July 2005

Knowledge-based e-Government

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It is by now well documented that effective e-Government implementation often requires fundamental changes to skill requirements, learning activities and the knowledge acquisition process of public sector staff. Basic ICT skills (such as use of a PC, mobile devices, standard programmes) are a precondition. More advanced ICT skills (e.g. software development, web-design, database design, the use of specialised programmes, etc.) can be required depending on the type of work to be performed.

In addition, however, modern working conditions often require further mixes of generalised and more advanced skills and competencies. In a fast changing government work environment with a wide variety of work forms, there is an increasing need for individuals to take responsibility for their own work, skills and knowledge development. This includes fostering abilities like self-organisation and self-management, inter-personal skills, dealing with unexpected rather than routine situations, greater initiative, self reliance and knowledge management, etc.

Much work is increasingly being organised on a ‘project’ basis wherein, individuals or teams are given a specific task or project, some resources, quality requirements and a deadline. Although many work processes remain routine in both traditional and e-Government contexts, most government workers are being exposed to these new demands on their abilities. Indeed, ICT can in the best circumstances take over routine functions, leaving workers free to undertake more interesting tasks and become knowledge workers.

ICT thus has a somewhat paradoxical effect on skills and competencies, requiring simultaneously both more and less independence on part of the individual worker. On one hand, ICT contributes to placing more responsibility on individuals to enhance their skill profiles, especially in contexts where there is more independent working (including teleworking or e-working, where staff may work while being at home or on the move) and where each employee has specific responsibility to complete her or his work successfully. On the other hand, complex nature of new types of work and the knowledge needed to successfully complete it often requires more cooperation and team work.

Thus, government organisations like private companies, are increasingly pressured to provide continuous learning for individual employees in order to match fast changes taking place in the new public management environment. They also need to enhance ‘organisational learning’ through management of knowledge within the organisation. Only if Governments are able to systematically preserve and exploit the collective know-how of their workforce will they be inclined to invest in training activities. This will reduce the threat posed by departing employees as well as ensuring that the productive potential of the organisation is fully maintained and exploited. Thus, knowledge management within government is closely related to continuous learning of the workforce.

Knowledge in the public sector

In the same way as ‘e-Business’ is migrating to ‘kBusiness’1 , the ‘e-Government’ will migrate to ‘kGovernment’ (knowledge-based Government) in the sense that technology will become unremarkably ubiquitous and intelligent services will be provided by intelligent Government. kGovernment will be based upon personalised intelligent government, accessed by spatially and socially mobile individuals using knowledge management and knowledge engineering approaches, artificial intelligence and ambient technology. This will be anytime, anywhere, any service, and on user’s terms (‘me’ Government), in which citizens or their electronic agents actively self personalise the electronic services, which can ‘learn’ (for example, through ‘neural processing’ – an electronic process which mimics learning and is becoming increasingly used in agent and other technology) how citizen uses the service and adapt accordingly.

Developing notions and practices of kGovernment is part of wider goals aimed at raising both the efficiency of public sector and quality of its output. More importantly, to attempt for reducing the trade off traditionally present between these two. Unlike the private sector, the public sector neither has an external market nor internal mechanisms informed by pricing system which can send appropriate signals to decision-makers about user demands and choices. However, efficiency and quality in the public sector are basic requirements for overall economic competitiveness and are also policy objectives in their own right.

In this context, e-Government and more specifically kGovernment can, as in the private sector, help reverse the supply chain so that consumer choice can be better understood and supply can be more closely matched to demand. The potential here is thus even more important than in the private sector, which in addition has the market to guide such matching, not directly available in the public sector. Secondly, again as in the private sector, interaction costs can be reduced and both de- and re-intermediation can take place, leading to organisational change, a reduction in bureaucracy and an unbundling of activities. This allows the public sector to focus on its core functions (i.e. doing things which the market cannot do or which are politically desirable) and enables outsourcing of non-core functions to the private or civic sector. Thirdly, kGovernment can introduce much greater transparency on both supply and demand sides. There may be a danger, however, in going too far with transparency (such as performance measurement of individual staff) as this could undermine internal motivation and the public service ethic and introduce competition in a context where it may not be entirely appropriate2 .

