Assessment of an E-Government Model: A Case Study

Abstract

The paper considers e-government as the specific phenomenon of the era of information technology development. Case-study method is applied, with the evolution and current state of US e-government system as the example. The research includes both secondary study and empirical research based on expert interview with open questions, with subsequent processing of the results using grounded theory. The results obtained in frames of the research allowed coming to conclusion about high effectiveness of the e-government model implemented in the USA; it represents the highest level of e-government – digital government. Some recommendations for future development of US e-government in turbulent environment are proposed.

Introduction

The development of information technology today is becoming the most important factor in the life of the world community. Its wide distribution transforms modern reality and leads to serious shifts in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. In general, the information society implies the inevitable transformation of political institutions and public administration in the sense of changing functions and in terms of structural progress.

In 2011, at the initiative of the United States and Brazil, an international Open Government Partnership was created to disseminate the principles of administrative professionalism and openness of government to civilian control. As of the end of 2014, this partnership already included 65 countries that have adopted the relevant declaration and national development programs for the “open government” (Ronchi, 2019). According to UN experts, the role of e-government is currently transforming from reporting or providing online services to more active and comfortable provision of services to citizens without institutional and departmental barriers (Santa, MacDonald, and Ferrer, 2019). At the same time, ICT services become more coherent and interconnected, more targeted in relation to the user. This transforms e-government into a “transformational government,” or “T-government” (Mahmood, Nayyar, and Ahmad, 2018; Scholl, 2014).

Studies show that the gradual acquisition of digital maturity can stimulate governments not only to take advantage of more advanced technologies such as Web 2.0 and 3.0, analytics and cloud computing, but also to receive a wide range of potential benefits from the entire civil service, economy, and society (Weerakkody, Irani, Lee, Osman, and Hindi, 2013). The implementation of the program for creating a digital government can help society get four vital socio-economic results (Merhi and Koong, 2016):

  1. Satisfying voters’ requirements.
  2. Involvement of citizens in public administration processes.
  3. Increasing the country’s economic competitiveness on the world stage.
  4. Increasing the productivity of the country’s government.

At the same time, the success of the implemented practices depends on the degree to which they meet the basic values of a particular community. The dynamics of e-government elements’ development is determined by the presence of many subjective factors, including the following: the focus of government policy in the field of ICT and e-government; strong political will, supporting the “customer-centric” service model; the strength of the institutional structure of public administration and public service (Supriyanto and Mustofa, 2016).

Indeed, the main challenge for the government is not to develop an architecture that supports network transactions and interaction between virtual agencies, but to reorganize and restructure the institutional structure of public sector, in which these transactions initially developed and remain to this day. The integration of technological systems in itself cannot yet unite the state and society. A qualitatively new state of the informational society is determined by a change in the nature and form of government (Baum and Mahizhnan, 2014). At the same time, the ongoing introduction of new ICTs will continue to transform its organization. At the same time, the direction of the ongoing changes can and should be regulated.

It seems that a heterogeneous and complex state apparatus that solves tasks of different content cannot be constructed according to one model, but must contain a combination of them. The ongoing empirical search allows one to find specific best practices, but cannot testify to the universality of the principles used in them outside the political, social, and cultural contexts. In this regard, it seems appropriate to evaluate the practical models of e-government. As an example for such an assessment, we chose e-government in the United States.

Research Focus

Today, the trend of large-scale development of society’s relations with governments is very relevant; the latter need not only to find a way to communicate with the public as a whole, but also to gain the ability to treat citizens as individuals. Similarly, the tendency to use analytics to identify the right, most relevant information can turn into a government tool for collecting and processing information that eliminates manual control and improves the quality of decisions (Harrison, Guerrrro, Burke, and Cook, 2011) For example, analytics can be used to identify cases of tax fraud or tax evasion, and social media can help fight crime.

