This article reviews the history of e-Government in Jordan by examining the drivers behind its deployment, what it promised to achieve, and the key strategic problems hindering its transformation.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan took aggressive steps to transform Jordan to an e-Country by launching a number of e-Initiatives from the start of the year 1999, so that e-Government lay at the heart of the government's efforts. Jordan believed that one solution that could be used to develop the country and overcome its limited recourses was to join the global economy and promote sustainable human development by transforming Jordan into an e-Country. This article reviews and summarises the development of Jordan's e-Government programme that have been developed throughout the seven years of its implementation, highlighting key strategy practices that have affected the country's transformation. In this study three main approaches have been used to collect and analyse data; more than 80 government publications related to Jordanian
e-Government have been reviewed and analysed in order to study the progress of the project. 30 government websites have been analysed using stage analysis so that the level of maturity of e-Government could be assessed, as well as website content analysis being analysed to ascertain their usability. This was done using an instrument which contains 34 variables examining six dimensions of government websites. The dimensions are websites online service delivery, helpfulness to the user, ease of navigation, legitimacy, information architecture and accessibility accommodations. Finally qualitative, semi-structured interviews were held with a number of Jordanian public sector officials responsible for the implementation of e-Government. These included employees from the e-Government Programme Office and a number of IT managers who held varying positions in the ministries involved with the e-Government project.
e-Government Project in Jordan:
Project History and Goals: The ICT initiatives in Jordan started with the REACH (REACH as a concept is the sum of abbreviations Regulatory Framework, Enabling Environment (Infrastructure), Advancement Programs, Capital and Finance, Human Resource Development.) initiative lunched in 1999 which was the core ICT programme intended to transform the country to e-Jordan. It promised to play a central role in economical and social improvement of the country. REACH laid out a goal to bolster Jordan's nascent IT sector and maximise its ability to compete in local, regional, and global markets. REACH Initiative set the following targets to be accomplished in Jordan by the year 2004:
US $550 million in annual IT exports.
Creatings 30,000 IT-related jobs
US $150 million cumulative Foreign Direct Investment.
To comply with REACH targets, Jordan undertook major ICT programmes, one of them has been e-Government. e-Government is a national programme initiated by King Abdullah II in September of 2000. The Ministry of Information and Communications Technologies (MoICT), previously known as the Ministry of Post and Communication (the Ministry was renamed in the year 2003) started the e-Government programme towards achieving the e-Government vision in the year 2005. The vision was that e-Government would be a contributor to Jordan's economic and social development by providing access to e-Government services and information to everyone in the Kingdom irrespective of location, economic status, IT ability and education. e-Government represents a major shift in the role of government towards the 'client-focused' delivery of services, rather than government as a collector of information solely for its own purposes.
Project Responsibility: When the Jordanian government started the project deployment, it identified seventeen domains as the major domains for the e-Government initiative. These domains included economics, education and training, health industry etc. These domains were to be used as the foundation for the e-Services that the government would provide for the citizens. All ministries of Jordan were to attempt to automate their services and provide citizens with online services.
Each ministry had to deliver services online using their own approach for this transformation which would, in theory, be guided, supervised, and monitored by the MoICT. Along with the e-Government project, other initiatives are also taking place within individual ministries, cooperating in a variety of cross-ministerial initiatives under the guidance of the MoICT, using information technologies to drive intra-governmental information flow, as well as to develop services. To a lesser extent the MoICT is involved and responsible for the deployment of 'Fast Track Projects' and other main infrastructure and e-Service projects across Jordan. Fast Track Projects are eight projects initiated in the year 2000 intended to serve online all stakeholders of e-Government. The projects that were chosen were high value low risk projects that would deliver services to large segments of the society setting a positive example of e-Government. Along with the e-Government project, various ministries are also involved in supervising and monitoring the major e-Government projects in Jordan; the Ministry of Planning oversees the early selection phase, the Ministry of Administrative Reforms is responsible for the policy formulation and coordination of all reform processes, the Prime Minister's Office develops plans for initiatives whose time scales range within and beyond three years. However, the MoICT is considered the main ministry responsible for the implementation and development of the e-Government project in Jordan; it has been designated as the focal point for co-ordinating the implementation of the e-Government programme.
Project Outputs: e-Government failure can be defined as the inability to achieve the intended goals. Data analysis indicates that Jordan had failed to achieve any major social and economic development from its e-Government project by the year 2007; these findings are in sync with results found by the UN 'Global e-Government Readiness Reports' UNPAN (United Nations Public Administration Network). It classified Jordan within a category of the lowest scoring countries for its website presence indicating a weak e-Government presence.
The MoICT publications and government announcement regarding e-Government indicated that the Jordanian government had not managed to meet most of its e-Government targets. Instead the Government is struggling to achieve transformational outputs from the project. Fast Track Projects have been far from competent in the delivery of services but, in spite of this, advanced levels of service delivery are being scheduled to be achieved in the future.
Success stories have been limited in infrastructure building, telecommunication market reform, and conducted training programs for thousands of public sector employees. Stage analysis indicates that Jordan's e-Government is still in the informative level of service delivery, and website usability analysis applied using the Backer instrument revealed that websites have not been designed to meet with people's expectations and needs; instead websites had a very poor usability design reflecting a lack of understanding of people needs to apply online services.
