Culture change still a big challenge for local e-govt

27 Oct 2004

AMSTERDAM – As more local governments in Europe undertake complex e-government projects that seek to transform underlying operational processes, the biggest problem they face is entrenched managerial resistance, an e-government briefing organised by Cisco Systems in The Netherlands heard yesterday.

Speaking at the event, Nicola Villa, head of local government practice, EMEA within Cisco’s Business Solutions Group, said local governments were realising that simply creating citizens portals and other front-end interaction points with citizens were of limited value and instead were starting to undertake deeper integration of back-end processes in order to yield cost savings and drive up productivity. In doing so, however, they were running into significant internal opposition to change. “Culture is the biggest obstacle facing these change projects,” said Villa. “And the most difficult layer to change is middle management – the heads of department. They ask why do services have to be put online now since they have been providing them successfully for 20 years? Also they know that knowledge is power and they are scared of losing their power base.”

Villa added that while such opposition can impede change projects, the opposition could be successfully dealt with through a combination of initiatives. One route is education: managers can be shown examples of successful e-government implementations that have resulted in middle managers losing neither their budgets nor power and thus allay fears they might have. Incentive schemes are a second tactic: by linking e-government projects to a manager’s annual bonus, for example, managers have an incentive to keep e-government projects on track.

Earlier, Yvon Le Roux, head of public sector, Cisco EMEA, had noted that service effectiveness, public safety issues and economic development were the three factors driving e-government projects at the local level across Europe. He said, however, in their rush to get online, some local governments had created websites without attempting to change underlying business processes. Citing a recent Cisco-sponsored study of governments in Europe, entitled Net Impact 2004 , Le Roux asserted that by transforming processes, governments could boost productivity and reduce costs. He also noted that local authorities, which built websites without changing underlying processes, could see costs rising by as much as 50pc. However, those that took the opposite approach – re-engineered their systems first and then attached a web front-end – achieved cost savings of between 20pc and 30pc.

At the event, Cisco paraded a number of technologies that, it said, together form a secure network infrastructure on which to deliver sophisticated e-government services to citizens and corporate users. These include internet protocol telephony, wireless networks and security systems. The company also unveiled an initiative, called Connected Communities, which suggests how e-government objectives can be met through a combination of networking technologies and improved business processes.

By Brian Skelly