Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The failure of e-government

Ten years on, Web-based public services are indispensable to governments and citizens alike. Yet governments are struggling with the complexity of e-services, while critics say today's bureaucracies are equipped to meet the demands of the digital era.

Happy birthday e-government. It is ten years since governments in Singapore, the UK and elsewhere unleashed web-based public services on an unsuspecting citizenry.

Now every government in the world, urged on by the UN and the World Bank, is either already offering online tax payments, school holiday information and dog licenses, registrar, or is planning to offer them soon.

But e-government suffers the problems that bedevil all areas of government IT -- complexity, rising end-user expectations, technology disruption, turf battles and cost, not to mention the difficulties in measuring performance.

E-government has gone through three phases, according to Steve Yeo, vice president for strategic initiatives, EDS Asia. The first phase was simply getting information online, and the second was transactions. The third goal of governments today is to achieve genuine one-stop service "regardless of how the government is organized."

Asia boasts three of the best-performing e-governments in the world --Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, which consistently rank in the top dozen of global e-readiness surveys and top all of the regional studies.

They all hew fairly closely to the same formula. On the technology side, that means open platforms and standards, a flexible architecture, and increasingly wide use of service-oriented architecture (SOA).

But that's the easy part. The real issue is in the structure and behavior of governments themselves.

"It's not a technology issue," says Stephen Furst, the head of public sector for SAP Asia-Pacific. "It's about agencies being ready to give up some autonomy. It's also about collaboration, information, data sharing and access to data across agencies."

Furst, who has worked as an adviser on a number of e-government programs, said one of the big lessons was the need for "one central authority that is responsible for defining and enforcing those standards."

Other experts in online government made the same point. As an example, K.B. Yip, director e-government consulting at the NCS Group, notes that some years back the Singapore government directed that all services that could be put online should be put online.

"That means there is no debate about whether these services should be exposed online or not. If they are exposable, it should be exposed," said Yip.

Proliferation of websites
Furst said it is often the Ministry of Science & Technology, or the ICT regulator that is given the lead role. The problem is that as the program evolves "they tend to take responsibilities for parts of the e-agenda, and then you have the turf wars."

The tried-and-trusted solution is to split the executive and policy-setting from the implementation, leaving the latter to agency level in coordination with the central authority.

Singapore's tech-friendly government is a classic example. Major initiatives have the support of the Prime Minister's office. Policy is set by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), and overseen by a council of permanent secretaries. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is well-established as the lead agency, working closely with the MoF and the ministries themselves.

One of the useful tools for unthreading the complexity of e-government has been SOA. Effectively, this allows websites to be more easily linked across a common front end.

"SOA usually means you have a portal which is the window for the government. Whatever goes on behind the portal is transparent to the citizen," is how Yip puts it. That's how it is now in Singapore, and now the focus is on getting the back-end to be more integrated, he added. The result, however, is a proliferation of websites.

The Hong Kong government has 16 main websites. Deputy government CIO Linda So lists the burgeoning number of sites as one of the biggest issues, along with low utilization of the services.

She also concedes that the government is still locked in a government-centric, silo approach, making it difficult for users unfamiliar with departmental names and structures to find their way around online.

The big question is just how many websites is too many? Or just what other metrics can governments use to measure IT performance?

Says EDS's Yeo: "I think they are all struggling, quite frankly. My observation is they don't have clear KPIs (key performance indicators to measure success or failure. Cost-cutting is not the best measure."

In contrast to commercial websites, which seek to measure specific values, be it traffic, click-throughs or revenue, governments depend heavily on public perceptions.

"It's a big thing, especially in a democracy. Reflection depends on perception," says Furst. He says UK governments have set specific measures for borough councils. Those who have implemented end-to-end ERP systems and CRM for social services "have watched their ranking go up dramatically. The task is to get decision-makers to recognize the value."

Singapore monitors performance of its investments via a government methodology as well as against the total value of the project to the agency.

Tan Kar Joo, senior director of IDA's e-government policies and programs division, says performance is also measured at three levels: across the whole of government and at the agency and customer service levels.

Key metrics are customer satisfaction, and usage of the site and, for the agencies, evaluations against a set of prescribed benchmarks, Tan said.

Yet consumer adoption of online government initiatives is not the only measure of success. Ovum research director, public sector, Steve Hodgkinson, says the purpose of e-government is to use IT as a catalyst and enabler of operational reforms.

In this, he echoes virtually every other government official or consultant: that one of the roles of e-government is to reform government.

The aim is to get the joined-up government, says IDA's Tan -- "it's a continuous journey."

Yet a deeper problem is that e-government requires bureaucracies to function in a fashion they are not accustomed to.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) office, which last year critically reviewed Australian government online programs, said the public sector was stuck in a mindset that is out of date.

"The trouble is that the public sector has spent the last 50 years or so developing and refining output-based planning, budgeting and performance management models," ANAO argued. "This approach served its purpose for the previous few decades -- boosting public sector performance by strengthening organizational focus and accountability."

But this means it is "ill-prepared" for e-government, which requires the careful management of public processes, enabling public access to information, customer service satisfaction, and public consultation.

Ovum research director, public sector, Steve Hodgkinson, says it comes back to the public sector's challenge of conflicting mandates and requirements, pulling in different directions.

On one side is the pull toward a vertical focus on service delivery, leading to decentralization. The second "is pulling towards citizen-centric policies that require collaboration and joined-up, integrated, horizontal solutions."

The third side pulls towards means rather than ends -- to the need to manage people and processes on an enterprise-wide basis in order to "create the organizational glue" for smooth integration across the sector.

Hodgkinson concludes, "The bottom line is that CIOs are engaged in a battle with one of the toughest operational reform monsters in the public sector today.

"However, the strategy has changed and the fragmented approach leaves the public sector ill-prepared to deliver the government's outcome-based policy aspirations."

yes perhaps, for all its popularity among users and bureaucrats, e-government hasn't changed much.

[via: http://www.enterpriseinnovation.net/article.php?cat1=1&id=1090]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

New IT leadership roles

In many companies, CIOs struggle against the perception that their job is merely to keep the e-mail flowing. After all, CEOs know immediately when basic services fail but are less aware when investments in new technologies fall short or, even more problematic, when companies aren't making the IT investments they need to refresh their businesses. By structuring and governing different aspects of IT to deliver different goals, companies can be more confident that they are getting the most from their IT investments.

New IT leadership roles
As companies restructure IT to support differentiated roles, IT leaders will need to decide where their strengths lie and which aspect of IT they aspire to manage. In our work with leading companies, we see four roles emerging for CIOs. Each relies on different skills and offers the company a different value proposition.

Head of scale
This role expands on the CIO's traditional responsibility for managing IT infrastructure and enterprise systems, broadening it to include improving efficiency and driving down cost of all commodity business services -- not just IT -- by taking advantage of scale and the potential for outsourcing and offshoring.

At many companies, CIOs in this role also have accountability for shared services or back-office functions (such as finance, procurement, and human resources) and for driving down transaction costs through investments in enterprise- resource-planning (ERP) systems and offshoring.

Executives who thrive on improving efficiency and squeezing costs from IT operations are well suited for this role. Measures of success include reducing transaction costs and the level of working capital by making payment processes more efficient. P&G's Filippo Passerini, for example, standardized processes and established a global shared-services organization that is recognized as best in class.

Business process manager
This role involves focusing on differentiating a company's existing business operations from those of competitors. Increasingly, CIOs in this mode manage not only IT resources but also operations and processes, such as customer service, that are part of the core business.

This approach creates a single point of accountability for improving business processes through automation or more traditional routes and makes it possible to develop new products and services rapidly. Such a leader works closely with business unit leaders to improve business processes for competitive advantage. Robert Carter of FedEx saw opportunities to use IT to integrate the company's logistics services more tightly with the supply chains of its clients, so it wins contracts by virtue of its integral support for their processes.

Chief innovator
IT investments in new business models or innovations that open up new markets call for a focus on experimentation and a willingness to learn from failure. Playing this role requires some distance from a company's current businesses, since innovations occasionally threaten to cannibalize them.

In typical organizations in most industries, the IT leader is less likely to be a chief innovator than a scale or process leader. But when technology innovations can make a big difference, CIOs choosing to play the role of innovator can be extremely valuable. Consider Randy Mott's contributions to the evolution of Dell's business model when he was the company's CIO.

After a long career at Wal-Mart Stores, he applied lessons he learned about supply chain and data warehouse technology to enhance Dell's build-to-order business model that uses better information about the price of components and a more sophisticated customer segmentation to make timely, customized sales offers.

