eGovernment – Success or Failure

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This paper – eGovernment – Success or Failure – describes why eGovernment projects succeed or fail and what can be done do to prevent failure.

eGovernment projects tend to need substantial tax money funding. To have a dollar well spent, it is required that stakeholders create the right environment. eGovernment projects need to be reality-checked all through the design, implementation and operation. It is essential for the success of eGovernment projects that the design team build profound knowledge of the gaps between reality and desired outcome. These gaps are related to eight dimensions: information, technology, processes, objectives and values, staffing and skills, management systems and structures, other resources, and the outside world. It is necessary to take measures towards closing the gaps as early as possible.

Most countries have engaged into eGovernment initiatives. Where some eGovernment implementations have been successful, others have failed in achieving their objectives, ranging between:

Success: most stakeholder groups attained their major goals and did not experience significant undesirable outcomes.

Partial failure: major goals were not attained or there were significant undesirable outcomes.

Total failure: the initiative was never implemented or was implemented but immediately abandoned.

There is little data available about the rates of success and failure of eGovernment, but according to some studies, 60 to 80% of eGovernment projects fail.

To prevent an eGovernment project failure, we need to understand why they fail.

Every project has gaps between the design and the current state. A key factor to success or failure is the level of difference between the current reality and the model/conception and assumptions built into the project’s design. The larger the gap, the greater the risk of failure. If the gap between design and reality can be reduced, the risk of eGovernment failure can be reduced.

Three archetypes of eGovernment failure are identified that highlight the need for better communication between those who need to use and operate the system, and those who are brought in to design it:

Hard-soft gaps – Most governmental organisations are dominated by ‘soft’ factors – people, politics, emotions and culture. eGovernment systems tend to get designed according to harder notions of machinery, rationality and objectivity thereby missing the soft factor of government services.

Private-public gaps – Many IT systems have been designed in the private sector and shoehorned into a public sector reality which operates very differently. These differences are large and the likelihood of failure is high.

Country context gaps – Infrastructure and mind-sets are very different across the world. A system designed for one country may not suitable for another country

eGovernment Dimension Model or eGDM provides an understanding of the gaps that can exist between design and reality. It is based on five levels and eight identified dimensions.

Information – The formal information maintained by the digital system, like birth certificate, tax calculation, etc. And the informal information used by the people involved with the system, like information communicated verbally to perform a task successfully.

Technology – Mainly focuses on the digital IT but can also cover other information-handling technologies such as paper or analogue telephones.

Processes – The activities undertaken by the relevant stakeholders for whom the eGovernment system operates both information-related processes and broader business processes.

Organisation – Consists of people, processes, politics, emotions and culture.

                 Objectives and values – The Objectives component is often the most important dimension, since it covers issues of self-interest and organizational strategies; the Values component covers culture: what stakeholders feel is the right or wrong way of doing things.

                 Staffing and skills – Covers the number of staff to implement and operate the eGovernment system, and the competencies of those staff members and other users.

                 Management systems and structures – The overall management system required to organize the operation and use of the eGovernment system, plus the way in which stakeholder agencies/groups are structured, both formally and informally.

                 Other resources – The time and money required to implement and operate the eGovernment system.

Outside world – Covers the country’s citizens, politics, laws, socio-cultural environment, and the interactions with other countries.

To uncover those potential risks an eGovernment Risk Assessment is performed by asking a set of questions. These questions are focused on the eight dimensions and are intended to rate the size of the design-reality gap. Assessing whether a gap is ‘significant’ is a matter for discussion, debate and judgement. A rating of zero means that there is no difference between design and reality. A rating of 10 means a radical difference.

An extensive list of Risk Assessment Questions can be found in the Appendix of the paper.

When the risk assessment shows there is a significant overall design-reality gap, action should be taken to close the gap to avoid heading for failure. Assessing whether a gap is ‘significant’ is a matter for discussion, debate and judgement.  Significant gaps do not always mean failure, however it should give cause for concern and strong governance is needed to manage the transition to avoid failure.

Taking action
To close the gap during the course of the project, the management team can either change the design of the eGovernment project to bring it closer to the reality, or adapt the current reality to align it with the design. Transition experts for each dimension are big assets to have in the eGovernment team. Transition experts can be brought into the organisation, but could also be domain experts from within the organisation.

The best techniques to close the gap will depend on which dimension the gap occurs. These should not only be desirable but also feasible.  There is no point considering options that could reduce risks in theory, but cannot be implemented in practice. The paper look at each dimension, the possible reasons for gaps and the actions that can be taken to close the gaps.

Regine Deleu

Author: Regine Deleu

Regine is an Enterprise Strategic Advisor & Lead Enterprise Architect working for the New Zealand Government on the Transformation Mobilisation Programme for All-of-Government. She has more than 20 years working experience spanning Enterprise, Solution and Technical Architecture, Project Management, and Software Engineering. Regine is also a TOGAF Review Board member, and Advisory Board member at the Strategy and Enterprise Architecture Society.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks Regine, for an excellent and comprehensive analysis of why eGovernment projects fail or succeed and how to prevent failure in such initiatives. To me, the eGovernment is the largest business process re-engineering initiative in the history of public sector. The fundamental problem with most of the failed eGovernment initiatives is, not taking the whole-of-government approach. The chance of success of an eGovernment initiative is much higher in the economies that are based on tax money because there is more accountability, transparency and high public expectations.

    • Regine Deleu

      Thanks Ajwad. Yes part of the failures are because there was no All of Government vision. Government agencies who start their own eGovernment project without the cooperation from other agencies then to find out afterwords it does not work.
      Successes are mostly found in countries where there is a long term political vision, support and willingness to change and to move the country into the 21st century. And a will to change some legislation to make it a success.

  2. Fadi Hindi

    Great Post Regine. I relate to your comments and especially the last one. I ran eGovernment programs for 6 years in my career and found that you have two high-level and macro challenges that need to be understood and resolved in order to succeed in the change. The first is an internal change and the second is intra-agency change.

    The competing agendas in both areas get in the way of achieving success with the eGov initiative. If for instance you were able to address and solve the issues within the central eGov agency but did not take into consideration intra-agency collaboration and unifying those agendas you will end up as an island.

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