Ambient intelligence space

The concept of Ambient Intelligence (AmI) Space4 provides a vision of the Information Society where the emphasis is on greater user-friendliness, more efficient services support, user-empowerment and support for human interactions. People are surrounded by intelligent intuitive interfaces that are embedded in all kinds of objects and an environment that is capable of recognising and responding to the presence of different individuals in a seamless, unobtrusive and often invisible way.3  This is a powerful vision of ICT technology in 2010 and one that could provide a platform for the developing notion of kGovernment. Indeed, AmI is an essential building block of ‘me’ government in which individuals experience seamless and unobtrusive access and fulfilment between different electronic  services, different service providers and across borders.

In the new infrastructural paradigm of AmI, people will participate in a multiplicity of parallel, overlapping, inter-leaved and evolving one-to-one, one-to many, and many-to-many relationships. Some of these relationships will be very short-lived and some of them established temporarily and instantaneously. Much of the communication between participants in these relationships will be asynchronous, as it is now. This means that virtuality applies to time as well as space.

In AmI Space, ambient networks with objects and subjects will be moving all the time without physical connections in many instances and without standard identification, since anonymity – which is orthogonal to security – is often required. There will be constantly moving inter-changeable agents, which manifest themselves to users through such things as caches, liquid software, and downloadable applications.

Security in the AmI Space is a paramount concern and will require solutions very different from those of today’s systems which are predicated on relatively stable, well-defined, consistent configurations, contexts and participants in the security arrangements. It must also be recognised that the market will require safe and economic migration away from today’s techniques – firewalls, smart cards, etc. – to the new techniques of AmI Space. The new paradigm will instead be characterised by ‘conformable’ security, in which the degree and nature of security associated with any particular type of action will change over time with changing circumstances and with changing available information so as to suit the context. Security policies in this environment must evolve, adapting with experience.

From ‘e’ to ‘k’ Government

Knowledge-based government is closely linked to developments in ambient intelligence needed to provide powerful, easy-to-use electronic public services. There are huge challenges here, however, not least in relation to security and control, as noted above. For example, the concept of user identities will need re-thinking away from geographically determined identity, as it is now, to virtual identities linked to a ‘digital territory’ like AmI Space.

Managing knowledge within Government

Already, some of the most promising approaches to delivering improvements in the functioning of public administrations are being built upon better knowledge management. In particular, initiatives are centred on new approaches to communication and knowledge sharing both within governmental and partner organisations and across organisational boundaries. These initiatives began with a focus on data standards, ICT infrastructure and proceeded to government process re-engineering and to the need for “rethinking things before automating them….[which] has become absolutely crucial if the Internet and the powerful technology developed around it are to be put to efficient use.”4

This kGovernment approach recognises that however sophisticated ICT systems may become, organisations will not get full benefit unless the people that use them also change how they work and learn to exploit them. This is precisely the sort of thinking required to meet some of the other challenges driving the kGovernment agenda. For example, the quiet revolution that is going on to shift to evidence-based policy making in government. Extending consultation to involve community experts and stakeholder groups whilst speeding up the process from research to policy-making to delivery can only be achieved through maximising new ICT knowledge management tools and techniques in areas such as communication, collaboration, security, data modelling and forecasting.

To achieve this and the wider benefits associated with kGovernment, alignment of ICT, ambient intelligence, information  management, process change and learning strategies under the knowledge management banner is fundamental. If we want to transform public services, then the delivery organisations themselves need transformation. And getting the right strategy for information and knowledge must be at the heart of that change. A full commitment to kGovernment is essential.

