Two superpowers grapple with IT issues

Accenture global e-government study

Outsourcing and offshoring. Training, awareness and marketing. These are some issues that chief information officers must address — not only in the United States but also in Japan.

Comparisons are often drawn among the experiences of federal, state and local CIOs, but successes and problems cross the international time line, too, officials said at this year's conference sponsored by the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) in New Orleans.

Japan's 47 prefectures are equivalent to U.S. states. And the similarities don't end there. In 2003, Japanese officials decided to form a national council, the Japan Prefectural Government CIO Forum, modeled after NASCIO. Japan ranks 13th on Accenture's annual global e-government maturity study of 22 countries, released in May. The United States is tied for second with Singapore, trailing only Canada.

NASCIO and the Japanese forum already have close ties, while current and former officials have met and exchanged advice. Prefecture CIOs are moving forward faster than state CIOs on wireless services because of the pervasiveness of Web-enabled wireless devices in Japan, but they are struggling with many similar issues, too.

Officials in the Gifu prefecture, which is often referred to as the Silicon Valley of Japan, launched the second version of their government portal, and the changes they made have already resulted in three times as many visitors as before, said Tanemasa Chiji, senior director of the prefecture's IT policy division.

Both versions of the portal have more than 85,000 pages of information and services, but before, all of those pages were simply pulled together behind a single front page that made it hard for people to quickly find the information or service they needed, Chiji said.

Now, everything is grouped into zones categorized by services and users. That includes sections on citizen life, news topics, prefecture events, promotion and visitor information, and business support.

But as U.S. government officials have found, simply redesigning a portal isn't enough to bring citizens to the site. There must be a marketing plan. Recognizing this, officials in the Gifu prefecture also launched an advertising campaign in magazines and newspapers, Chiji said. They will be introducing TV ads soon.

E-government challenges, however, are not all about reaching out to citizens.

The Tottori prefecture, which is Japan's smallest by population, has long had a semiprivate technology center.

The Tottori Information Center essentially serves as the outsourcing partner for the prefecture's network administration, Web services and other solutions. Center officials also provide contract development support and training, said Hiroshi Morimoto, a senior staff member in the New Public Management Division of Tottori's General Affairs Department.

Since 2002, prefecture officials have received political pressure to outsource services to local companies. They can still award contracts to the center, but they must make the rationale for their decisions public, Morimoto said. n

A world away

Japanese officials established the Japan Prefectural Government CIO Forum in August 2003, modeled after the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in the United States. Since then, prefecture CIOs have encountered issues similar to those of their U.S. counterparts. Among them:

The importance of CIOs at the prefectural level is growing with the increasing use of e-government, and more prefectures are hiring their CIOs and information technology staff from the private sector.

Despite that increased importance, the role and authority of prefecture CIOs are still unclear and vary greatly.

During the past year, many prefectural governments have worked with municipal governments to develop joint systems and online services.

The usage rates for online services — despite the widespread use of desktop computers, laptop PCs, handheld devices and wireless phones — are still low.

Source: Japan Prefectural Government CIO Forum

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