This paper discusses policy implementation in order to explain the development of electronic government policy in the Local Government in Great Britain. In order to do this, the paper firstly provides a brief description of electronic government. This is followed by a discussion of policy implementations and its relevance in local government to e-government, as well as the analysis of the key features and roles of implementation. Finally, the paper discusses British effort to implement e-government at the local level.
E-government is a notion that has revolutionised bureaucracy and the way governments function in the twenty first century. E-Government is an approach dealing with the development of online services such as e-tax. E-government is also responsible for many innovations and improvements in the early years such as e-transportation and e-health. There are clear associations between the goals of the modernisation agenda and that of the electronic government agenda. For example, within an expected national policy for electronic government in England, the term electronic government is currently described as “exploiting the power of information and communications technology to help transform the accessibility, quality and cost-effectiveness of public services, and to help revitalise the relationship between customers and citizens and public bodies who work on their behalf” (Local Government Association 2002:XXX).
3. POLICY IMPLEMENTATION AND ITS RELEVANCE
It has been claimed that the implementation of local e-government is perhaps the most diverse and complex change programme ever undertaken by local government (The Economist 2006). The process touches all public services, from social services to housing and from education to street cleansing, and every single department of local government. As a plan for change, it entails innovations in structures, processes, working practices and corporate cultures. Therefore, it has an effect on everybody who is a part of the local government including elected members, staff, citizens and local businesses. Furthermore, local electronic government is not just a matter for local authorities, as it extends to a wide range of other local agencies. This necessitates the general partnership and successful management.
The transformation from plan to implementation entails the organisation of capital, and current effort in processual studies of change have accentuated on the administration of organisational politics and the implementation of power. Resources not only include money, staff time and technological infrastructure, but also leadership, relevant skills and competencies (McLoughlin & Cornford 2006).
4. KEY FEATURES AND ROLES
The attainment of e-government is of strategic importance for local governments. According to Murray (2005), the key features for implementing electronic government are informatics planning, informatics management, informatics development, customer chain, internal value chain, supply chain and electronic community.
Informatics planning considers information audit and standardisation, process mapping and design, authority strategy and modernisation, informatics strategy, risk assessment and cost–benefit analysis.
Informatics management considers the management matters that are important for the execution of the electronic government agenda, including electronic championing, the form of electronic government organisation and the nature of any benchmarking exercise conducted or planned.
Informatics development reflects on the existence of a clear plan for improvement. It does this by reflection on resource matters and whether an audit of appropriate skills had been performed.
Key enablers for sustaining the customer chain consist of customer relationship management, the state of the citizen WWW site, examination of whether electronic democracy has been considered and what attention has been paid to the provision of the full range of future access mechanisms and channels.
Internal value chain refers to the state of the current information systems. In regards to information systems architecture the apprehension is with the integration and interoperability of information systems as well as the integration with external standards and systems. Considering IT architecture, the significant technology enablers are knowledge management, document management, content management and intranets.
Enablers for the supply chain contain the existence of any extranets, evidence of tale working and plans for the implementation of electronic procurement.
Electronic community pays attention to the degree to which stakeholders have provided advice on electronic service delivery as well as the form of business planning employed and the existence of any form of electronic community strategy.
5. IMPLEMENTATION OF E-GOVERNMENT IN BRITAIN
The current e-government strategy in Britain is based upon e-government targets set in the 1999 Modernising Government White Paper. At the heart of this strategy is the belief that government services should be available continuously and not just during conventional working hours. Consequently, the White Paper established targets that 50 per cent of dealings with the public sector should be capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100 per cent by 2008 (Cabinet Office 1999). These targets were revised by a subsequent strategy statement from the newly created OeE to involve 50 per cent by 2002 and 100 per cent by 2005 (Office of the e-Envoy 2000). The targets are not restricted to central government departments or agencies but cover the entire public sector, including local authorities. Indeed, as the primary location of most day-to-day services, local government is seen as being central to the delivery of the information age strategy. According to Eiffert and Puschel (2004), the number of transactions involved in local government vastly exceeds those of the rest of central government put together.
