Digital Government: Why Gartner is writing nonsense

I read something very worrying today: a post by Andrea DiMaio – a “Vice President and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research”, who argues that “digital government is little else than making e-government work”.

Andrea is so wrong, and apparently ill-informed, that it is difficult to know where to start.  The very DNA of digital government is different from e-government.  If I could perhaps summarise with a table, in which Jerry Fishenden and I encapsulated some of the key differences in our publication for the peer-reviewed Journal of Public Administration, Research and Theory entitled ‘Digital Government, Open Architecture, and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT will Never be the Same Again‘ (please read).  Here Jerry and I explain how e-government (here termed ‘NPM’, or ‘New Public Management’) differs radically from ‘Open Architecture’ – a way of thinking that has since become commonly termed ‘Digital’:

ImageE-government, delivered by a small handful of (largely proprietary) suppliers, involved a calving off of vertically integrated organisational silos, often to be run on an outsourced basis – often, it is true, with the aim of joining things up better.  The £14bn notorious health disaster National Programme for IT is a great example of e-government, and emblematic of the way in which a bankrupted set of technological and organisational ideals had failed to deliver joined-up services, or indeed ‘transformed’ anything very much at all.

In stark contrast, Open architectures, or ‘digital’ principles, explicitly seek to reconstruct tech-enabled public services around platform dynamics, in which open standards enable lots of aggregation of demand – which in turn stimulates investment and innovation by a diverse supplier community.  This requires disaggregation of vertically integrated business models into common components that may be re-used right across government: literally, and over time, a re-architecting of the public service business model itself.  See Mark Foden’s excellent quick video explaining these principles – well worth the look.  See also Jerry’s and my Computer Weekly series, ‘The Great Deverticalisation‘, over the summer.

In the light of this – and the wealth of activity on GDS’ website (how familiar is Mr DiMaio with its pages?), it is very worrying that a ‘distinguished analyst’ within a global benchmarking organisation for whom the UK government was until recently a major account, should be penning opinion that portrays Gartner as so woefully ill-informed.

I would consider myself one of the generation of “new kids on the blocks” to whom Mr DiMaio refers, but was not “still at College or high school during the eGov days”, as he dismissively implies.  We are grown-ups, not kids, and are able clearly to articulate how ‘digital’ is very much more than the cosy benchmarked world inhabited by Gartner – whom, it seems, is struggling to keep up.  Were I running Gartner, I would find Di’Maio’s closing remark – well, frankly embarrassing:

“If digital government is a just a rebranding of e-government and Chief Digital Officers just a front-office focused version of the CIO, I suspect we won’t get much more from digital government than we did from e-government”.

In response, allow me to make my own closing remark by reproducing below a quote from the recently-published Policy Exchange report Remaking Government for the Digital Age:


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3 Responses to Digital Government: Why Gartner is writing nonsense

  1. The point that DiMaio was trying to make was that many or most e-government initiatives had not resulted in desired results. And, that many digital government initiatives are really the old e-government method re-branded. He has a point when you consider some of the hyperbole coming from governments who tout relatively modest on-line initiatives.

    DiMaio is skeptical of the mad rush to open data and open government. My reading is that he believes that governments do not have a good ROI justification for many open data and open gov projects. And, that technology enthusiasts are unable to effectively articulate the value that can be gleaned. He is particularly critical of “government as platform”. Of course, you have to consider the Gartner client demographic and the age and expertise of analysts to understand what’s going on. [Explain new technology using concepts of the old. Explain why it matters. Explain the dangers. Explain methods to deal with it, particularly who the leading vendors are etc.]

    I did add my comments to his entry. What seems completely missing in his entry is that there is something fundamentally different about digital government than e-government. E-government was never about open data to help drive better decisions or about collaborating with citizens. It was very much transaction based where the highest “maturity” was to have a single view of government rather than silos.

    Your view that digital government about open architectures while e-government was proprietary is interesting. It was somewhat difficult to build open solutions in the early days because the standards had not emerged. Standards and open architectures very much enable digital government by breaking down silos. And, some, including myself have made the observation that the notion of transparency and openness in government has very much been associated with open standards and open source. [slides 8 to 12 at It’s much more than an enabling tool, it’s almost a openness “medium is the message” ethic.

  2. Pingback: Digital isn’t E Gov in better clothes | iansthoughts

  3. Pingback: A digitális kormányzat nagyjából egyenlő a működő e-kormányzattal | eGov Hírlevél

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