The world is moving towards more democratic and open forms of governance. Governments are under increasing pressure to improve managerial performance of their public sectors. Information technology is today undoubtedly playing greater role in providing integration, coordination in public sectors and also in building the interface between the government and its services to the people
THE EMERGENCE OF THE INTERNET and concerns for developments in processing capacity as well as data storage over the 1990s has signifi cantly altered the environment for ICT use across society and governmental institutions and agencies. While the long-term effects of this digital revolution are likely to be profound, the needs for developments have drastically pressurised the public sectors to improve performances, capitalise on external opportunities within the environment and prepare to overcome both internal weaknesses as well as external threats.
Due to differences in ideological perception of individuals, e-Government means different things to different people. According to Stephen Barr, e- Government is “the use of Internet technology and protocols to transform agency effectiveness, effi – ciency, and service quality.” In a different way, Gartner Group describes e-Government as “the continuous optimisation of service delivery, constituency participation and governance by transforming internal and external relationships through technology, the Internet and new media.”
Detlor and Finn defi ne electronic government as “the delivery and administration of government products and services over an information technology infrastructure.” However, electronic government is essentially the use of information and communication technology to promote more effi cient and cost-effective government, facilitate more convenient government services, allow greater public access to information and make government more accountable to its citizens.
ADVENT OF INFORMATION SOCIETY
The advent of Information Society is creating unprecedented conditions for access to, and exploitation of, public sector information and represents a potential turning point in the ways in which societies are governed, administered and public services delivered. In other words, information and communication technologies can be argued to be a driving force and a powerful tool to help achieve the Millennium’s developmental goals. Indeed, the Millennium declaration and its roadmap to globalisation campaigns have called on governments to pursue a strategic management through the knowledge infrastructure, particularly ICTs via a creative partnership. In fact, the mainstream of ICT within planning and design of improving strategies in public sectors is pivotal, both at national local and regional levels of government administrative bodies. Hence, e-Government becomes a particularly important ICT application.
More importantly, the “World Summit on the Information Society”, which took place in Geneva, December 2003, and Tunis, 2005, pointed out the international community’s readiness to improve initiatives that enhance the role of ICT for political, cultural and economic development. The summit specifi cally explored the best practices in new ICT based modes of interaction between government and its citizens. As such, e-Government can be considered a process, or a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. e-Government is still in the earliest stages of development and promises to evolve with advances in technology and increased acceptance and trust in electronic communication.
The conceptual section of this paper provides the basis for structural dimensions of application of e-Government in public administration. Some analysts sought e-government in terms of specifi c course of action to enhance job information. Others have broadly perceived e-Government as automating the delivery of government services to people. In other words, e-Government is seen as a means to enable citizens interact and receive services from the federal government, state and local governments.
On the basis of this different conceptualisation, one can identify three distinctive areas for application of e-Government in public administration. First, e-Government application can be from government-to-government (G2G), second, from government-to-business (G2B), and third, from governmentto- citizens (G2C). Besides, another area may be from government- to-employee (G2E) also. However, the G2E dimension is considered to be a subset or intra-agency activities of the G2G interface. Hence, it is not deemed as a separate entity.
The advent of Information Society iscreating unprecedented conditions for access to, and exploitation of, public sector information and represents a potential turning point in the ways in which societies are governed, administered and public services delivered
G2G dimension application represents the corner stone of e- Government. In fact, Atkinson and Ulevich have argued that federal, state and local governments should enhance their own internal systems and procedures before electronic transactions with both citizens and business communities could be successful.
There are three levels of initiative forces that call for the application G2G dimension of e-Government. First, in relations to laws and government regulations the growing emphasis is on paperwork reduction in order to reduce the information collection efforts and reporting requirements of the federal government as well as to coordination of governmentwide information management activities easier. In addition, the important of computer security requires that the federal agencies need to adopt an information security plans. Second, the interest in improved effi ciency, cost savings by increasing the speed of transactions, reducing the number of personnel necessary to complete a task and improving the consistency of outputs.
