E-government is not about technology. It is about saving time and making life easier and more efficient for citizens and business.
Get Away from a Technology Obsession
Letting the IT department manage the website is like letting a printer manage a publishing house. This might have been okay in 1998, but in 2008 a government web strategy should be driven by professionals who are trained in customer focus and a self-service ethos.
It makes me shiver to hear about a new government 'portal' initiative. Translated this means the government is going to waste millions and millions on cool, really complicated technical toys that are a joy to the IT department but a total horror to use for anyone who doesn't have a PhD in geekness.
"Between award-winning tech projects and satisfied users, there's a chasm," Prasanto Kumar Roy writes in PC Quest in June 2008. He was writing about the difference between what is technically brilliant and what is usable.
There is an annual survey carried out in India by Dataquest and IDC that measures how citizen-centric India state's e-government initiatives are. Some states are not happy with their low ranking.
"Look here--we've got these awards for our project, so your survey is nonsense," Kumar Roy writes. "Another said: "Our budget for this one award-winning project is more than the complete IT budget of that state you've rated so high!"
"Did they miss a point? The awards they got were for projects: technology, spend, planning, idea, maybe execution. Our survey was about something else: user satisfaction. Were citizens, and businesses, satisfied? Did they see an improvement in their government interface? Speed, transparency?"
Manage Top Tasks, Not Websites
Governments should manage neither the technology nor the content. In fact, at a very basic level they should not even manage the website. The website is not the point, the purpose. It is the task of the customer that is the point, the purpose.
People do not wake up on a Saturday morning and say: "Hey, it's the weekend! Think I'll browse some government websites. Educate myself about the school system even though I'm not a teacher and have no children." People go to government websites because they have to; they have a task.
The question should be: "What is the best way to help the customer complete this task? If that means sending out structured data so that a nonprofit or private entity can make a better web service, then do that. If it means getting engaged with Wikipedia or some other website, then do that.
I have a website therefore I am. That's how a lot of government entities think. They think a website fulfills them, makes them whole. Get over it. Not every government entity and initiative needs a website (or even a webpage). [Editor's Note: Read part one of this series here.]
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.