July 11, 2010

Fast, Lean, and Agile - How GCC Governments Can Make the Most of ICT Investments

In recent years, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC have invested significantly to modernise the ways in which they deliver government services to their citizens. To successfully implement such initiatives, they have taken steps to improve their information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, a critical element of knowledge-based economies and sustainable growth. A number of regional governments have gone further and formalised large-scale collaborative e-government transformation programmes, with marked success.

However, GCC governments still face key challenges as they strive to increase ICT adoption and effectiveness—a problem rooted in the lack of key enabling resources, inadequate infrastructure, and, at times, transient funding and oversight, according to a new study by Booz & Company.


The ERU Framework

Booz & Company has developed a comprehensive framework that details the critical dimensions that must be addressed in order to bring about lasting change in the public sector through ICT: environment, readiness, and usage, or ERU. The environment dimension involves the conduciveness of the regulatory and ICT environments to delivering e-government services. The readiness dimension focuses on governments’ ability to capitalise on opportunities created by an e-government programme, particularly in terms of common or shared resources or platforms. And the usage dimension is concerned with determining what government services will be offered. Together, these constitute the ERU framework.

“A robust e-government agenda should properly cover all three dimensions by defining the services the government wants to offer in order to drive improvements in the supporting environment and readiness factors,” said Ramez Shehadi, a partner a Booz & Company. Because those services are generally defined or known, most government technology transformation projects prioritise the environment and readiness dimensions, which are considered foundational to improving the accessibility, cost, efficiency, convenience, and customisation of government services.


Addressing the Environment Dimension

Today, GCC countries are constrained by a number of issues that are restricting access to government services, increasing the costs of service delivery, reducing citizens’ satisfaction, and stifling modernisation efforts. To overcome these challenges, governments should develop comprehensive, well-funded, multi-year programme plans aimed at ensuring the four environment factors are properly addressed:


Establishing Political Leadership

Today, GCC governments are increasingly attuned to the potential of information and communications technology to deliver services more efficiently. “Within the past five years, the vast majority of governments have created dedicated centralised entities to oversee ICT investments across multiple government agencies. This kind of high-level political sponsorship, which is essential for the success of any ICT modernisation programme, needs to be further developed,” explained Raymond Khoury, a principal at Booz & Company. Central ICT entities should be supported by a clear mandate that is aligned with the country’s aspirations and vision, and driven by a highly visible champion. Such entities should be empowered to resolve any ambiguities or conflicts that arise, and to set a shared agenda across government agencies. They should also be authorised to secure the necessary human and financial resources to support the various initiatives for which they are tasked.


Strengthening the Regulatory Environment

Many countries in the GCC region have established a basic legal and regulatory foundation to facilitate ICT adoption in the private and public sectors. One area in need of regulatory attention is the underutilisation of encryption and other advanced security mechanisms needed to gain the public’s trust in ICT-based services. As governments move toward ICT-based transactional services, users must be confident that their transactions are legal, and that their sensitive information will not be compromised or misappropriated.

“Government agencies also need clear guidelines and standards to enable them to collaborate and exchange information in a secure networked environment,” said Jad Bitar, a principal at Booz & Company. In the absence of such regulations, government agencies are not motivated to collaborate internally or share information with other agencies. In addition, the lack of a clear regulatory framework for establishing confidentiality and access to information rights is resulting in lower PC and Internet adoption rates than in developed countries.


Encouraging Government Collaboration

Promoting a collaborative culture between government agencies should be a critical part of a government’s ICT strategy. Regulations and implementation policies for intra-government data sharing can have a major impact on the way government agencies operate and collectively fulfill services for constituents. Governments can also promote productive collaboration and trust among ICT department heads and civil service officials through regular exchange forums like a CIO council, communities of practice, and frequent training and communication efforts. Once this trust is in place, officials can work to ensure the alignment of objectives and strategies across agencies.

