e-Government -- Can We Trust Our Politicians?
21 August 2000 Edition|
It's the buzz-word of the year 2000 -- "e-Government" - and our own politicians
are as keen as anyone to show how smart they are by dropping it into polite
conversation with only the slightest provocation.
Nobody can doubt the obvious benefits that will come from providing the public
with a more efficient interface with the various mechanisms of government
and the services it provides -- but at what cost?
I'm not talking about issues such as privacy -- I'm talking about dollars and
Governments around the world have shown themselves to be incredibly incompetent
in spending taxpayers money on hi-tech computer systems -- and ours would appear
to be amongst the most adept at squandering the public purse on e-follies.
Does anyone remember INCIS? Just one example of how huge amounts of money can
be wasted by bureaucrats with their fingers in the bottomless pit that is the
And today we see in a story published on Stuff (linked in the headlines section
below) that the IRD's ill-implemented attempt to move part of its operation online
cost each and every taxpayer nearly a dollar -- for a total of $2.5 million just
to buy the digital certificates and supporting hardware involved. And who was
the idiot who chose technology which forced the use of the Microsoft's Windows
platform -- effectively levying an extra cost on all the very happy Apple and
Unix users who had to plonk out money for a WinTel system just to file their
returns? This is what I mean by having no regard for the public purse.
I wonder whether these career bureaucrats would have spent public funds so
readily on such badly analysed, designed and implemented schemes if, like
so many entrepreneurial startups and small businesses, it was money
secured against their own houses and future?
Of course I'm the first to acknowledge that designing and implementing sophisticated
IT systems is a minefield that even seemingly accomplished experts often have
trouble negotiating without picking up the odd piece of shrapnel in the buttocks
(just look at the new Domainz Registry project for an example) --
but when you're dealing with the public purse there should be an even higher
duty of care involved.
What I'd like to know from Government is -- who do they have onboard with a
proven track-record in the conception, design, implementation and operation
of sophisticated online systems?
It worries me that, for whatever reason, we could end up with yet another
major fiasco, at the taxpayer's expense, if the e-Government team is headed
and driven by academics and "experts" who maybe haven't actually been there, done
that, and certainly don't have the tee-shirt. If there's one thing that the
proliferation of "Internet experts" has shown it's that just about anyone
can sound like an expert if they spout enough verbiage -- but only a very few
actually have any kind of track-record in implementing large-scale, sound,
reliable, effective, cost-effective solutions.
Having corresponded with a few individuals involved in online systems within
the Government's many departments I can say that there are obviously some very
bright people working in there -- but even their best efforts can be totally
screwed when you bring in management that can't even spell "Net."
I'm not about to pre-judge the latest e-Government initiatives -- but I'd certainly
like some reassurance that it's not going to become another INCIS or Ir-File.
Certainly the appointment of Brendan Boyle to head up this initiative would
seem to be a good step in the right direction if reports of his successes
elsewhere are to be believed. What do you think?
Time To Lighten Up?
Well it seems that light relief is popular. Thanks to all those who emailed
me to say that they'd love the "Time to Lighten Up" section made into a regular
segment. I'll try to include it every Friday -- so if you have some worthy
sites to suggest, fire them off and I'll take a look.
There's a wealth of good hi-tech ideas in this country and a number of them are being
turned into excellent products or services. Unfortunately for the country,
they are often snapped up by savvy overseas companies just as they start to
show a profit. How good is that for NZ's economy?
Well, I have it on good authority that yet another of NZ's rising stars in the
new economy may well be about to become a foreign entity. Bye-by jobs for Kiwis,
bye-bye overseas earnings, wake up government!
Details will follow soon I hope.
As always, your feedback is welcomed.