Managing knowledge about users of Government

Modernising government services through the adoption of ICT also need to lead to a substantial improvement in the quality of  relationship with citizens. In fact, many experts suggest that governments must undergo a radical change in their approach to services, putting citizen’s needs and requirements at the centre of their action and their processes. For example, public administrations should reorganise to adopt the principles of CRM, (Customer Relationship Management) – renamed as Citizens Relationship Management to take into account the specificities of government services. This is an essential component of the kGovernment paradigm, which is expected to provide necessary tools to personalise services, consolidate information about the customer-citizen relationship and streamline back-office procedures.

Unfortunately, reality is never as neat as theory. The potential of CRM benefits has been hyped in the recent past, especially by software suppliers and management consultants. Experiences in the private sector suggest caution as well as useful lessons for government agencies. A series of case studies of European service companies implementing eCRM6 show that putting the customer first is a long and complex reorganisational process. Most companies feel to be only at the start of a learning curve. Multi-channel strategies presenting a similar, coherent interface imply careful internal coordination, while a true personalisation of services is still difficult to achieve. However, results in terms of improvement of customer satisfaction are starting to be seen and companies believe that the main principles of CRM are worthwhile goals. Their experiences provide useful reflections on the pitfalls and perspectives of adoption of similar techniques for electronic public services, which does point to a long learning and implementation curve for the public sector in implementing individualised services. However, in the interests of data security and privacy, administrations also need to strike a compromise between ever more personalised treatment and the most scrupulous respect for protection and handling of personal information.7

(R)e-balancing Government

Within the context of organisational change occasioned by e-Government, there is an overriding need for a new form of public service ethic amongst civil servants, to encompass a strong user (citizen and business) focus.8 This should include but not be exclusively based upon treating users as ‘customers’ and should also emphasise transparency, openness and e-democracy so that users are also treated as voters and tax payers and not just as consumers. A multi-channel (including both face to face and digital) approach is necessary in which efficiency (productivity) equity and service quality are balanced. Research undertaken by Prisma has shown that technology, if wisely applied, can help reduce the trade off between all these goals.9

In principle, Government and e-Government should be driven solely by the needs of the society it serves (citizens as individuals and in groups and formal organisations, as well as by business). In order to realise this vision, it is useful to examine both demand and supply side of e-Government as part of the developing market for electronic public services. This is  exemplified in the figure below which shows the (r)e-balancing between front and back office which needs to take place in order to benefit all main stakeholders and reduce trade-off present between the three ‘e’s of Government (i.e. economy, equity and environment) by applying the fourth ‘e’- electronic Government.

The diagram below illustrates some of the major elements distilled by Prisma (2002). Noteworthy are:

  • On the demand side, ICT can support and enhance quality improvements to Government services delivered in traditional ways such as – health, education and social care. It is important that the technology does not replace frontline staff leading to a more impersonal, lower service quality, rather, directly support such staff by improving quality of services they deliver and by making them more responsive to citizen needs. Rather than a technology-driven approach, it is important to let people do what they do best and let technology do what it does best.

• On the supply side, much recent debate has been focused upon the need for e-Government to adopt the rigours of eBusiness and in relation to the reorganisation of Government structures and processes to follow down the path of Business-Process-Reengineering (BPR). However, many see Government as remaining distinctive from business for many reasons, including the fact that Government cannot choose its customers and that users of Government services take on a variety of roles, including as voters, tax payers as well as consumers. Thus, a ‘Government-Process-Reengineering’ (GPR) approach may be more appropriate in the context of public, private and non-profit sector partnerships.

Indeed, BPR applied directly to e-Government is often taken as a euphemism for downsizing, and fought over in this context. By aiming for a re-balancing (an ‘e-balancing’) of the ‘front’ and ‘back’ offices, as part of a gradual and deliberate policy of fully exploiting knowledge-based Government principles, there can be a win-win situation for all.

Thus, it is not a question about down-sizing Government – this is firmly a political decision and outside the scope of interest of this paper. But it is a question of down-sizing the  administration (the back-office) and up-sizing services (the front-office); i.e. a re-balancing from back to front office, from administration to services, from control to content – preferably on a planned, continuous and relatively long-term basis. Thus, it may not be a question of an overall saving of resources but one of freeing up and re-deploying resources to other more deserving areas of Government.