Standardising ICT tools and processes can also support productive collaboration. Typical processes that can be standardised across agencies include performance metrics and systems, structured ICT budgeting mechanisms, and even common ICT infrastructure and services such as broadband networks, data centres, and contact centres. “Developing and deploying government interoperability frameworks makes it easier to integrate different ICT platforms and exchange data within and between government agencies, as well as between government and businesses,” noted Shehadi.


Improving the ICT Environment

From the perspective of demand, enhancing ICT and Internet penetration and usage among citizens, businesses, and government agencies is essential to making the most of e-government services. Governments should encourage access to broadband for all residents by driving down costs through improved competition, providing subsidies for specific institutions such as schools, and engaging in public information and awareness campaigns. Another option would be to embrace mobile delivery platforms, as mobile penetration in the GCC is very high.


Improving the Readiness Dimension

“In tandem with developing environment enablers, GCC governments must also ensure that key resources are at hand to help execute their transformation strategies,” Khoury said. Governments across the GCC face tough challenges in building and sustaining their ICT capabilities, largely because of a shortage of skilled employees and the processes needed to plan and manage ICT services, as well as a lack of coordination when it comes to making ICT investments.


Growing People

To compete on the global stage, GCC governments must improve their ICT services’ quality and efficiency. Government agencies should first clearly document their ICT needs and identify the skills and expertise necessary to support ICT planning and management functions. Agencies should then develop a compensation structure to successfully attract and retain talented individuals with the required skills and expertise. Finally, agencies should develop structured training programmes along a comprehensive competency framework. The framework should outline the range of knowledge, capabilities, and technical expertise required to fulfill specific roles.


Standardizing Processes

Developing and documenting processes for planning, managing, operating, and delivering ICT services is essential to ensure the effectiveness of ICT, as well as the predictability of outcomes. Although governments have been much better at developing key performance indicators (KPIs) and ICT policies that are defined and broadly deployed, formal reporting mechanisms for ICT performance measurements do not exist. In addition, policy auditing rules are not proactively enforced to ensure compliance.

“To enhance the effectiveness of ICT investments and programmes, ICT departments within government agencies should adopt best-in-class ICT processes and develop capabilities, especially around ICT planning and management, which are fundamentally lacking in the region,” commented Bitar. Processes should be well defined and documented, and aligned when possible with recognised standards to ensure predictability and promote standardisation across government agencies. Monitoring mechanisms should also be put in place to measure deviations, so that corrective steps can be taken.


Enabling Technology

GCC governments would increase their ICT effectiveness and reliability by taking an enterprise view of their technology systems and consolidating infrastructure and applications as much as possible as a stepping stone towards adopting a shared-services model. To enable such an endeavour, governments need to engage in a proper ICT enterprise architecture design effort that results in a government-wide blueprint. To enhance their security measures, governments across the region need to devise holistic government-wide security strategies that establish steps to prevent security breaches, protect sensitive data, and react swiftly when data or systems are compromised. As business continuity plans are an essential part of this effort, they should be harmonised across all government agencies.


Strengthening Governance

ICT departments need to become more involved in their agency’s strategy development process. “Without collaboration between ICT and other departments, ICT is relegated to a reactive role, forced to respond to problems that have already arisen, rather than being able to take a proactive role to keep such problems from arising in the first place,” said Shehadi.

Internally, ICT organisations should focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations and key technology components. This requires the establishment and formalisation of KPIs along with monitoring mechanisms to mitigate problematic performance issues. Effective governance structures should be oriented to facilitate communication between government agencies and their respective ICT departments. Often, a steering committee comprising senior managers from the agency and the ICT department can effectively coordinate projects and align the agency’s needs with the abilities of the ICT department. These committees can also help ICT managers gain a larger role in developing broader agency strategy.


Conclusion

CIOs and other ICT leaders should redirect their efforts to tackle the challenges enumerated above, develop focused strategies to support environment and readiness factors, and put in place comprehensive work plans to strengthen the ICT environment and enhance their internal capabilities. This will establish them as vital strategic partners in the overall transformation process, whose input will be critical in future modernisation efforts. By making these improvements, GCC countries will transform the way in which they deliver services to their citizens.