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E-government: almost everything has been said, much remains to be done

Claude Wiseler
Claude Wiseler
   

By Claude Wiseler, Minister for the Civil Service and Administrative Reform of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union during the first semester of 2005. Among other priorities, it intends to use these six months to drive significant progress on the European e-government agenda. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, it will focus on delivering concrete results that are directly visible for the users, based on strategic principles and objectives already identified and agreed. Claude Wiseler, Minister for the Civil Service and Administrative Reform, presents the key e-government items on the agenda of the Luxembourg presidency.


 

During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Luxembourg will not try to reinvent what has already been done in the field of e-government, be it in terms of overall strategic objectives or of the definition and pursuit of specific targets. Almost everything has already been said on the issue, and a relatively wide consensus exists between European countries on the key e-government principles and priorities.

At national level, Luxembourg has identified a set of strategic objectives for its e-government policy: increasing transparency of public administrations, promoting inclusion and participation, fostering efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector, contributing to the economic competitiveness of the country, advancing towards a knowledge society and conforming to the EU framework in this field. These objectives, like those of other Member States, are in line with the principles of the eEurope Action Plan and of the Lisbon strategy, even if they may be organised or prioritised in a specific way.

On the basis of these objectives, the priority areas for action identified in Luxembourg are also similar to those of most EU countries, namely: the re-organisation of public administrations and the optimisation of public services; the creation and dissemination of public sector content; the exploitation of information and communication technologies; education and training; Internet security and privacy protection; and adaptations and alignments of the legislative framework.

Together with our EU partners, we consider that interoperability between all economic actors is one of the major challenges for enabling further progress in the e-government domain. This interoperability needs to be developed at all levels, to support different electronic information exchanges: horizontal flows within public administrations; cross-organisational flows between different public bodies; system-to-system exchanges between administrations and enterprises; multi-channel access to public services by citizens; and standardised information exchanges between the EU countries.

For e-government at EU level, the objectives are known and most of the ‘building sites’ have already been identified. However, what still seems to be missing is an efficient and structured way of transforming the vision into concrete results that are tangible to users. Several aspects need to be considered to address this issue and try to improve the situation:

  • E-government confronts public administrations with new challenges, and must be understood as part of an overall modernisation agenda.
  • E-government must lead to wide-ranging reorganisation. This will include the suppression of useless administrative procedures, the adaptation of legal provisions where necessary, the simplification of remaining procedures and the optimisation of processes. This re-engineering and streamlining requires new competences that are often not available in sufficient quantities within public administrations. It is thus necessary to define and recruit the new profiles required, while at the same time training existing staff so that it can be operational and efficient in a revised organisational context.
  • E-government is a relatively new area where information about long-term successful experiences is still missing. Too often, we are still at the pilot stage of innovation or research projects. In order to accelerate the pace of deployment of e-services, we need to ‘industrialise’ our methods and re-use, as much as possible, recognised solutions, applied in comparable contexts and easily adaptable to specific needs.
  • E-government remains insufficiently concrete for most people. Despite having clearly identified objectives and precise guidelines, we too often have difficulties moving from theory to practice.
  • E-government requires the implementation of complex and costly infrastructures. To develop these, the conceptual convergence of information systems, as well as a better coordination of resources, is probably the most cost efficient way to success. Unfortunately, this approach is often constrained by the independence and autonomy of existing organisational structures.
  • E-government deployment is often slowed down by insufficient or inexistent interoperability between different legacy information systems and technical infrastructures. We must increase our efforts to make sure that true interoperability is ensured through the use of standards and norms agreed by all stakeholders.
  • E-government has not yet managed to turn into reality the vision of putting the citizen at the heart of all preoccupations of public administrations. In the future, we must do all we can to foster the adoption of a citizen-centred “service provider” mindset and attitude by all bodies meant to answer the demands and needs of taxpayers.

The biggest obstacles in meeting the strategic objectives of e-government are probably the organisational barriers, the well-established traditions and usages, the comfort of sticking to existing work patterns and the fear of change and of the unknown.

Conscious that the impact of e-government will have to increase in order to enable sustainable changes to occur at the level of administrative services, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg will, during its EU presidency, focus on making concrete progress in a spirit of pragmatism, while at the same time trying to favour a holistic and coherent approach in this important area.

Almost everything has already been said, a lot still remains to be done.

 

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Article published in Synergy 01 - January 2005