Measuring the Value of Public IT Investments

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In countries in Europe and the Americas, as well as in Asia, governments are latching on to the Public ROI idea.  A recent study by the London-based Economic Intelligence Unit found that of 776 government executives they polled worldwide, some 69 percent expect to measure the financial, social and political returns from IT investment in the next five years.

Across the world and in particular in Asia, government agencies at all levels find themselves facing a common problem: how to justify investment in information technology when faced with tightening budgets, citizens demanding more services and almost universal reluctance to raising taxes? Government IT professionals and chief information officers know – intuitively – that their IT investment ultimately results in improved efficiency and productivity. But how do they prove this to a skeptical populace and elected officials? And is improved efficiency and productivity truly the ultimate goal?

Thankfully, government officials may have an answer. The Center for Technology in Government (CTG), based in Albany, New York, recently released a study that proposes a new method for measuring public return on investment (Public ROI). The goal of the work, which was sponsored by SAP and looked at government agencies in Europe, the Middle East, Canada, and the United States, was to develop a universal, non-proprietary method to help governments track not only the financial return, but also the social and political value of IT investments. They did this by demonstrating a link between technology and its effects on real-life issues and on the lives of the people served by those investments. The results could help justify purchasing IT products and services for government agencies at all levels, in all countries.

The CTG work essentially links what happens with agencies’ IT purchases to related effects on the public. For example, a law-enforcement agency purchases updated computer systems, which require fewer personnel to operate. These officers return to the streets, resulting in lower crime.This, in turn, improves public trust and confidence, bolstering higher esteem and political capital among elected officials. Thus, financial IT investment is directly linked to social and political returns.

Although the new methodology is being developed on the basis of case studies from Europe and the Americas, there are numerous examples of IT investments delivering significant value to citizens here in Asia. From on-line grassroots marketplaces in Thailand and rural internet kiosks in India, to world class citizen portals and shared services centers in Singapore, governments in Asia continue to deliver Public ROI. And lest we forget, the antecedent for one of the fundamental principles in the Public ROI approach was voiced long ago by the King of Bhutan when he coined the term “Gross National Happiness” as a better measure of prosperity than GNP. In the same manner, including the measurement of the social and political value of IT investments is more relevant and revealing than measuring financial and operational returns alone.

Case Study: The Austrian Federal Budgeting and Bookkeeping System

Nowhere is there a greater link between information technology efficiency and citizen benefit than in financial-management systems. These systems are crucial in the flow of revenue into the government, and the flow of expenditures – such as overtax repayments – and services back to the public.

In 1997, the Austrian Federal Budgeting and Bookkeeping System set out to redesign and integrate the electronic workflow of the federal government’s budget and bookkeeping processes.  They did this by implementing a single Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solution throughout the government.  The result?  By 2005, more than 85 bookkeeping units had been consolidated into one federally owned, but privately operated, agency. A new, standardised work process for accounting and budgeting throughout the federal government reduced administrative steps and processing time. As of 2005, this resulted in an annual savings of approximately 30 million.

Beyond the financial returns, however, were more far-reaching accomplishments. The restructuring of the bud-get and bookkeeping system soon became a model for implementing a broader ERP system throughout the entire Austrian government. Its success ultimately sparked a government-wide reorganisation and consolidation, as the entire federal government ultimately adopted a single modern accounting and budget that produced increased efficiencies to Austrian citizens.

Case Study: Service New Brunswick, Canada

Service New Brunswick (SNB) is renowned for its one-stop shopping approach that provides citizens with a single “window” into government services.These include services from Canada’s provincial and municipal government agencies, as well at the Canadian Federal Government, all linked through linking and maintaining geographic information databases. Citizen satisfaction with the Canadian government’s services speaks for itself, rising from approximately 50 percent in the late 1980’s to 92 percent in 2005.

Beyond IT investment, Service New Brunswick evolved from a quasi-governmental organisation into an integrated service provider and economic-development innovator. SNB is now a public corporation with a single shareholder – the entire government of New Brunswick. SNB clearly proved that good public service makes good business.

The Momentum Builds

In other countries in Europe and the Americas, as well as in Asia, governments are latching on to the Public ROI idea. A recent study by the London-based Economic Intelligence Unit found that of 776 government executives they polled worldwide, some 69 percent expect to measure the financial, social and political returns from IT investment in the next five years.  Almost all said they would publish the results of these Public ROI studies.  With government IT budgets under tight constraints – projected to grow only moderately, if at all by 2012 – Public ROI is clear evidence of an idea whose time has come. 

Make Computers Speak Your Language

The book is on operating system customisation for Indian languages, text processing, machine-aided translation, Internet search on Indian languages, URL in Indian languages, desktop publishing in Indian languages, keyboard customisation etc.

The increasing popularisation of computers the world over has encouraged the development of software environments in local languages. The book has nine chapters and starts with the popular way of using computer, and then goes step-by-step to explain how to write text and data in a chosen language. Explanations have been given in simple manner. Many concepts have been provided in Hindi. Other Indian languages have also received their due. Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages have also been touched upon. The book is written for various platforms: Windows 95 to Windows Vista, and also Microsoft Office. It also covers Linux and OpenOffice environments. The book provides extensive examples on how to type all the complex conjuncts/ligatures in Indian languages.  There are over 125 illustrations in the form of hands-on- practical. The book is a must for all government offices, training institutes, educational institutions, desktop publishers, cybercafes and lay people in this age of information technology.

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