A ccording to Department of Economic and Social Affairs of United Nations, e-Government, a relatively new phenomenon in the work of public administration the world over, has come with a great development promise but without a blueprint for its deployment. Each year United Nations announces its annual report on e-Government Readiness. Even private organizations and academic institutions such as the Economist magazine and Brown University analyze the global status of e-Government services and readiness. Looking at these statistics, it is relatively easy to compare that which country is better prepared. However, question still remains whether it is indeed fair and accurately reflecting the readiness by comparing advanced economy group such as E.U. and U.S. and developing economy group such as Republic of Congo, for instance, with same measurement standard.
In many cases, developing countries and economies in transition have limited resources but pull out the best resources ever. For instance, there are well-known success stories of India’s e-Government programs, Estonia’s e-Participation program, and Bolivia’ administration modernization project. These successes are accomplished with well-established strategy, political will, and optimized resource management. In a certain sense, these countries deserve a better credit for e-Government readiness, and need to be evaluated under different categories. According to the World Public Sector report by UN, there is no single established way, no “best practice” that would lead to successful e-government. It also points out that their interpretation and application must be invented locally. In another words, critical success factors may be interpreted differently, considering various environment and available resources of each country, specifically in the context of developing countries.
Grouping critical success factors by scale of economy
There are well-known success factors for e-Government services to maximize public value and interest (See Table). However, for many developing countries, some factors are considered as limited resources such as: finance, technology, and infrastructure. For instance, ICT infrastructure is very expansive success factor, and yet is hardly or insufficiently available to developing countries due to financial constraints. But some countries pull out available resources to provide quality services. For instance, there is a cost-effective network access to the public using satellite and/or public switching network for public-valued services such as e-learning, distant-medical diagnosis, and civil services. The service may have a limited bandwidth and the quality of service, but could be considered as the effective mechanism in specific environment and even cost-beneficial. Therefore, required critical success factors for e-Government services and readiness could be various by environment and applied differently by economy, culture, and other indicators.
On the same line, measurement of readiness evaluation could be classified and applied to different groups of economy because advanced nation holds abundant resources already. Each group of economy could be measured with different standards with different critical factors. As table shows, critical success factors are characterized as “cost-effective and/or non-technology driven” and “high cost and/or technology driven”. High cost and technology-driven factors are more or less resource-oriented. Theses factors are critical for the developed group in order to leap to more advanced e-Government services. Cost-effective factors are more or less policy-oriented. Developing countries may give more weightage to these factors to optimize the limited resources and to provide public-valued services.
Table. Some Examples of the Critical Success Factors for e-Government Service and Readiness
Readiness evaluation by customizing critical success factors
There are several processes to consider before applying critical success factors for readiness evaluation. As defined(See Diagram), Readiness Environment Indicators shows which country belongs to which group. The most influential indicator to determine the group is the finance-related such as GDP, budget, and infrastructure. Based on the indicator, countries are grouped together. Critical success factors may be classified and grouped for the specific group of countries defined by Readiness Environment Indicators. Then, the evaluation can be done for each group with different measurement standard. Estonia wouldn’t belong at the group where U.S. is. Also, critical success factor of e-Government services and readiness are different by the evaluation criteria.
Why differentiate the critical success factor for evaluation?
First of all, direct comparison between advanced groups and developing groups doesn’t give out reasonable interpretation and analysis between these groups. Secondly, the blueprint, or we might say “National e-Strategy”, is shaped based upon critical success factors reflecting the target countries’ political priority, financial capability, public culture (probably attitude toward ICT-driven services), and illiteracy rate. Another words, depending upon the critical success factors, the national e-strategy is shaped differently with different targets and objectives.
The World Bank mentioned that e-Government could establish a new way of doing the business of government with a more integrated delivery of information services and processes. The bank also points out that it is too early to look for a macro impact of e-Government initiatives but some evaluations indicate significant micro level impacts in specific agencies, cities, or regions. Based on these claims, it is extremely difficult to establish a blueprint without acknowledging a macro impact. Macro impact may also be measured or predicted based upon the successes of small pilot cases. But, once again, the small pilot case has to be driven out as a part of national ICT master plan or blueprint. Without knowing the macro impact, it would be extremely difficult to draw a blueprint with legitimate pilot projects. In case of advanced nations in the area of e-Government, they could annihilate the risk of failure by putting abundant resources of finance and technology. Majority of developing countries couldn’t afford either failure or financial burdens. It has been observed that many developing countries made an attempt to adopt the e-Government strategy from some of developed countries.
However, as mentioned above, applying e-Government initiative shaped from the environment of developed countries to developing countries are not accepted as much efficient as western observers already predicted, because of risk of failures, financial burdens, or limited availability of technology. Most of all, considering the fact that ICT blueprint actually reflect that specific country’s strategic approach with available resources, it would be even more difficult to adopt a blueprint from advanced nations. In other words, many success factors need to be reconsidered, reexamined or even reshuffled to draw customized strategy and architectural modeling for specific target countries.
The evaluation is a way of analyzing the status and finding the solution for improvement. However, reflecting the actual situation in the country for the evaluation is often underestimated. Classifying the critical success factors could be one of many ways to accurately reflect the performance of developing country. This would lead to national e-strategy more accurately reflected for the specific countries. Evaluation is supposed to help the clients, not discourage them with a bunch of numbers.