The technology development curve from Gartner reflects the technologies, services, and practices that make up the greatest potential for optimization and transformation of digital government. Gartner, using its technological development curve (Fig. 1), compiled a model of digital government technologies, listing the corresponding technologies (Noman and Hebbar, 2016).

Gartner Technology Development Curve.
Fig. 1. Gartner Technology Development Curve.

Moreover, Gartner is constantly updating its forecasts of technology development. For example, in Fig. 2, the curve for digital government technologies for 2016 is given.

Gartner Technology Curve for Digital Government.
Fig. 2. Gartner Technology Curve for Digital Government, 2016.

Table 1 shows the maturity stages of digital governments from electronic to smart (cognitive).

Table 1. The stages of maturity of digital governments from electronic to smart (cognitive)

Parameters Maturity levels
E-Government Open Gov. Data-Centric Gov. Fully Digital Gov. Smart Gov.
1 2 3 4 5
Initial Developing Defined Managed Optimizing
Value Focus Compliance,
efficiency
Transparency
and openness
Constituent
value
Transformation Sustainability
Channel
Strategy
Portal Government
as a platform
Nongovernment
channels
Truly
multichannel
Automation replaces
portals
Leadership CIO/CTO CDO Departments CIO and
departments
(New) CIO
Technology
Focus
SOA Open data,
open service
Open any data Things
as data
Smart
machines
Sourcing
Strategy
Mixed Re-insourced,
cloud first
Multisourced Partner- sourced Outsourced
Key Metrics % services
on line
% open data Number of data driven services % data from things % decrease of services

It should be noted that bureaucratic institutions do not passively adopt new technologies, but successfully adapt their elements in their own interests and fit into the existing bureaucratic culture. That is, it is important what values, norms, and interests were realized in already existing state institutions. Under the pressure of the business, which is developing new forms of providing services and accustoming citizens to them, a public request arises for similar services from public authorities.

In this case, the electronic state develops “from the bottom up,” in particular, sites of municipal authorities appear earlier than sites of regional authorities (Bwalya and Mutula, 2014). This model is typical of the United States, although the active role played by the federal government in the transition to informatization from the time of President Clinton should not be understated.

The main characteristics of electronic government are determined depending on the political and economic system of a particular country, the political source of the initiative to deploy these projects, the sequence of its activities, the involved economic and social resources, information and communication technologies, etc. It is obvious that when using ICT in the state management, the socio-political, economic, cultural and mental environment, work ethics, legal traditions, moral guidelines and principles affecting the nature of the power-society relationship are taken into account. Our study focuses on identifying the evolution of e-government development in the United States at both conceptual and technological levels, and evaluating the current model for its implementation and functioning.

Research Method

The purpose and objectives of the study, on the one hand, determine the interdisciplinary nature of the work at the junction of political theory, sociology, public and administration implications. The theoretical and methodological basis of the study is due to the specifics of the selected object and subject of study. In this context, the basis of the study is the analysis of political, social, and economic factors that determine the political and institutional strategy for the formation of e-government in the USA. Comprehensive coverage of the research problem became possible through the use of structural-functional and historical analysis.

The empirical method was also used in frames of the study ‑ an interview method with subsequent processing of the results using grounded theory of Corbin and Strauss. The interview questions were open, which corresponds to the positivist philosophy of scientific research, allowing identifying the underlying causes and consequences of the phenomena studied, as well as the relationships between them.

The use of open questions leads to the fact that the interlocutor is in active state, since he can build the answer at his own discretion. As a result, the answers turn out to be more deliberate, since they force one to clearly articulate what may have never been formulated by the respondent before. The respondent is less limited by the framework set by the researcher, and has the ability to use his own spontaneous language to express his thoughts and feelings.

Processing the results by the method of the grounded theory of Corbin and Strauss allows identifying a set of categories that summarize the respondents’ attitude to the phenomenon under consideration, then expanding it to formulate the suggestions and select the following groups (units of analysis) for verification and refinement of the formulated hypotheses. In the process of constructing the theory, the researcher interacts not only with respondents, but also with data; he interprets the data using various levels of analysis. Strategies for constructing the theory are selected depending on the characteristics of understanding the data and evaluating the emerging methods of their analysis.