Third, according to Sprehe, an attempt to apply ‘best practices’ in public sectors, as in private sectors, make it imperative for G2G electronic initiatives. He contends that state and local governments are often perceived as models for e-Government initiatives due to their role in delivering services to citizens. Most of the policymakers are now advocating for best approach to restructuring G2G relationships. In this context, e-Government is often proposed as solution. A glaring example of G2G application of e-Government is the Northeast Gang Information System (NEGIS) in US. NEGIS is sponsored by Department of Justice and Services as a shared resource for street gang information for states in the northeast such as Rhode Island, Vermont and New York. NEGIS covers information on gang related activities, gang intelligence and ven reference library. Hence, it connects state police departments f the participant states, which in turns, transmit the nformation to the states law enforcement agencies.
Another dimension of e-Government application in public administration is the building of interface between government and business sector of a nation’s economy. According to Gilbert, G2B initiatives receive a signifi cant amount of attention in part because of the high enthusiasm of the business sector and the potential for reducing costs through improved procurement practices and increased competition. This dimension of e-Government can refl ect information about the sale of surplus government goods to the public as well as procurement of goods and services. Although not all are directly dependent on the use of information technology, however, performance-based contracting is a sound electronic method in which the payment that governments made to the contractors can be based on the actual goals and outcomes of the job done.
Another G2B e-method is Share-in-Savings contracts. This is a method in which the contractor pays for the up-front costs of a project such as installation of a new computer system and receives payment passed on the savings generated. The third e-Government application to government-business interface is a reverse auction method that can be conducted over Internet. This method allows companies to openly bidding against each other in real time to win a government contract.
The growing younger citizen demand is one of the driving motives for establishing the G2C dimension by any administrative institutions of government. In fact, e- government application in public administration is expected to increase signifi cantly in Asia within the next decade, as the youths, who are now growing up with personal computers and the Internet as a routine presence in their lives, become adults
There are two primary motives for application of e-Government in building the interface between government and business sector of any country. The fi rst rationale and/or motive is the business community itself, whereby the use of electronic means to carry out various activities like procurement, sales and hiring can become an easy task for state industries. In addition, many companies would like to extend the cost savings realised in their business-to-business (B2B) transactions to their business with federal, state and local governments. The second motive is the growing demand by policymakers for cost cutting and more effi cient procurement. The fact is that the G2B e-Government initiatives is promoted on the potential to streamline and improve the consistency of personnel intensive tasks such as processing license renewals or employee benefi t changes as in the Malaysian government proposal for e-Government.
In practice, one-stop example of G2B e-Government application is Government Services Administration Auctions (GSA) where GSA sells federal surplus property via online Web site to the highest bidders. The items sold to industrial machinery and vehicles range from hand tools to furniture.
The third application of e-Government in public administration is to build interface between government and its citizens. It is a realistic initiative to facilitate citizen interaction with the government. As a public administration that is responsible for the needs of the people, G2C electronic application can provide transactions relating to renewing of licenses and certifi cations, tax-payments, applying for certain benefi ts by the citizens such as government loans or houses in a lesser time consuming and easiness in carrying out. More importantly, this structural dimension strives to enhance citizen access to public information through the use of dissemination tools like web sites and/or kiosks. In other words, it is a dimension purposefully meant to attenuate the agency-centric, and at times, process-laden nature of some government functions towards its citizens. In the same line of argument some e-Government advocates suggest that one of the goals of implementing this dimension should be to create a ‘one-stop shopping’ site where citizens can carry out a variety of tasks, especially those that multiple agencies, without requiring the citizen to initiate contacts with each agency individually.
The growing younger citizen demand is one of the driving motives for establishing this dimension by any administrative institutions of government. In fact, e-Government application in public administration is expected to increase signifi cantly in Asia within the next decade, as the youths, who are now growing up with personal computers and the Internet as a routine presence in their lives, become adults. Another pressing factor for application of e-Government in building G2C interface is time frame. The citizen may demand for ways to reduce time spent standing and queuing up in administrative departments for permits or any kinds of transactions.
One of the overarching benefits of e-Government application in public sectors is improved efficiency. In applying e-Government, the efficiency can take different forms. For example, one form is to reduce errors and improve consistency of outcomes of governmental projects through automating standard tasks. The second form of efficiency improvement is to reduce costs and the many layers of organisational processes (the popular bureaucracy) by streamlining operating procedures through e-applications. Part of efficiency improvement is reduction in time spent on repetitive tasks. According to Breen, this will give the federal, state and local government employees ample opportunity to develop new skills and advance their carriers.
