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’:
E-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: