Earlier today I opened the government track of our Industry program with a session on “Smart Government: Beyond Cities and Planets”, which was very well attended, taking into account the early time of the day. For those who have not been following the session, previous entries in this blog cover the concept of smart government (see here and here). In a nutshell, smart government is not a program or a goal, but it is an approach to or style of managing IT driven by government financial sustainability concerns. It requires some form of boundary (between domains, tiers, jurisdictions, process areas, or constituencies) to be crossed.
I promised attendees that I would answer questions posed after the session through Twitter or in person, and here they are.
Question: Some people would object that smart government cannot change the way politicians set their priorities, which then percolate on IT folks who need to implement those: what is your position?
Answer: Smart government recognizes the reality of government, where political and budget cycles set the pace and the climate for IT spending. Rather than pursuing a difficult campaign to improve IT’s reputation, smart government works to make sure that as much as possible of what is accomplished within the constraints of one political term or one budget cycles can be leveraged for the next one. The point I made about the use of scenario-planning techniques to drive IT strategic planning goes in that direction: identifying commonalities across very different scenarios tells us what is worth doing that is unlikely to be thrown away at the next cycle.
Question: To what extent are current government IT cost containment efforts compromising future financial sustainability?
Answer: An excessive focus on cost containment is likely to lead to short-term decisions that may have a negative impact on long-term viability and sustainability. On the other hand, this argument cannot be used to release the strings of the purse and be granted immunity from cost optimization. The challenge for smart government is to find ways to contribute to sustainability by keeping technology costs at bay. This is why I have been talking about “radical cost optimization options”: organizations that have already improved a lot their IT efficiency over the last few years, will have to be innovative in finding ways to either maintain their IT cost base or even reduce it further, while contributing to sustainability.
Question: Since smart government involves significant cross-boundary working, can we cope with concomitant (huge) cultural change?
Answer: The assumption is that cross-boundary activities will be pursued as a necessity and not as an option. Many problems with turfwars and ineffective joint governance derive from situations where those involved in cross-boundary cooperation did have other choices (such as holding to the status quo, or pursuing local optimizations within their own boundaries). When cross-boundary work is recognized by all parties involved as a necessity, and what is at stake is the ability of those parties to meet their statutory obligations going forward, then it is quite likely that resistance will be milder. This does not mean that cultural change happens overnight, but that if different agencies and jurisdictions share a common goal or pain point, it is easier for them to find a base.
Question: Do you have examples of the kind of cross-boundary collaborations that exhibit some of the characteristics of smart government?
Answer: There are quite a few examples, ranging from the resource-aware policy making endeavors that some European jurisdictions (such as the Netherlands) have been pursuing, to the interactive model used by the City of Portland to explore interrelationships between different departments, from the participatory budgeting in New York to the gov 2.0 example on human services that I used with last year’s keynote.
One could argue that also endeavors like the Health Information Exchange in the US or the implementation of single points of contact for the EU Service Directive fall under the definition of smart government, but I am less positive. In fact these derive more from the need to comply with a directive, a standard or a specification, than from a genuine attempt at crossing boundaries for sustainability. Do not get me wrong: the policies leading to such endeavors probably have sustainability in mind, but from an IT management perspective they remain compliance programs.
Question: Listening to different sessions there seem to be contrasting opinions between consolidation and devolution (or choice) and between downplaying the importance of business alignment and emphasizing the need to spend more time with the business to figure out its needs. How can they be resolved?
Answer: It is a matter of striking the right balance. For instance, consolidation might be the right thing to do in cases where demonstrable savings deriving from consolidation are not offset by a loss of agility that may ultimately impact on sustainability. Similarly, in complex programs with a long-term commitment by the executive leadership, it does make sense to spend more time having the business agree (among itself and with IT) about the right course of action, while in programs characterized by greater uncertainty, it is better for IT to take the lead in determining the elements that is safe to develop and that can be sustained despite priority changes, and aim at evolutionary development that builds upon demonstrably sustainable components.
Editor : Martin Simamora, S.IP |Martin Simamora Press