Application of e-Government in public administration provides opportunity and benefit to improve quality and accessibility of services to the citizens. In addition to efficiency enhancement, the quality of services may improve via quicker transactions, accountability and fast/better processes. The evolution of e-Government can also create potential for new services. The potential benefit is to contribute to a qualitative change in how government agencies handle business functions and how citizens interact with government.
Increasing citizen participation in Government activities: One potential benefit of e-Government application is to increase citizen participations in government activities. The citizens in remote areas can easily be connected through establishment of ‘one-stop’ flagship centre to send and receive information more easily from the government agencies and institution bodies. Application of e-Government in public sectors also allows C2C interaction by providing opportunities for people with similar interests, opinions and concerns, who may be geographically separated, to interact and share information affecting their daily lives and the country in general.
Administrative reform and improvement: It is highly believed that no managerial reform can be materialised unless it is supported by ICT to improve effectiveness and efficiency of personnel management, procurements and many other government activities. Landsbergen and Wolken also point out that ICT-enabled reforms can yield many benefits, including lower administrative costs, faster and more accurate response to requests and queries of the citizen, especially after the normal office hours. It will also lead to direct access to transaction or customer accounts held in different parts of government. More so, it provides basis for ability to harvest data from operational systems, thus increasing the quality of feedback to manager and policymakers. However, the benefit can only be materialised if difference offices and people are willing to share information.
BENEFITS OF E-GOVERNMENT: TRENDS IN ASIA PERSPECTIVE
Application of network in government agencies typically supports basic administrative functions relating to payroll and accounts. Adopting such systems can deliver significant benefits such as reduction of information handling costs and compliance costs. The net savings can also be realised from reduced labour costs and speeded up of processing tasks. e-Government application can provide integration of all departments and functions across public sector with one single computer system that can serve the needs of different departments. A living example of network application in government agencies in Asia context is Computer Crime Investigation Department (CCID) established in 2000 by the Republic of Korea Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office. This enables the prosecution of offenses that become more technological tactical in nature easier to deal with.
Application of e-Government in public administration provides opportunity and benefi t to improve quality and accessibility of services to the citizens. In addition to effi ciency enhancement, the quality of services may improve via quicker transactions, accountability and fast/better processes
In Pakistan, ICT systems have been introduced into entire tax department. This has helped reduced contact between tax collectors and taxpayers. According to Parry, effective application of e-Government is the new fi nancial management systems designed for Sri Lanka Government as a way to offer an attractive networking environment. The new systems provide opportunities to the public sector to effectively handle different fi nancial managements such as treasury cash management, human resources management relating payroll and records management within a one-stop computer system. Initially, the systems used to be a client-based, but the latest versions are increasingly Internet-based that allows information to be accessed independently by anyone.
Application of network in government agencies typically supports basic administrative functions relating to payroll and accounts. Adopting such systems can deliver signifi cant benefi ts such as reduction of information handling costs and compliance costs. The net savings can also be realised from reduced labour costs and speeded up of processing tasks
In relation to inter-organisation benefits, e-Government application in public sector provides opportunities to manage workflow. Workflow refers to the ability to move images, files and documents from one workstation to another. This may include authorisation, data entry, and data editing. Hence, transaction procedures that used to be accomplished by moving papers can now be electronically managed. This helps solve the problem of delay often associated with paper hardcopy documents and manual processing. The workflow systems also entail claims processing and management, bid and proposal routine, and tracking.
e-Government also helps in handling people complaints, grant and scholarship award, as well as human resource recruitments and/or hiring. A glaring example is the National Tax Service Unit in the Republic of Korea. The unit has recently introduced a Tax Integrated System through a computerised system that accumulates tax-related information. This makes discriminative selection of taxpayers to be audited by tax offi cials reduced to some extent. Hence, a manual assessment of about 5 million cases on a yearly basis has been replaced by computer-assisted assessment. Thus, it closes all unnecessary face-to-face meetings between tax officials and taxpayers and helps eliminated unfair influences of tax oficials in selecting taxpayers for audit.
