May 2006

e-Government development

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The advent of the Internet has increased the opportunities for governments to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to achieve objectives such as improved planning and monitoring mechanisms, cost savings, and more effective administration and delivery of certain public services. As a result of this, the majority of governments have set the realisation of e-Government as one of their primary targets. Although the benefits of e-Government, in theory, are many, the successful development of these systems is not simple or cheap, particularly for developing countries with scarce resources. There have been several studies, which have attempted to recognize the obstacles and drivers for successful e-Government mplementation. However, there are still great challenges and concerns to be considered and resolved. Several issues dogging the successful e-Government implementation require urgent consideration. These issues include the high rate of e- Government projects failure, the complexity of e-Government  evelopment due to complexity of government administration, the existing ambiguity among people who are involved in developing e-Government especially in the developing world, and very few studies being conducted in the research area in an in-depth manner.

The nature of the traditional model of government bureaucracy, large size of government and the nature of government monopoly highlight the importance of investigation of e-Government development in Iran, an Islamic country and one of the most ancient and richest bureaucratic systems in the worldThe nature of the traditional model of government bureaucracy, large size of government and the nature of government monopoly highlight the importance of investigation of e-Government development in Iran, an Islamic country and one of the most ancient and richest bureaucratic systems in the world

Barriers hindering e-Government
In most recent studies, different authors have classified e-Government barriers in a variety of ways based on the purpose of study and applied research methodology of the research and level of e-Government maturity in research context. However, with the purpose of filling up a part of this gap, this research has attempted to examine a wide range of existing studies in both developed and developing countries with special focus on developing countries environments to produce a generic list of barriers to successful e-Government development. A number of studies have been conducted over the recent years to categorise the main areas of e-Government development barriers. As such, according to the study there are six major categories that should be considered to examine the barriers of e-Government development. This includes Organisational barriers, Political barriers, Cultural barriers, Legislative and regulatory barriers, Resources barriers and Technological barriers. Organisational barriers are those barriers that are inherent in organisations’ structures and inter and intra relationships to hinder the transition of e-Government. Political barriers are those barriers where someone or some group of political leaders has to make the decisions and have the will to carry them out. Cultural barriers are those barriers where organisational culture factors such as attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviours learned by individuals themselves, or passed on to them by members of COMMENTARY e-Government development Visible and invisible barriers their social environment influence the implementation of e- Government. Legislative and regulatory barriers are those issues that concerns about privacy protection and security of personal data as a high priority to e-Government implementation.

Resources barriers are the ones where e-government implementation may get hampered due to short of resources such as skilled manpower, funds and other resources. Technological barriers are those barriers that are related to lack of technologies as a major bottleneck to the implementation and maintenance of e-Government.

Iran as a case study
The main purpose of this study was to examine the factors that either facilitate or impede the e-Government initiatives based on e-Government senior officials’ perceptions in Iran. Especially, how senior officials perceive the barriers and driving forces of e-Government development. For the purpose of this study, barriers are those factors that hamper e-Governmentdevelopment and drivers (or driving forces) are those factors that push e-Government into happening. Based on other researchers studies in different context, a theoretical framework was developed, which aimed to better understanding of e- Government development process. Then the framework was used as a guide during data collection and analysis process.

The chosen research method was a qualitative case study method. This was achieved by conducting of in-depth interviews with 28 senior officials who are involved in e-Government projects across the country as the major source of data collection. A key feature of this method was to draw insights from key experts groups at three different levels that included ICT policymakers, senior officials in public organisations and IT experts from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) as well as private sector. In addition to interviews, the researchers attempted to obtain other required information through reviewing relevant documents.

After the data collection process, as a data analysis strategy, this research has used grounded theory techniques to present research findings as prominent amongst the various research strategies recommended for interpretive research. Moreover, the researcher also used, the Nvivo, qualitative software program, to organise the collected data.

Results
The research results concerning e-Government barriers are being considered here. The obtained results concerning e-Government barriers have been categorized into six categories— Organisational barriers, Political barriers, Cultural barriers, Resources barriers, Legal and regulatory barriers and Technological barriers.

Organisational barriers: Based on research evidence, major organisational findings   challenges of e-Government development in research context are placed into two general groups — the perceived challenges related to traditional model of government bureaucracy, which affects e-Government development transformation; and the perceived in-progress (underway) barriers of e-Government related to transformation and implementation stages.

Taking into consideration this point that e-Government is not only government computerisation but is more significantly about transforming the way governments interact with the governed, it would be quite clear that this transformation demands fundamental changes in the traditional model of government bureaucracy as well as government-citizens relationship. Thus, research results provide evidence that the traditional model of government bureaucracy can slow down the process of e-Government transformation.

These barriers are briefly discussed into three subcategories. The first sub-category of the traditional model of government bureaucracy barriers is the problem of dominant mindsets (or thoughts) among bureaucrats within public administration system. The interviewees have declared that the existing bureaucrats’ perception of government-citizens’ relationship is a key obstacle. They believe that bureaucrats’ beliefs and thoughts about government-citizens’ relationship are in contradiction with the recognised purposes of e-Government.

Another sub-category of the traditional model of government bureaucracy is structural barriers. These are inherent tructural features of government, which decelerate the process  of e-Government development. The barriers such as the complexity of government nature and its structure, large size of government, the nature of government monopoly, and slownessof privatisation process are major findings in this regard. The third sub-category of the traditional model of government bureaucracy is related to operational (or managerial) barriers. These include inefficient and lengthy procedures popular in traditional administration, which overshadow the e- Government development process. The major managerial barriers identified in this study include inefficient administrative processes as well as Non-standard business processes, lack of a seniority system and managerial proficiency, instability of managerial positions, lack of documentation culture, avoidance of making high-risk decisions, and weakness of policy implementation.

The researchers have tried to illustrate existing inconsistencies between the gained outcomes of traditional model of government bureaucracy based on interviewees’ perceptions with expected organisational preconditions for e- Government applications. A citizen-centric based approach has been identified as one of the essential preconditions for developing e-Government. The dominant approach of government bureaucrats is not only incompatible with a citizencentric approach, claimed as one vital purposes of e-Government development, but also bureaucratic approach tend to be either a sovereign approach or a functional-centric  approach.

In spite of this reality that a transparent government is an expression of e-Government, existing environment of concerns about transparency in administration system is in contrast with transparent government acclaimed by e-Government. Whereas, systematic thinking and strategic planning are considered as an essential requirement of e-Government development, premature and precipitant actions for developing e-Government from senior officials’ side who believed they should move quickly in this way, was the consequence of unclear strategy and ambitious targets based on temporary efforts and non systematic thinking and planning.

Political barriers: Despite the fact that prior studies have highlighted the importance of a strong political awareness and commitment as one of essential elements to initiate any movement toward e-Government development, the results of this study reveals three major sub-categories of political barriers — political unawareness, insufficient political involvement and problems related to the policy making process.

Even though, levels of awareness among senior officials and policy makers range from well informed to illiterate, the interview evidence reveal that the general level of senior officials’ awareness regarding e-Government values and its applications is low but growing.

Cultural barriers: Taking into consideration the overlap between cultural barriers and the dominant mindset of bureaucrats as a sub-category of the traditional model of government bureaucracy, the most important recognised cultural barriers in this study include resistance to change, inappropriate cultural infrastructures, wrong attitude about technology, for instance having a technology-driven approach from civil servant side and negative views for using Internet with distrust to new technology from citizens side, and pessimistic approach of people both inside and outside of public sector regarding the achievement of government plans.

Resources barriers: The identified resources barriers can be classified into two main subcategories — human and financial resources. Major human barriers of e-Government development in research context include lack of IT skilled staff in spite of availability of huge number of young well educated people as a strong point for e-Government development in Iran, lack of hybrid mangers with sufficient specialty in all required areas, and inappropriate use of outsourcing strategy to provide required IT qualified manpower. However, whilst the common perception is that there is no serious problem in terms of financial resources, many respondents believe that budget mismanagement is a more serious problem than insufficient financial resources.

Legal and regulatory barriers: The research results reveal that the concerns related to security, privacy, and regulatory issues in developing countries are entirely different from e-Government leading countries. Since developing countries are still at early stages of their e-Government initiatives, they have not investigated these issues thoroughly. However, the major perceived legislative and regulatory barriers by senior officials include inadequate cyber law measures such as lack of copyright law, e-Signature and e-Payment citizens’ mistrust to new system and technology, government concern about protection of public information which must be exchanged on the web.

technological barriers of e-Government development, many interviewees have explicitly highlighted that the major problem for e-Government development in an Iranian context is not a technological problem. In fact, it can be said that there is a kind of consensus between all IT senior officials involved in e- Government on identifying technological barriers as a secondpriority problems in comparison with organisational and political barriers. Besides, while many senior officials by acknowledging considerable advancement of ICT infrastructures during recent years believe that technological problems are not major issues for developing e-Government and can be resolved in a short period of time, others by admitting aforementioned point state that existing technological infrastructures are not sufficient for e-Government development.

Conclusion

e-Government has been identified as one of the top priorities for governments across the world. Most countries do not want to be left behind the others in this movement. Despite the numerous advantages of e-Government, there are many challenges and concerns that must be taken seriously by governments if they want to exploit the benefits e-Government offers.

The research findings indicated that there is a close relationship among barriers stemming from the traditional model of government bureaucracy as a major barrier with other categories. For instance, policymakers and senior officials who are currently in charge of  policy making are considered as output of the organisational system and bureaucratic model  of government. Also, the influence of lack of seniority system in administration system on  level of political awareness is quite clear. Likewise, there is more and less the same linkage  among bureaucratic model of government and other barriers such as cultural, resources,  legal and regulatory and technological.

The themes that emerged from these findings indicate that e-Government barriers are    clustered around existing traditional bureaucratic system. In fact, the conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that the challenges related to the traditional model of bureaucracy of government, both mindsets — institutional and managerial, are considered as the core of all other barriers, which are building blocks of e-Government in Iran. The results of this research revealed that the quality of existing bureaucratic system in each society is  drastically affecting e-Government process development.

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