This involves the transformation of Government to prioritise the production and distribution of public goods (‘content’) rather than public administration (‘control’). In this way, kGovernment can link the private market benefits of both citizens and businesses with electronic public services as public goods10. Also it implies:

• a centralisation of back office functions, even up to national and international levels, exploiting open technical platforms, comprehensive security systems, interoperability, standardisation based on knowledge management principles, integrated processes, shared databases and economies of scale and scope. Steps towards centralisation of back-office function include  ‘middle-office’ and ‘shared service centres’.

• a de-centralisation of front-office functions to provide high quality but relatively simple customised electronic public services based on both CRM and data protection principles, related to the appropriate regional or community level, grounded in local situations and responding to a large variety of  individual needs of citizens and businesses. All this should be targetted  towards respecting and promoting democracy at all levels – the subsidiarity  principle writ large.

Although the above vision is both powerful and practical, by itself, it is not a complete panacea despite leading e-Government policy makers decisively in the right direction. The ‘front-office’ / ‘back-office’ dichotomy can only take the debate so far, as many of the e-Government issues cannot be reduced to one or other of these two categories. For example, is CRM a back-office or front-office function? Clearly it is both and there are many such examples. In the sense that the debate is about control (back-office) function versus content (front-office) function, there has of course been a clear separation historically but as we will move towards ‘intelligent content’, it will no longer be possible to distinguish between the two (the content will itself be in control) and the dichotomy will become redundant. Even though this is probably still ten years or more away, governance will have, to all intents and purposes, outgrown ‘bureaucracy’. It will have to truly become knowledge-based and intelligent government.

References

1 See the Knowledge Connections web-site: http://www.skyrme.com/pubs/kcomm.htm

2 The danger of potentially crowding out the ‘intrinsic motivation’ of public sector staff with “too much transparency” was highlighted by Luc Soete (Professor of International Economics, MERIT, the Netherlands) during his presentation on the Economics of eGovernment, at the eGovernment 2003 Conference, Como, Italy, 7-8 July 2003: http://europa.eu.int/information_society/eeurope/egovconf/index_en.htm.

3 ISTAG (Information Society Technologies Advisory Group), 2001, ISTAG scenarios for Ambient Intelligence 2010, compiled by IPTS, Seville, The European Commission, February 2001 http://www.cordis.lu/ist/istag.htm.

4 ISTAG (Information Society Technologies Advisory Group), 2002, ISTAG: trust, dependability, security and privacy for IST in FP6, the European Commission: http://www.cordis.lu/ist/istag.htm.

5 and 7 Upgrade, 2003, eGovernment: public administration for a new century, ‘Upgrade’, the European Journal for the Informatics Professional, Vol. IV, No. 2, April 2003: http://www.upgrade-cepis.org.

6 STAR, 2001, Implementing eEurope in the public domain: selected case studies, Issue Report 3 of the STAR (Socio-economic Trends Assessment for the digital Revolution) project, a research action supported by the Information Society Technologies Programme of the European Union, 2001-2003, contact http://www.databank.it/star

8 Millard, J. (ed), 2003b, Progressing the Information Society: the role of government, workshop and proceedings of the JANUS (Joint Analytical Network for Using Socio-economic research) project, a research action supported by the Information Society Technologies Programme of the European Union, 2002-2004, 17 February 2003. Available from http://www.janus-eu.org and http://www.beepgovernment.org

Millard, J. (2003a) ePublic services in Europe: past, present and future – research findings and new challenges, prepared for the European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Sevilla, Spain, September 2003. Available from: http://www.cordis.lu/ist/about/socio-eco.htm and http://www.beepgovernment.org

9 PRISMA, 2002, Pan-European best practice in service delivery, deliverable D3.2 of Prisma, a research action supported by the Information Society Technologies Programme of the European Union, 2000-2003, contact http://www.prisma-eu.net

10 Local Government Brief, 2003, Of modems and men – installing eGovernment in the eEast, Open Society Institute, Winter 2003.


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