Enhancing Government-Citizen interface
One of the potential benefits of e-Government application in public sector is enhancement of government-citizen interface through effective communication. In other words, e-Government has been used to resolve the problem of communication gap between citizens and governments in Asia. In Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Computer-aided Administration of Registration Department (CARD) is a good example of a successful e-Government application to enhance the interface between government and citizens. According to World Bank report, about 214 registration offices have completely computerised in Andhra Pradesh since 1998. This facilitates deeds registration in less than an hour, while services like issue of encumbrance certificates and valuation certificates can be accomplished in just about 15 minutes. Thus, it brings the opaqueness of property valuation that used to force citizens to hire middlemen to an end. More importantly, the time frame always consumed by manual copying of documents and storage in paper forms have been replaced by computeraided system. In Hong Kong, an estimated 65% of amenable government services delivery to citizen is available online.
Enhancing G2B transactions: Electronic government applications in public sector have supported the development of flexible and convenience ways for people to conduct business with government. In Asia, for example, the Philippines Custom Bureau has developed systems for custom payments, processing of clearance documents and releasing of shipments from custom control. The benefit is sought to minimise the chance of fraud and corruption that always arise from contact between business people, officials and messengers. In addition, the Korea Republic Procurement service has developed an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to make the purchase of commodities and all accounting transactions be easily executed. Thus, cyber shopping is available for the procurement of office supplies, cultural products and cycled goods as well. In fact, the computerisation of contract data and the use of automation to supply procurements are also underway. This is aimed at reducing opportunities for officers to contact customers for illegal objectives.
Disparities in computer access: The disparities in computer access or the so-called digital divide is a potential challenge for e-Government applications in public sector. It serves as a potential barrier because the poor and lower income groups who do not have access to the Internet will be unable to benefit from online services provided by government. Hence, the inability of government to provide online service to all citizens may cause obstacles in the usage of various e-government applications. Although, it is beyond a reasonable doubt that in Asia region a growing number of people have access to the Internet, however, there are still large numbers of people who do not. In addition, advocates for the disabled argue that computer can present new obstacles for citizens, ranging from the blind to physically impaired, who may require a very costly hardware or software (i.e., oral controls) for their computers to be able to access online information and services of the public sectors.
Privacy issue poses a big challenge to application of e-Government in managerial activities of public sector. Citizens are unlikely to use e-Government services without a solid guarantee of their privacy protection. Various concerns about the issue of “cookies”, information sharing between agencies and the disclosure of citizens’ private information have become subjects of debate in society. rivacy issue in e-Government is a crucial challenge that needs to be addressed for successful application even in the developed countries including USA, what to say about Asia’s developing countries. For example, in June 2000, it was reported that the National Drug Control Policy Office was using ‘cookies’ to track the Internet movement of visitors to its site. Such breach of privacy jeopardises the citizens’ trust in government websites and web-based services provided. In the context of Asia, one may argue that addressing the issue of privacy challenge to e-Government application would require both technical and careful policy responses.
Computer security challenge: Computer security is another underpinning challenge for e-Government application in public sector. This challenge is not only in Asia region but also throughout the globe. For example, in a series of evaluations published since July 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) in US has repeatedly alerted that the largest federal agencies “were not adequately protecting critical federal operations and assets from computer-based attacks.” In the same line of argument, another report in year 2001 by GAO has identified six crucial areas of weakness in application of e-Government. These include security program management, access controls, software development and change controls, segregation of duties, operating systems control and service continuity. In other words, it can be inferred from such alert that effective service continuity in e-Government application in public sector is not only for availability of services delivery, but also to build citizens’ confidence and/or trust in government institutions or agencies.
It is a common belief that the application of e-Government in public sector will reduce opportunities for corruption, but the reality is more complex. While ICT does sometimes facilitate ways to combat corruption in the administration of public sector, it can also provide new avenues for corruption opportunities. It can provide new sources of corrupt income, especially for ICT professionals and removing opportunities from those without ICT skills. In addition, it should be admitted by Asia and global governments that computerisation of records often closes down access to some administrative staff members but opens up access to others who operate the ICT systems in e-Government.
