Features: October 3rd, 2003

Making a Success of e-Government With Effective Programme Management

By Coenraad van der Poel.

Improving efficiency and the provision of services for citizens (and thus e-government initiatives) are now top priorities for governments all over the world. In the UK, all government departments now recognise that robust e-government services provide citizens and businesses with better interaction and more convenience when dealing with government agencies and local authorities.

However, some organizations have had to go through a number of iterations during the implementation of such services. Initial attempts at providing new electronic services are often hampered by unforeseen glitches as real-world users uncover problems in areas such as site navigation, information access and online transactions. As a result, these new services often need to be redesigned and re-scoped – which means further investment and extended delays in providing the online services that citizens and businesses need and expect. With the 2005 deadline fast approaching, such delays are becoming increasingly unacceptable.

Getting it right first time

So how can organizations ensure that they get more of their e-government services right first time and delivered within the requisite timeframe? EzGov believes that a large part of the answer to this lies in careful project planning and management, beginning with a detailed specification of the requirements of each initiative.

Any project leader or champion embarking on an e-government project has an almost overwhelming number of variables to consider. Currently in-vogue terms such as integration, transformation, accessibility and seamless services can help to define an e-government agenda, but they can just as easily contribute to the complexity of what may otherwise be a very straightforward project.

A critical step towards the successful implementation of an e-government programme is therefore the identification of a definable methodology. The project team must clearly define a project charter and roadmap, and must consider every element of the project at the appropriate time. In some of the world’s most successful e-government implementations, such roadmaps have been divided into four phases:

  1. Determination and development of a vision and strategy
  2. Translation of the vision and strategy into a specific e-government programme and plan for execution
  3. Execution of the plan – build, deliver and implement
  4. Ensuring that the solution is secure and available and that issues surrounding hosting and support are properly addressed

In phase one, the project team identifies business drivers, stakeholders and objectives. The process should begin with the definition of the business drivers: the forces for change that are creating the need for e-government services. Identifying these business drivers will help to answer the question of what pain the e-government initiative should alleviate.

Stakeholders are the groups affected by e-government goals, and are typically the organization themselves, citizens and business. When developing vision and strategy it’s important to identify each group’s preferences and the effect that e-government will have on them. It’s also vital to identify exactly what interaction each stakeholder group has with the department in question and how this needs to change and improve.

In phase two, the project team needs to translate vision into a specific e-government programme. The purpose of this phase is to determine the scope of the project and develop a plan with prioritised actions that help the team achieve its objectives.

By examining best practice, user definitions and proven technologies, it’s possible to formulate an optimum e-government programme. This phase can be supported by usability and concept studies, during the creation of which, early problems can be ironed out before the system is fully developed.

Success at phase three depends on building a technology platform, as well as the project management methodologies that will accommodate IT objectives now and in the future. Experience shows that flexible component-based technology based on open standards and the use of web-based deployment techniques is ideal for this kind of application. Return on investment (ROI) for any e-government programme can be maximised by using open, commercial “off the shelf” software.

Phase four involves ensuring that the system, once developed, is reliable and secure – particularly when it is enabling transactions online. Users of online applications today have more confidence in paying for services online than ever before, but departments cannot take the risk of implementing a system that can be easily hacked into, that regularly crashes, or that fails to make a record of a transaction.

Putting theory into practice

The goal of delivering e-government is made easier if the path to providing a solution is both proven and carefully planned. One example of a UK government department that has adopted that strategy successfully is The Court Service, which built its e-government solution Money Claim Online – Defendants on EzGov’s FlexFoundation® software.

The Court Service developed Money Claim Online in response to “civil.justice.2000, a vision of the UK’s Civil Justice System in the Information Age”. It is regarded to be one of the first true e-government transactional applications and is an end-to-end, payment-included business exchange that maximises existing legacy systems. EDS acted as main contractor and provided systems integration services.

EzGov worked closely with EDS and the Court Service utilising the Rational Unified Process® to define the solution. User features and requirements were determined during a number of workshops at Court Service’s locations and EzGov’s Amsterdam office. This resulted in a solution that was technically feasible and matched the Court Service’s expectations. The project began in June 2002 and was live by December 9th of the same year.

Money Claim Online – Defendants allows defendants to respond to a claim online by filling in one of the available defence forms. The first step to accomplish this is logging onto the application using a claim number and password printed on the defence package, which the defendant has received through the post. The application then guides the defendant through the form, which is submitted and integrated into the Court Service’s workflow and business processes.

By following EzGov’s project management and programme management methodology, the Court Service built its new service in time and within budget. It expects to have 10,000 defences filed a year via Money Claim Online, and the effort a defendant needs to make to submit their defence is reduced significantly.

Experience of projects like Money Claim Online is teaching those charged with building e-government solutions that there are ways to avoid missing deadlines and building systems that don’t satisfy user requirements. Vision and strategy, translation of strategy into a specific e-government programme, execution of a plan to deliver a solution and security, availability and support of that solution are key to success. Without following these basic steps, project teams will find their solutions are doomed to failure.

Coenraad van der Poel is with EzGov.