In general, the creation of a theory is described as a process of generating interpretations: a researcher constructs a theory by engaging in a process of comparative analysis at increasingly more abstract levels (Urquhart, 2012). Research strategies of grounded theory offer the necessary ways to work with data: their search, posing questions to the data, managing them, and conceptualizing them. A researcher working within the framework of a grounded theory approach starts with collecting data and constructing inductive generalizations, but does not stop at inductive logic. In the grounded theory approach, the researcher is included in the abductive process; he constructs theoretical explanations that correspond to the data, and checks them by further accessing the data.

The sample of respondents for conducting an interview as part of our study included 30 experts ‑ 6 political scientists, 15 civil servants, 7 representatives of non-governmental organizations and local community activists, and 2 experts in the field of information technology and e-government solutions. The composition of the sample of respondents, as well as the list of interview questions, was determined by the desire to get the most complete picture of understanding the essence of the e-government concept, attitude to the existing model of e-government in the USA, and assessment of its effectiveness.

Data Analysis

An analysis of the secondary data presented in the studies, as well as an empirical study, made it possible to draw some conclusions about the model of public inquiry for e-government and its implementation. Integral analysis shows that the main features of the model of public demand for e-government in the United States is, first of all, the formation of the need for an e-government from the bottom ‑ from business and civil society.

Also, the focus on the reproduction of technologies and mechanisms developed in the business sphere and the marketing approach to the provision of public services and their evaluation from the point of view of usability are crucial. Finally, the trend of creating social channels of cooperation between citizens and the state lies in the same line with the desire to “unite” government ministries and departments into a “single team,” in which the integration of social technologies in business processes and in technologies that support them can potentially lead to growth of government productivity (effectiveness).

The banking sector, much earlier than the public sector, switched to online banking and digital business, its services have become truly ubiquitous and citizens expect similar solutions that are available anytime and anywhere to support their relationship with the government. According to experts from the World Economic Forum, today a non-hierarchical, dynamic, flexible, and technologically advanced (Flatter, Agile, Streamlined, Technology-enabled, or FAST) government is needed (Waller and Weerakkody, 2016).

Non-hierarchical means involving citizens in management processes by creating special services on social networks, disseminating online discussions and consultations, and openness of data in a convenient format. It means also horizontal cooperation, within and between government bodies, as well as intergovernmental and intersectoral cooperation in decision-making.

Flexibility and dynamism mean a high ability to adapt to changing conditions, and technological equipment requires an appropriate level of technical literacy of officials. In addition to the traditional principles of justice, a system of checks and balances, accountability and the administration of justice, the FAST government also includes administrative efficiency achieved by lowering hierarchy levels, reengineering management processes, and using analytical tools to substantiate decisions (Waller and Weerakkody, 2016).

In general, hopes for improving public administration continue to rest on the introduction of the latest ICTs, for example, the use of mobile devices and their applications (“mobile” government). Other models are also proposed (“network,” “intelligent,” “well-built” government, etc.). At the same time, only the technological platform with which these expectations are associated is basically changing. For example, in recent years, this is due to the development of convergenting and convergent nano-bio-information-cognitive (NBIC) or nano-bio-information-cognitive-social (NBICS) technologies.

The United States was one of the pioneers in the development of e-government ‑ the term itself was first introduced into official use by US Vice President A. Gore. It arose in the context of the reform of public administration in the 1990s, which included improving feedback between the government and society, increasing the efficiency of bureaucratic departments, and wider involvement of the population in political decision-making (Scavo, 2013).