One may argue that with application of e-Government in public sector, corruption may increase or decrease depending on the relative integrity of the staff members. In other words, data quality and the myth of computer omnipotence have made many government agency leaders to believe that ICT totally removes opportunities for corruption. Thus, they fail to institute controls on computerised systems used for service delivery to public masses. Yes, ICT advances, like other technological changes, can improve the productivity potential and services delivery of public sector to the people, however, Olson points out that only the top management of e-Government knows the actual productivity and services improvement obtained. Hence, it is in the collective interest of the managers of public assets that their superiors underestimate service potential of the ICT advances. In such cases, agencies may receive more resources than they need, which can in turn be used to increase the income or leisure of staff or management. This form of corruption was widely practiced in centrally planned economies.
EFFORTS TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES
Ensuring a common vision
A common vision is an integral part of a successful e-Government implementation in administration of public sector. Common vision is essential to e-Government as a means to manage and coordinate agency activities. A common vision is not a goal in itself, but a means to achieve the desired e-Government objectives. A government-wide vision helps to tie e-Government initiatives, in any country, with broader strategic reform objectives. It can promote inter-ministerial coordination, ensure balance and fairness, and even help to stay the course of actions in service delivery to people forever. Having a clear vision of reforming public sector through application of e-Government helps maintain consistency and a sense of purpose. Towards this end, political leaders and government agency administrators are key supporters of e-Government vision. Political leadership serves to diffuse the vision and give it added weight. While a clear vision statement is needed, however, it is not enough. The vision rationale and the validation for better change in public sector also need to be communicated throughout the government administrations that are implementing e-Government.
Need for effective coordination
The nature of e-Government requires a level of cooperative action to ensure interoperability, avoid duplication, ensure coherent action in a range of crucial areas, such as security, privacy protection, and to provide the framework and capacity for adequate service delivery to people in public sector. The need for coordination among government agencies becomes more pressing as Asian governments increasingly move to implement more complex transaction services. There is a central dilemma for e-Government success. A generic problem is how agencies’ responsibility for effective results and autonomous operation can be retained while at the same time ensuring the interests of government administration at large in question pertaining to interoperable systems and shared use of information resources. While this refl ects a broader issue for government on question of coordination versus devolved management responsibility if e-Government is to succeed, it is crucial to get the balance right.
Lack of proper coordination may jeopardise innovation and initiatives, even leading to forgone opportunities in e- Government application. However, an effective coordination approach can generate effi ciencies, reduce risk and facilitate a faster and broader rollout of e-Government initiatives. In addition, whole government structures can play an important role in steering e-Government applications by providing a framework for collaboration across agencies and by keeping e-Government activity aligned on broader public administration agendas. Approach that can be adopted may include setting up committee of agency heads and chief information offi cers. Their roles may range from purely advisory and information sharing to policy development and implementation oversight. Also, the involvement of non-government representatives from industries, academia and civil society organizations are crucial.
A common vision is an integral part of a successful e-Government implementation in administration of public sector. Common vision is essential to e-Government as a means to manage and coordinate agency activities. A common vision is not a goal in itself, but a means to achieve the desired e-Government objectives
Need for Public-Private Partnership
It is obvious that engagement with private sector suppliers has been an integral feature of government use of ICT in public sector. Hence, private-public relationships have broadened from the acquisition of products and service such as computer mainframe, which governments themselves could not provide, to services such as the operation of computing facilities and direct provision to end users of government services. Partnership may involve arrangements whereby work, risk and rewards are shared. However, accountability, scrutiny and proper audit are requirements that need to be sound foundation of such relationship. Retaining the public administration’s capacity to manage the relationship with the private partner is of crucial concern. Therefore, managerial awareness and commitment is essential to ensure that the required skills are developed and maintained in public sector. Respect for accepted privacy principles: The moral challenge facing e-Government implementers in public sector is to respect accepted privacy principles while allowing the benefits of e-Government to flow to citizens. This balance is of particular importance when considering service delivery involving data sharing among agencies and government institution bodies. Government has a responsibility to provide leadership in developing a culture of privacy protection and security. This leadership role must be provided right from development of public policy, as owner and operator of systems and networks, and as a user of such systems and networks themselves. As a user of information systems and networks, government shares a role with business, other organisations and individuals for ensuring secure use of the systems.
