT infrastructure is something that is not political. It shouldn’t be, I agree. But: public sector differs not just w.r.t. goal definition but also how prestige is defined. In private business the main indicator to measure prestige is income whereas in the public sector it is power. Power is a mix of budget, people to manage, contact to high ranking politicians and other aspects. Hence infrastructure and its setup is political by nature as it determines who will control it and by this will gain power. This aspect increases the challenge to define clear processes and goals for this particular case and for many others.

To sum it up, the challenges in outsourcing public sector processes is in defining clear processes. To overcome the current shortcomings politicians should define KPIs already when enacting a new law. To make outsourcing a lasting success story for the pubic sector private parties involved have to be aware of this and ensure clear communication. Doing so can be beneficial for citizens as outsourcing can save millions of taxpayers money. Also another goal can be reached by defining processes clearer: Increasing transparency!

Browsing todays tweets I stumbled upon one of Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP stating that he met the following organizations, interest groups and lobbyists within the last months.

Actually a few month ago I discussed with a good friend whether it would be useful to force every MP to publish whom they talked. This could increase transparency for voters to see whether a MP talked to all or just a biased selection of stakeholders. I could imagine a NGO such as Transperancy International to collect this data and analyse it as well. It most certainly could provide data for many bachelor, master and phd-dissertations with(interesting?) results.

Until there is no one who collects such data I am thankful for anyone who delivers them on a voluntary basis. Hence I really appreciate Reinhard Bütikofers move and hope many politicians will follow.