Since the mid-1990s, the Presidential Administration and the United States Congress have made significant efforts to modernize the information and technology policy of the US Government and, ultimately, to create the American e-government (Snead and Wright, 2014). First of all, a general legal framework was created for the development of the information society, taking into account the key role that government agencies should play in this society. In particular, in 1996, The Freedom of Information Act, which provided citizens with access to state information, underwent significant processing, and in 2000 the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act entered into force. It opened up new prospects for the development of electronic commerce and electronic document management.

Measures were also prepared and implemented to modernize the activities of the Government itself in a developing information society. In 1995-1998, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 were adopted (Eggers and Hurst, 2017). These legal acts legislatively ensured the process of creating an effective structure for managing information and information technology processes in state bodies and laid the foundation for the widespread use of modern technologies in the process of communication of government departments with citizens, commercial, and non-profit organizations, and the provision of services prescribed by law to ministries and departments.

The 44th US President Barack Obama at the beginning of his second term in 2012, in one of the problems to be solved during his reign (he ended on January 20, 2017), chose the formation of a digital government in the country. In accordance with the American Strategic Approach, the problem and its solution were described in a number of strategic documents of the President and organizational activities of the OMB administration of his Administration (Snead and Wright, 2014):

  • Brief Memorandum of the President “Build a 21st Century Digital Government,”
  • The strategy of building a 21st century digital government signed by the federal CIO, consisting of the following sections:
    • Strategies
    • Action plan for the implementation of the strategy
    • Expected results of the strategy
    • Digital Services Advisory Group
    • Establishment of US-UK Digital Government Partnership US Digital Service Education
    • Guidelines for managing digital services
    • Toolkit for supporting federal agencies implementing the “Bring your own device to work” (BYOD) programs
    • 21st Century Digital Government Building Blocks
    • A toolkit for access and processing of open government data for use by citizens.

The digital government strategy has been set to achieve three goals (Christiansen and Yüksel, 2017):

  1. To provide US citizens and the ever-increasing contingent of mobile workers access anywhere andanytime and from any device to high-quality digital government information and services.
  2. To ensure, as the government adjusts to the new digital world, the use of capabilities for acquisition and management of devices, applications, and data in smart, safe, and cost-effective ways.
  3. Unleash the power of government data to drive innovation across the country and improve the quality of services for the American people.

The main goal was to provide an opportunity for the public, entrepreneurs, and government programs to better use all the diversity of federal data, which at the time of its creation was open and machine-readable, uploading it to applications and services. The design of the US digital government is described in some detail in a document called Digital Government. Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People (Homeland Security Digital Library, 2012). It appeared on the White House website in May 2012 and does not have a thematic type (concept, project, roadmap, etc.). From the structure of this document, it is quite possible to understand how the US digital government is put into operation in mid-2013, and on what principles it developed and is developing:

  • Separation of data from their representations;
  • Ensuring the existence of open data, content, and web application interfaces (APIs) the default;
  • Making available high-value data through web interfaces (APIs);
  • Providing opportunities for separation (sharing);
  • Establishing a Centre for Innovation in Digital Services and a Group of Advisers;
  • Creating an environment for mobility; establishing an Interagency Office to improve the provision of digital services;
  • Switching to the asset management and supply model of the entire enterprise;
  • Overcoming the complex organization of the state;
  • The provision of improved digital services using modern tools and technologies;
  • Improving priority user services for mobile use;
  • Measuring the quality (performance) and user satisfaction with services to improve their delivery;
  • Gradual promotion of the safe introduction of new technologies;
  • Evaluation and building of secure and confidential processes.

Three layers of digital services of this conceptual model can be distinguished ‑ we systematized them in Table 2 below:

Table 2. Layers of Digital Services in the US E-Government Model.

Layers of Digital Services Users
American people
Civil servants
Representation layer Government Digital Services Private digital services
Platform layer Systems, processes, management and web application interfaces
Information layer Open data and content (information)

* The table is drawn up by the author.