Strategic technology adviser
This role involves coordinating the activity among all three of the areas already listed. It is the role that most current CIOs see themselves playing, but many are so mired in daily operational responsibilities that they have only a limited ability to own and evangelize for the enterprise view associated with each of the preceding roles.

To be truly effective in this one, IT leaders should aspire to board-level status, with strong connections not only across functions within the company but also to external parties in other organizations, including clients and suppliers. At Wal-Mart, Linda Dillman led the retailing industry's adoption of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags by coordinating the efforts of the company's business and functional leaders and of its vast network of suppliers and distributors.

Because each role requires a distinct skill set for success, it's difficult to play all four roles successfully at once. Developing focus takes time, as does earning a record of success in any of these roles. The trends that would push IT leaders into a shared-services support role are likely to increase, so IT leaders should quickly move toward the role where they can add the most value to their companies.

[via http://www.enterpriseinnovation.net/article.php?cat1=1&id=976]

Friday, August 18, 2006

Google's 9 principles of innovation

Business management guru, Peter Drucker said, "Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship -- the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth".

Certainly in the age of the Web, few organizations can, in good conscience, call themselves drivers of innovation. Google is one of them. Marissa Mayer, Google Vice President, Search Products & User Experience, said the company operates nine principles around which innovation flourishes within the company.

At Google, everyone is expected to bring in ideas (regardless of who you are within the organization), including customers or users. Ideas come from all sorts of inspirations. Mayer promotes the belief that ideas come from everywhere and it is by the sifting through of the many ideas that pervades us, do we find nuggets worth their weight in gold.

Google thrives in the philosophy of sharing everything you can. When everything is accessible to everyone within the organization, it empowers people to do the best they can. This promotes the creation of new ideas that can be further shared within the organization. When you become consumed with trying to get credit for things you create, you lose the time to develop new ideas.

Google competes with the best companies to hire the creme de la creme. Mayer believes that working in a challenging environment creates an opportunity for you to excel in what you do, and even discover new ways of thinking. With a poster that says "Hiring brilliant minds" it may seem impossible for anyone but the most brilliant to ever land a job at Google, but you'll never know until you try. Brilliance is not limited to mathematically adept engineers and programmers. Some of the most brilliant minds are creative thinkers first and foremost.

Google gives everyone the license to pursue dreams. What this means is that employees are given the time to pursue what they really want. Giving smart people the right tools creates an environment that encourages innovation.

Mayer believes that innovation is not instant perfection. As new ideas get launched, they undergo extensive and continuous review process. The result is an interactive lifecycle to the idea.

At Google all ideas go through a Marissa Gauntlet. New features are digitally projected onto the right side of a conference room wall. Commentaries are transcribed on the left. Tying the two together is a digital timer. Everyone gets 10 minutes during which time Mayer and her team add and subtract to the feature as time runs down.

While the company believes in the creation and nurturing of ideas, personal likes and dislikes do not form a factor in the decision-making process. Under the principle of data is apolitical, numbers will dictate the progress of an idea within the organization.

Pressure is a constant at Google. Limitations are purposely placed in front of new ideas, not to stifle it, but to allow for creativity and innovation to grow. Mayer believes that creativity loves constraints, and this has guided many of the most innovative ideas to come of the company.

In the early days of Google, the often question raised is 'how does Google make money?' In the consumer space, money follows consumers. When you build a huge consumer base, you will find a way for money to come. Google has proven that it is users and not money that should become the focus of the organization.

Don't kill projects, morph them. If an idea is able to get out the door (there's a real product there), usually there is some kernel of truth in there, something interesting, innovative. Don't walk away from new ideas but think of ways to repackage these into something that ultimately works.

"Innovation is exploration of the unknown. No one knows the best path. It is important to try many things, learn what works and what doesn't, quickly reject your failures, and build on your successes. That is the key to innovation," Mayer concluded.

