Study: E-gov prone to falter

From rounding up funding to compelling cooperation among agencies, e-government is a tough business -- so tough that more than 60 percent of e-government initiatives fail or fall short of their objectives, according to a study by analysts at Gartner Inc.

E-government often takes more money, planning, leadership and sustained focus than government officials anticipate, and without those key ingredients, e-government initiatives are likely to falter, Gartner analysts concluded.

Perhaps the most difficult impediment for e-government is the structure of traditional government.

Typically, multiple agencies function at different levels of government, each operating according to its own laws and policies. A Gartner survey found that national-level governments average 160 such departments or agencies.

That creates instant problems for e-government, which aims to span multiple agencies and even multiple levels of government, said Judith Carr, vice president and senior program director for Gartner's Executive Programs.

"The governance structures of many governments are not designed to support multidepartment initiatives such as e-government," Carr said. "To complicate matters, some still view them as information technology projects rather than business initiatives. E-government can require new legislation, new procurement processes and new civil service rules -- which are all difficult to change."

"It's critical that governments groom a new generation of endeavor managers to head these complex, expensive and risky initiatives," Carr said in an address to a Gartner symposium April 30.

Even at 60 percent, the number of e-government initiatives that fail or fall short "is not all that bad," said Gartner research director French Caldwell. "Take a look at e-business. Back in 1999, we said that 98 percent of dot-coms would fail -- and they did."

That so many e-government initiatives fall short should not be surprising, Carr said. About 60 percent of traditional government initiatives also fail to fulfill all expectations, she said.

Funding is a frequent stumbling block for e-government initiatives.

"IT-related projects typically require up-front investment long before the benefits start to flow," Carr said. But in times of tight budgets, agency managers are under pressure to keep costs down and pursue projects that yield prompt payoffs.

Beyond that, government funding tends to be doled out year-by-year and agency-by-agency. "Budgeting and accounting cycles and practices are not well geared to funding cross-department, shared resource, multiyear efforts -- which most e-government initiatives are," Carr said.

Lack of adequately skilled personnel is another common problem.

"Traditionally, governments have designed their human resources practices to attract people who like to work in a secure, stable and often less competitive workplace," Carr said. "For e-government, they need people who not only adapt to change quickly, but also drive change."

Nevertheless, 40 percent of e-government initiatives succeed, Carr said. Gartner analysts identified "five imperatives" for e-government successes:

* Maintain focus on the goal.

* Find capable leadership.

* Secure adequate funding.

* Invest in the building blocks.

* Maintain constant pressure for continued progress.

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