The information layer contains digital information. It includes structured information ( “data” such as census data) plus unstructured information (such as “content” from documents such as newsletters, press releases, or manuals). The platform layer includes all the systems and processes used to manage the information just defined above. Examples include content management systems, processes such as web APIs and application development, services that support mission-critical IT functions, such as human resources or financial management, and equipment used to access information (e.g. mobile devices).

The presentation layer determines how information (data or content in digital form) is organized and transmitted between users and the public and private sectors, whether through websites, mobile applications, or other means of delivery.

These three layers separate the creation of information from its presentation, which allows creating content and data once, and then using them in different ways. In fact, this new model is a fundamental shift from the old model, in which the US government provided services during the pre-digital period of the development of e-government (until mid-2013).

In order to guarantee the Americans easy access to the public services they need, a Digital Analytics Program has been launched covering all federal government websites. As a result, developers of federal systems got an idea of what information the public is looking for, where it is looking for, and if it is successful in search. Federal websites were also optimized for mobile devices and mobile applications, which made public services available to citizens anywhere, anytime, and from any device.

For example, the new USAJobs application from the Human Resources Department makes it easier for people searching for work using mobile devices to find it, while the SaferBus application from the Department of Transportation allows users to access security information for a bus company from their mobile devices or file a complaint on it. These are just two of the many mobile products that are created as part of the US Digital Government Strategy.

It should also be noted that, throughout all efforts to transform e-government into digital government, ensuring cybersecurity and protecting privacy has come first. Since the mobile devices and wireless networks used by federal government departments have unique security concerns, three relevant security standards were first developed and published. Standards help agencies select and share appropriate security solutions.

During an empirical study, when processing the results of expert interviews using methods of grounded theory, we identified the following categories: accessibility, democracy, efficiency, openness, transparency, integration, analytics, cooperation, synergy. Experts unanimously noted that the implementation and functioning of the e-government system in the United States ensured the comprehensive reengineering of the public services mechanism, the provision of all mass and socially significant services completely in electronic form, increasing client focus, open access to data necessary for interaction with the state, and increasing confidence of citizens to government at all levels.

Respondents also noted the implementation of orientation on the interests and needs of applicants in various life and business situations, as well as increasing the responsibility and accountability of authorities to citizens and the corresponding strengthening of democracy.

Findings and Discussions

Speaking about the results of the implementation of the US digital government building strategy, it should be said that on May 23, 2013, federal director of information technology (USA, CIO), and federal technical director (USA, CTO), published a blog on White House website report on the implementation of the roadmap for building the federal digital government that accompanied the corresponding strategy. By this moment, exactly one year has passed since the start of the implementation of President Obama’s directive Digital Government. Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. The strategy in this directive was aimed at the foloowing:

  • That all Americans have the opportunity to access government information anywhere, anytime, and from any device;
  • That the data of an open government, i.e., government data that is available to the public in easy-to-use formats has fuelled innovation and economic growth;
  • That technology makes the government more transparent, more efficient, and more effective.

In the twelve months from mid-2012 to mid-2013, the federal government made a leap in its understanding of digital information: government data is a valuable national asset that should be open and accessible to the public, entrepreneurs, and other actors of civil society, instead of keep it trapped in government systems. The government abruptly began this process by publishing hundreds of government data sets in machine-readable formats known as application programming interfaces (APIs). These interfaces span the application space, ranging from energy consumption trends in the home and business, to real-time alerts of occurring earthquakes around the world and current weather reports on Mars transmitted from the Curiosity Rover mobile platform. Interfaces can be used by developers in the private sector to create new applications and services.

In the end, the federal Digital Government Strategy talks about connecting people to government resources in ways that are convenient for them. The most important component of the strategic approach to informatization at the federal level of US government is the Federal Enterprise Architecture. There are four main results of applying the general approach to the federal architecture of the enterprise:

  1. Delivery of services;
  2. Functional integration;
  3. Resource optimization;
  4. Authoritative reference documents.