To view the complete video, click here http://cobb.stanford.edu/courses/msande472/060517-msande472-300.wmv

Related Article on BusinessWeek
Google R&D Pay Dividends

About Marissa Mayer
Marissa leads the product management efforts on Google's search products -- web search, images, groups, news, Froogle, the Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Labs, and more. She joined Google in 1999 as Google's first female engineer and led the user interface and webserver teams at that time. Her efforts have included designing and developing Google's search interface, internationalizing the site to more than 100 languages, defining Google News, Gmail, and Orkut, and launching more than 100 features and products on Google.com. Several patents have been filed on her work in artificial intelligence and interface design

[via http://www.enterpriseinnovation.net]

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Two new tools that CIOs want

Web exclusive, May 2006

While many promising new technologies vie for the attention of IT leaders and CIOs, only a few of these innovations actually end up improving top-line performance or bottom-line productivity. Our recent survey of senior US IT executives1 and our experience with clients suggest that companies view two new technologies as highly promising tools for obtaining real business benefits: server virtualization (which helps companies improve the match between their computing capacity and their application workloads, so that they can do more with fewer machines) and software as a service (which allows IT departments to offload the delivery and maintenance of software applications). Companies clearly view these technologies as priorities that promise to help them become more efficient and agile.

Virtualization is a software technology that helps raise the utilization rates of servers. It allows companies to run several different operating systems—UNIX, Linux, and Windows, for example, as well as the applications that run on top of them—on a single machine. Distributed servers running a single operating system typically utilize only about 5 to 15 percent of their full processing capacity. Virtualization can make it possible for companies to boost their average server utilization rates to 40 percent or higher while still meeting peak demand. IT departments can then consolidate their servers, reduce the complexity of their environments, and, over time, buy less hardware (though the servers they do buy may be higher-capacity boxes). Related technologies let a single application run across several machines, further boosting reliability and utilization rates, since a machine that isn't too busy can take some of the load off others that are. Finally, the flexibility to set up and tear down test environments quickly and to move applications across physical servers helps to increase administrative productivity and to reduce hardware outlays still further.

Most companies have already begun consolidating their servers—86 percent of the CIOs we asked cited progress in this area. Virtualization is the next natural move. Consolidation aims to combine multiple instances of identical or similar applications on fewer machines. Virtualization goes a step further by making it possible to run more applications on them and by increasing a company's flexibility, so that it can meet shifting workloads without excess hardware. One CIO with a budget of $600 million told us that his company has virtualized 30 percent of its servers and plans to have 60 percent of them virtualized within two or three years. He expects to reduce capital expenditures during the next server-refresh cycle by 30 percent and to reallocate the savings to different projects.

The other trend cited by the IT executives we surveyed is the delivery of software as a service over the Internet. Rather than purchasing and deploying applications inside the enterprise, many companies are buying access to externally hosted applications, so they pay for the software as they use it.2 The software-as-a-service model can cut the total cost of deploying some classes of enterprise applications by 30 to 40 percent as compared with the total cost of purchasing and maintaining them in house. Of the senior IT executives we talked with, 38 percent said that they plan to use the software-as-a-service approach during the next 12 months. Popular applications include business software for human-resource management (including payroll), billing and order entry, and sales management, as well as security services that guard against spam and viruses. The range of applications delivered in this mode continues to grow, though to date few companies are using software as a service in systems (such as those for production planning and forecasting) that need a lot of tailoring or customization.

Software as a service differs from the fad of the late 1990s for application service providers (ASPs) because the most successful companies offering this latest generation of hosted software have redesigned their applications for scalable delivery over the Web. In this way, these companies innovate more quickly and thus have lower total costs—and pass the benefits on to their customers. Contrary to some expectations, the acceptance of this model isn't limited to midsize companies with understaffed IT departments; some very large enterprises are among the earliest adopters.

IT executives are shifting to the software-as-a-service model for some applications not only for lower licensing and maintenance fees but also because implementation is usually quicker and companies don't have to maintain special skills in software-specific areas. Some enterprise applications can cost tens of millions of dollars and take 6 to 24 months to implement, and many executives prefer to outsource the task. Web services protocols—transport rules that make it easier to link applications flexibly—are helping to speed this migration: 60 percent of our survey respondents said they were implementing Web services, in some cases to integrate externally hosted applications into their own systems.

Taken together, these two adoption trends indicate that a technology architecture transformation is beginning to take shape in many large and midsize organizations. In the past, CIOs deployed their own self-contained application architectures on their own servers and storage systems. This old model is giving way to a hybrid application architecture that combines hosted functionality with in-house applications running on consolidated and virtualized commodity servers. We believe that this transformation will drive efficiencies across the full stack, from business processes to physical infrastructure, while increasing IT's ability to meet new demands in a rapidly changing business environment. Of course, technology alone won't deliver this vision: IT and business leaders will need to rethink governance models and management processes to take full advantage of new technology trends.3

[via www.mckinseyquarterly.com]