Another View: Time to retire the word ‘e-gov’

The concepts that the term “e-government” represents are as strong as ever, but the word itself has outlived its usefulness.

Agencies cite a litany of reasons for their lack of progress in developing digital government initiatives, generally revolving around limited funds, limited staff and limited time. They sometimes say they can’t pursue e-government projects while continuing to do their regular work.

The same concern was raised with the advent of the telephone—t-government. Before the invention of the telephone, citizens would have to write or travel to a government office to transact business. Even after the widespread adoption of the telephone as a business tool, government resisted telephone-enabling government offices.

Managers complained they would not be able to get their work done if their staff had to answer the telephone. They warned against allowing citizens direct access to government workers at the citizens’ convenience.

Such managers focused on the technology and how it would disrupt old processes instead of on the usefulness of the tool and its ability to transform their service delivery capabilities. The result? It was decades before government telephone systems were developed and deployed in the most effective manner. Until they were, service to constituents suffered.

I see a parallel between t-government and e-government.

As long as agency program managers look at the reasons why they cannot do it, instead of the opportunities it enables, e-government will be a target rather than an integral process for mission delivery. As long as the “e” stands for electronic, business managers will consider e-government a technology issue, not a business issue.

Odysseus Marcopolus, former director of e-government for New Jersey, has said that the “e” in e-government ought to stand for expectations because citizens will expect 24-hour service from government. Carrying this thought forward, it strikes me there are many words the “e” can represent:
  • Expectation—meeting the expectations of our citizens

  • Excellent—providing excellent services

  • Exchangeable—breaking down the silos surrounding our agencies, allowing us to exchange information so that citizens receive services as effectively as possible

  • Exemplary—creating a model for how government should serve the public

  • Expeditious—delivering service quickly and efficiently

  • Experiential—enabling citizens to experience government service, perhaps for the first time

  • Expert—leveraging knowledge across agencies so that best practices are made available in all service areas

  • Exploratory—enabling constituents to investigate service availability without having to know what service exists or what office to call

  • Extended—expanding service delivery hours seven days a week, 24 hours a day

  • Extrovert—looking out toward constituents rather than at one’s own navel.

  • Because all of these words begin with “ex,” perhaps it is time to retire the word e-government and replace it with x-government to better represent the transformation possible through not merely electronics, but the kind of imaginative thinking opened up by the possibilities of electronic processes.

    Daniel J. Paolini is the director of data management service for the New Jersey Office of Information Technology. Contact him at daniel.paolini@oit.state.nj.us.

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