Ten years ago, commerce was seen as a model for government. In 1993, President Clinton said that the American people are the Federal Government's customers, and Federal departments and agencies should handle requests for information in a customer-friendly way. But now, many people feel that this is not the whole story. Colm Butler, Principal Officer of the Information Society Policy Unit in the Republic of Ireland, says that the emphasis on the citizen as a customer has focused on the rights of individuals, but ignored their responsibilities; and government is less about delivering business services than about improving the quality of life. Government clearly is more than just a distribution channel for social services. If that’s the case, does it mean that it needs special information technology systems to help it to deliver? How different is, or should be, government IT?
The area of government IT that is most obvious to ordinary people is the provision of information and service delivery.
The Internet has revolutionized the way in which governments worldwide communicate what they are doing, or what they want to do. It gives citizens a real, practical ability to know what is going on, and it has the potential – not yet used – of tailoring content to individual needs.
The communication can be two-way. President Clinton – who at election time might have described US citizens as shareholders rather than customers - famously published his e-mail address. At a more detailed policy level, the Internet could enable people to provide input to government decisions as they are being formed: in the US, members of the public can already find, review, and submit comments on various proposed Federal regulations – whether it is introduction of an electronic passport, a new consumer safety standard or the latest hazardous waste program authorization. More and more local authorities and different agencies are starting to use the Internet as well and publicize their plans, solicit input, and provide access to downloadable forms.
Increasingly, this translates also to providing interactive services. Today, many citizens are only a few clicks of a mouse away from renewing their driver’s license and vehicle registration, or filing a tax return.
This area of Government IT is similar in many ways to the IT supporting commercial operations. From computerizing records and making them searchable, to enabling email communication, and interactive services, IT has a key part to play, making both types of organizations more efficient, and enabling them to serve their customers better and faster. The IT requirements are directly comparable, and similar IT systems and web service architectures can be used. Government may have some additional requirements, such as for verifiability and transparency – particularly if electronic voting is brought into play.