Main Problems Hindering Jordan's e-Government Transformation
Data gathered and analysed by different methodological approaches revealed different problems at different levels affecting Jordan's transformation at a national level. There have been many significant problems delaying Jordan's transformation such as the lack of infrastructure, the scarcity of funding, absence of a well established e-Society. On an institutional level within government agencies data analysis showed a number of problems which can be categorised in different domains starting from the expected cultural problems such as resistance to change, as well as the lack of coordination, and accountability problems, technical problems related to knowledge management issues, behavioural problems such as the employees' adaptability to the introduction of new working methods. Here the following problems are discussed that are delaying Jordan's e-Transformation.
Lack of an Adaptable Strategy: The Jordanian government did not have a well defined strategy for implementing e-Government; one that responds to the country's and the people's needs and matches their profiles. Even when the government set up 'Fast Track Projects' they were imported from countries who are leading the field in e-Government and then applied to similar Jordanian institutions without understanding what the characteristics are of a Fast Track Project.
Lack of Focus: Jordan has launched several e-Initiatives at the same time; these include REACH, e-Government, e-Learning, and e-Health. This has led to a loss of concentration and focus by the government on any specific initiative in spite of the fact that all the initiatives that have been introduced are completely new both to the Jordanian government and to Jordanian society. Another factor that increases the confusion is the involvement of a number of international donors with little co-ordination, if any, between them.
Sector Existing Structure and Culture of the Public Sctor: The security procedures and the involvement of military based departments makes the re-engineering process by integrating civic and military departments harder due to legal, security and cultural considerations. In addition, the country's hostile geographical location as well as the fact that more than one third of its population is of Palestinian refugees makes integrating civic and military departments difficult to achieve. Within civic public sector agencies especially key ones, there is a sense of resistance to information and databases sharing that would lead to any reduction of institutions power or authority.
Lack of Consistency: One of the major obstacles found was the lack of consistency in ICT plans and policies within Jordanian public sector institutions, which has been caused by the rapid change in the positions of IT managers and employees. It was noted that a number of IT experts did not know where e-Government is heading because there were no short term goals to achieve and rapid change in their objectives.
Ineffectiveness in Promoting
e-Society: Statistics show that during the past six years, the government has failed to connect the vast majority of the Jordanian population online, with official figures indicating that Internet users accounted for only 8% of the total population in the year 2005. The numbers of PC's in Jordan are 4.5 per 100 users. These numbers reflect the reality of the limited existence of a true e-Society within Jordan. Figures for e-Government spending between the years 2004 and 2006 reflect a huge gap between the spending of tens of millions of dollars allocated to e-Services projects in contrast to only tens of thousands of dollars being allocated to projects aimed to promote Internet access and computer ownership between citizens.
Technical Problems and the Lack of IT Expertise: Due to the scarcity of financial and technical recourses, in addition to government agencies resisting change to their systems and working methods, many government agencies are building on existing systems to integrate them. This situation where different existing systems need to be integrated with newly implemented ones make the automation of services a complex process. There is a lack of expertise especially in areas related to IT project management and risk management. Also there are shortages in many technical areas such as system developers, website developers, network experts.
This has led to the Jordanian government in most cases consulting private sector firms for the implementation of e-Government projects. This process makes implementation more expensive.
Central Government Facing Problems in Achieving Requirements: Although MoICT has identified building blocks to successfully implement e-Government, the government is not fully executing most of the recommended enablers. For example, the legal and regulatory framework is identified in Jordan's e-Government strategy, as an important enabler for e-Government transactions and integration. However, the framework has not achieved any significant progress and is not expected to develop over the coming few years because of the lack of funding.
Lack of Monitoring and Testing: Poor government websites in Jordan reflect a lack of monitoring procedure. Many government websites are found in a dire condition, for example a few ministries websites were only in English language, although the main language of Jordan is Arabic. Also the websites have a very poor design and interface, most of their internal links were broken, and information was out of date.
Most governments around the world are deploying e-Government projects in the hope of achieving many promised benefits.
Jordan initiated its e-Government project hoping to achieve social and economic development in what seemed a straight – forward implementable project.
However e-Government proved to be a complicated process that requires significant resources. e-Government in Jordan faces challenges that do not arise from hardware and software issues, but from the nature of existing social and administrative regimes which cannot be easily re-engineered to accommodate the evolving networked digital environment of the state model wished for by e-Government optimists. The development of the systems, networks and infrastructure necessary to make e-Government work, requires the re-alignment not only of the government, but also of the social and cultural frameworks of the country. In order to achieve better e-Government transformation, governments should adopt a realistic transformation strategy reflecting acceptable levels of change attuned to the country's resourses, and executed in stages within an acceptable level of time frames that would respond to both social and cultural changes brought by e-Government.
Developing countries implementing e-Government should consider methods and invest in projects that would boost e-Commerce, and
e-Business activities and develop their e-Society before trying to achieve advanced levels of e-Government.
This will give them the chance to empower their citizens towards being ready for e-Government when it is achieved.