by CIO Staff

E-Government: Putting City Services Online

Nov 01, 20007 mins

Mike Hernon, vice president of e-government for New York City-based GovWorks, a provider of e-government software and services, and former CIO of the City of Boston and the District of Columbia, answers readers’ questions on the challenges faced by municipal CIOs as they strive to put city services and information online

Q: What is your definition of e-government?

A: E-government is simply using information technology to deliver government services directly to the customer 24/7. The customer can be a citizen, a business or even another government entity. E-government delivers services in a manner that is most convenient for the customer, while at the same time allowing government to provide those services at a significantly cheaper cost. The primary medium for e-government service delivery is the Internet via a personal computer, but other modes such as kiosks and cell phones will experience significant growth in the next three to five years. My hope and expectation is that e-government will help foster a closer relationship between government and its customers. A more responsive and efficient government will be valued more highly by its citizens, and in turn they will be more supportive and involved.

Q: How does the CIO role in a government agency or ministry differ from that of a private sector CIO?

A: Without a doubt, public sector CIOs do more with less when compared to their private sector counterparts. Also, as a public sector CIO, using my skills to make a difference in the everyday lives of my fellow citizens is very rewarding. The IT projects I value the highest from my tenure are the ones that involved education, public safety and economic development. Each of these areas is of critical importance to our society, and each can be supported by the strategic implementation of information technology.

Q: What trends do you see emerging for personal identity confirmation in the e-government world?

A: The relationship between citizens and their governments must be enhanced by e-government, not threatened by it. Security and privacy are the two main concerns in the public’s mind that can be barriers to the widespread adoption of

e-government. E-government solutions then must be designed in a manner that instills confidence and trust in the application as opposed to fear and cynicism. A strong privacy policy is the first step in building that trust. Citizens need to be assured that their data will be used only for the purpose for which it is being collected. This explicitly rules out selling personal information

to third parties for commercial purposes. As for identity confirmation, I think the trend here is clearly a rise in the use of biometrics.

Q: How do we coordinate federal, state and local efforts on technology to better assure a seamless flow of information and resources?

A: As we have seen in the law enforcement arena, when governments work together the citizen is better served. The technology-oriented groups in government, such as the federal CIO Council, the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) and Public Technology, for cities and counties do meet on occasion to facilitate cross-jurisdictional activities. More work needs to be done on integrating within functional areas, such as human services. More important, stakeholders beyond the technology community must be made a part of these initiatives. E-government is about service delivery, not technology, and government managers at all levels need to be involved.

Q: What impact do you expect e-government will have on crime fighting in the future and what results are currently being seen?

A: There is an untold story behind the wonderful decrease in crime that we have been witnessing across the country. There are many reasons for this decrease, but government’s adoption of technology in the public safety arena has clearly been a significant contributor. One of the overlooked aspects of e-government is the ability to conduct government-to-government (G2G) transactions. By passing electronic information amongst themselves, local, state and federal governments can cooperate more effectively and support each other in their respective missions. Many felony fugitives, including murderers, have been snared by this G2G electronic shield that protects us. This capacity will only increase in the coming years as more and more state and local governments implement the technology to become part of this network. One result will certainly be more dangerous fugitives removed from the streets. But, just as important, with more police officer time freed from routine chores by e-government, community policing becomes easier to implement. This will lead to an emphasis on crime prevention rather than crime investigation, which will put further downward pressure on the crime rate.

Q: Municipalities all over the country have made significant strives in locating individuals who are using wired phones to call 911. However, with the proliferation of cell phone usage in our society it appears that the effectiveness of location technologies such as automatic number identification and automatic location identification are quickly becoming obsolete. What is government doing to expedite the delivery of technology to locate users of wireless 911 phone devices?

A: Cell phones and other wireless devices will increasingly become access points for government services. According to the public safety organizations, 40 percent of all 911 calls now emanate from cell phones. There are initiatives in the works by government and industry to ensure that 911 operators will have the ability to gain location information from cell phone calls. The FCC has set a deadline of 2001 for this capability to be built in, and they are working with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association to meet this goal. This will ensure that emergency assistance can be dispatched to a caller who is injured or confused, or otherwise unable to provide his location. In the not-too-distant future I suspect this capability will be used for a variety of mobile e-government applications in addition to 911.

Q: How can government employees in the back office who are dependent on the current technologies optimally benefit from the introduction of e-government?

A: E-government, by streamlining those back-office processes, can free up employees so that they can focus on service delivery rather than some bureaucratic process. There is already ample evidence that freed-up resources are redirected in this manner. The City of Boston freed up over 40,000 police officer hours per year with an ID imaging system, and those hours were then used to implement a neighborhood policing program. On the federal level, the Veterans Benefits Administration proved in a pilot program that their employees could spend more time with-and be more helpful to-their customers with the introduction of an automated system. Better service delivery and happier customers and employees are the hallmarks of a good e-government solution.

Q: Do you have any advice for IS professionals in municipal government regarding whether they should build up their existing internal staff to handle e-business applications or outsource these types of applications?

A: Well, I think most IS managers would love to be able to build up their internal staff, but that doesn’t seem practical in today’s environment. I know that during my tenure at the City of Boston we went from 100 percent in-house talent to less than half in our e-government applications during the course of three years. Luckily, there will always be talented people who love working for government, but I think the trend is obviously toward more outsourcing and more reliance on the ASP model. This allows government to focus on service delivery instead of the minutiae of building an e-government platform. This can actually be more cost-effective-and much less painful-than trying to develop the talent and applications in-house.

Q: IT should be the support for the e-government, but what do you think about the factors that also influence the success of the project-the procedures, the culture and the people?

A: The IT group should be the implementer and overseer, but not necessarily the owner, of e-government. Any given application will have any number of stakeholders, be they program managers, labor officials, senior executives or elected officials. They need to be part of the process from the beginning to ensure success. The IT group needs to work with the top elected or management official to ensure their support for an e-government strategy. With that expectation accepted throughout the organization the chances of success are significantly enhanced.