BFM2013_4_03_Why e-government

If technology is just an enabling factor, then something else should be a motivation, and that something else is quite simple: cost.

Since Industrial Revolution, the cost of government has increased, also because, in our complex society, services that centuries ago were carried out by each one independently, are now part of what we expect to be part of the environment.

Yes, governments talk about the benefits, added value, etc., but in the end the truth is: the level of government services that we have become used to in Western Europe since WWII is economically unsustainable if delivered by XIX century processes.

If you were to try to deliver business services in former-COMECON countries in mid-90s, when they were defined “Transitional Economies”, you would have had a feeling of what would happen in industrialized countries if the fabric and structure of society were to disappear: just moving your product from your warehouse to the distributing centre would have required bartering and bribing.

Your writer remembers in mid-90s being told in a former Soviet Union country by a local business man that he had to keep two sets of accounting books, as the taxes had reached an unaffordable… 18% on revenue (including payroll, etc.); the bribes required to have somebody turn a “blind eye” were cheaper than that, and anyway “payments” were due for each step of the supply chain, to the a weak “rule of law”.

Wealth distribution meant that almost any job in Western Europe was paid at a level enabling salaried employees to obtain living standards that just two centuries ago would have been unaffordable to more than 90% of the population.

This meant that also the maintenance cost of our industrialized countries started to increase.

Added up to the cost of providing health and retiring benefits to an increasingly ageing population, governments had to explore new ways to reduce costs.

At the same time, the increased level of schooling implies that citizens are unwilling to see a reduction in services, however it is masked, and after different experiments with privatization, some successful, some not, technology is now perceived as an enabling factor, with at least these benefits:

  • reducing costs
  • streamlining government processes
  • increasing transparency, to improve the capabilities of the authorities to monitor and help economic development (and reduce the risk of corruption)
  • getting the authorities closer to citizens
  • potentially improving the communication between States and citizens (a two-ways communication channel).