“Some connection between their electronic government strategy and aspects of their modernisation agenda had been made by most authorities in Britain, however, there was surprisingly little evidence within the statements of the re-engineering of any current processes” (Barry 2004:37). There was little evidence of process mapping and redesign besides the general consideration of process changes required at the customer interface, apart from the general claim that electronic government change is organisational change. British local governments claimed to have an ICT strategy in place, but many acknowledged that it needed updating in the light of electronic government and needed to be more closely aligned with their electronic government strategy (Barry 2004). An initial cost–benefit analysis was also attempted, however a thorough assessment still had to be conducted by the majority of authorities. Financial analyses were also conducted, and findings were that cost savings were unlikely in the short term and cost neutrality was the medium-term goal for their authority. According to Barry (2004), most of the benefits of electronic government were likely to be intangible. Furthermore, the issue was also placed on inadequate resources, needed culture change within authorities and low-uptake of services as priority issues to be addressed.
The council leader and the chief executive have been appointed by a significant proportion of the authorities in Britain as authority electronic champions. However, a variable level of support appeared for the electronic government agenda among elected members. “The general assessment seemed to be that, while a proportion of council members were interested and enthusiastic about electronic government, a substantial proportion of most council’s elected members had yet to be convinced of the case for electronic government” (Barry 2004:38). Specific structures for implementing the electronic agenda have been created, and electronic government officers for overseeing the strategy have been appointed by some governments. Most governments were only in the early stages of benchmarking their electronic service delivery and those that had completed this exercise placed their existing level of electronic service delivery in the lower quartile. Many local governments were re-using existing structures for implementing electronic government.
Most governments in Britain had created development plans that had clearly evolved from their existing informatics infrastructure. Some authorities had aspired to consider more radical and aspirational solutions for the longer term future based on some early piloting of key technologies. Most authorities have also seen adequate resourcing for electronic government as a crucial issue. “Estimates from authorities regarding the investment required for the Welsh region for implementing the electronic local government agenda fully ranged from ?20 million to ?200 million” (Barry, 2004:39). Many of them have been actively looking towards various forms of external funding in order to finance critical components of their electronic government agenda. According to Barry (2004), one important aspect that was poorly addressed in most Implementing Electronic Government statements was the degree to which authorities believed they had the sufficient internal skills base required for implementing the electronic government agenda effectively over the long term.
The Customer Chain
“Most of the planning within authorities in Britain appeared to be devoted to enhancing the customer chain” (Barry 2004:39). There was a need to re-engineer access to government services by using multiple access contact centres which are supported by sophisticated customer relationship management systems. This innovation was seen as particularly difficult for the smaller authorities, and in Wales for example, only one authority appeared to be well advanced in this area. In terms of the Society of Information Technology Manager’s four-point scale of categories (promotional, content, content plus and transactional) most authority WWW sites were currently content. The aspiration amongst most authorities was for fully transactional WWW sites, however only some authorities were using such technologies for facilitating interaction between, for instance, councillor and citizen.
The Internal Value Chain
“In discussions with the authorities it appeared that the enablement of the internal value chain of authorities was at a much more advanced stage than the enablement of the customer and supply chains” (Barry 2004:41). However, there was little description of the state of the back-end infrastructure and the integration and inter-operability of back-end systems in the Implementing Electronic Government statements themselves. There was also little allusion to plans for front-end/back-end systems integration in most authorities. “Most authorities seemed to be using basic technologies such as electronic mail to good effect internally, many had intranets and many had upgraded their internal communications infrastructure. However, the use of technologies such as content, document and knowledge management was variable” (Performance and Innovation Unit 2000). Furthermore, many authorities expressed concern over the increasing costs and unclear benefits of document management systems.
The Supply Chain
Supply chain has been the least enabled theme within British authorities, even though in the private sector, electronic enablement of the supply chain was seen as critical to modernisation. Some authorities were piloting aspects of electronic procurement, but few authorities had a clear strategy in this area. Most also did not appear to be using extranets in any serious way and tele-working was being piloted only by a minority.
The Community Chain
The issue of the electronic community was treated differently amongst the governments. A minority of the governments oriented their entire electronic government strategy around the key idea of partnerships with the community, the community information plan was the electronic government plan in such authorities. “In the majority of the authorities, however, the electronic community was placed as one but not the only issue in their electronic Evaluating electronic local government in the UK 145 government strategy. Most authorities had consulted on electronic service delivery and, as a result, predicted low uptake of such services in the short to medium term” (Barry 2004:44).
Local e-government in England is a hugely complex change programme that takes in almost every aspect of local government and almost everyone involved. The scale of the transformation which is envisaged, and the timescale in which it is expected to be achieved, are both highly ambitious. It is only by understanding this transformation as a both an organisational and socio-technical phenomenon and developing management practices appropriate to the emergent and on-going character of the change required, that many of the goals of e-government are likely to be realised. The effective implementation of e-government requires that the many resource gaps that exist in relation to appropriate leadership, change and project management skills are filled.
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