Need for appropriate legislations
The success of e-Government application in public administration is highly dependent on government’s role in ensuring a proper legal framework for the operation. The application and uptake of e-Government services and processes will remain minimal without a legal equivalence between digital and paper processes. For example, the legal recognition of digital signatures is necessary if they are to be used in e-Government for the submission of electronic forms containing sensitive personal or financial information.
Additionally, complexity of regulations and requirements on agencies can be another barrier. If agencies are unable to determine what is required of them, they may be unwilling to invest in a project that may not conform with requirements. Also, privacy and security concerns need to be addressed through appropriate legislation and regulations before e-Government initiatives can advance in Asia and other part of the world. Hence, it would be a relevant value to regularly undertake a review of the overall regulations and requirements that govern e-Government application in public sector particularly, those that govern ICT acquisitions and uses. Identifying these areas would help reveal where redundant or overlapping regulations existed. An agreed process of regular examination would provide an opportunity to get rid of requirements that have outlived their usefulness.
Need for harmonising technical framework and infrastructure: Today, governments continue to make considerable ICT investments and at any point in time will have a wide range in place. All these investments need to be well harmonised. Harmonisation is a particular element in e-Government application as ineffectiveness of strategies may be in part due to failures to harmonise systems and standards. For example, investment of legacy systems can be inflexible and incompatible, which make it hard to deploy new applications that involve the need for data sharing or other interaction between disparate systems. In fact, the difficulty of integrating legacy systems with new initiatives can be a major barrier to the success of e-Government application.
Establishing common technical standards and infrastructure can pave way for greater efficiency within government agencies. In addition, shared infrastructure for authentication of key customer groups can facilitate individual agency initiatives that would otherwise lack a business function requirement. Therefore, the promotion of ‘whole-of-government’ framework, standards and data definitions by e-Government coordinators will further facilitate proposal to develop across agency-integrated services.
Need for effective monitoring and evaluation: It is of great importance to monitor and evaluate e-Government application in public administration to understand demand, assess the benefits to users from time to time and evaluate the effectiveness of proposed approaches in meeting their objectives. In fact, evaluation is needed to argue the case for new projects and expenditure; to justify continuing with initiatives; to allocate additional ICT funds; to assess progress towards program goals and to understand impact of e-Government activities. Therefore, in an era of increasingly tight public spending, governments need to show concrete benefits of ICT investments in order to gain and maintain political support of the people whom the program is deemed for.
It is quite understandable that monitoring and evaluation of e-Government is generally difficult. For example, given the frequent lack of clarity of objectives owing to the different and often competing views held by different stakeholders. More importantly, overlapping initiatives and policies of continuous fi ne-tuning of initiatives complicate the efforts of monitoring and/or evaluation. This, in part, may be due to the pervasive nature of ICTs, the integration of ICT goals with policy goals and the organisational changes that necessarily accompany e-Government initiatives. Hence, effective evaluation requires good metrics and devices.
To overcome these problems, a successful e-Government evaluation effort would need to address various issues. These include a framework for assessment must be prepared prior to initiation; e-government indicators should be designed to reflect program goals; results need to be available to decision makers at the right time; evaluation process should be unbiased and independent; evaluation should be based on a mixture of qualitative and quantitative indicators; direct and indirect costs-benefits must be taken into account; and e-Government application should be repeatedly evaluated from time to time.
The paper has shown that e-government application in public sector provides interactive access of people to social services, employment assistance, tax and revenue services, corporate registration, licenses and permits renewals are possible through a common entry point and shared portal services provide by government agencies. Therefore, it is an effective means of building the interface between G2G, G2B and G2C. In addition, it helps generate efficiency, improve administrative reforms and improve services delivery of government agencies to people at large. So, by improving connectivity between employees and departments, and with citizens and business, e-Government application in public administration offers more convenient government services and greater public access to information. This ultimately creates an administration that is more accountable to those who vote it power. Several factors are driving the application of e-Government in various government entities in Asia and elsewhere in the world. These include technology development such as growing of computing power and telecommunications bandwidth and business investment in adoption of technology and competitive pressures. The promised benefits of e-Government do not take place simply by digitising information and placing it online by government agencies. Instead, the challenge is to understand how the use of new ICT tools in public administration can be used to leverage a transformation in the culture and structure of government institutional bodies or agencies in order to provide better services to citizens