The meta-model of the general approach to the federal architecture of the enterprise can be depicted as follows (Figure 3):

Meta-model of a general approach to the federal architecture of the enterprise as part of the e-government system in the USA.
Fig. 3. Meta-model of a general approach to the federal architecture of the enterprise as part of the e-government system in the USA.

In general, the state policy in the field of informatization in the United States is built by transferring the methods and mechanisms worked out in the field of business communications to the sphere of public services (that is, it is a service-oriented government). For example, when creating a government web portal, the concept of 7x24x365 borrowed from business was used (providing services seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day and three hundred sixty-five days a year), while citizens were divided into main “client groups” (students, retirees, small business owners, veterans, etc.), and for each group its own website was developed. Current trends, that are also very characteristic, aim to make suppliers of “public information” that could be processed and sold by private firms out of state websites.

No less obvious are the “business roots” of the American e-government on the official website for developers of official websites www.usability.gov. It is entirely based on the results of marketing research and proceeds from the fact that the developer needs to ensure the maximum usability of official sites based on the same principles on which corporate sites are built. This does not mean that the United States does not face difficulties in transitioning to e-government. However, these are difficulties associated with the discrepancies between the values of business aimed at maximizing profits and the values of state institutions, while the state adapts to business, and not vice versa.

An analysis of the categories identified during the empirical study and comparing the results with the results of a secondary study of the evolution of the e-government system in the USA allow making some important conclusions. It shows that the fundamental principle of e-government, successfully implemented in the USA, is to improve the internal work of the public sector by reducing time and financial costs, integrating work flows and processes, and ensuring the efficient allocation of resources between its various institutions. E-government seeks to create best processes and systems aimed at productivity, efficiency, integration, and sustainable development.

As a key factor in efficiency and coordination, e-governance uses the institutions, mechanisms, and processes of planning, organization, coordination, and implementation, borrowed from the private sector in frames of the new public administration. The starting point for achieving economic sustainability is the ability of e-government to maintain the effectiveness and efficiency of governance through the use of whole-of-government approaches. Hierarchically arranged bureaucratic structures have been transformed into horizontal integrated systems that contribute to the formation of customer focus and increase the level of transparency and accountability in the provision of public services.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The study allows concluding that the model of e-government implemented in the USA is a model of government as a platform, which corresponds to the concept of digital government. Unlike simple e-government, a number of services of which involved applying for a public service using traditional paperwork, which was complicated by the need to frequently consult with other institutions during the processing of an application, the digital government creates a fully digitized administrative process. It is starting with filing and tracking the application, constantly informing the user about the passage of important stages and ending with automated verification of applications not only on the existing service database, but also on interdepartmental databases.

Taking into account not only needs, but also technical capabilities of users is complemented by the principle of digital government in the context of the growing popularity of mobile devices for working on the Internet and the development of unified portals of state and municipal services. The requirement to ensure, when working with these portals, a “seamless” user transition from one electronic computing device belonging to him (for example, from a personal computer to a mobile phone and tablet computer) and from one operating system to another (for example, from IOS to Android) became the embodiment of this principle, which in the framework of e-government remained technically unrealized.

The digital government is moving away from the practice of developing special applications for each specific agency and invites them to use a universal government infrastructure for sharing, whose capabilities allow adapting its tools to the characteristics of each of the departments or levels of government. In addition, the practice of using government cloud services for storing and processing data is gaining popularity, the technologies of which make it possible to combine departmental data centres and increase the efficiency of their computing resources.

Speaking about the vector of the direction of further development of e-government in the USA, special attention should be paid to the advisability of transforming the processing of large amounts of data in the direction from the data warehouse to the data lake. This is due to the fact that the load on many agencies is growing in the form of new supervisory responsibilities and/or new programs. This, for example, applies to healthcare, research, and financial markets, and necessitates a shift to new data management systems. For example, Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services previously acted, primarily, as payers for services.

Now, their activities have become much more integrated in the provision of healthcare services and include the collection and distribution of large amounts of data that require different levels of privacy protection, and this requirement will only increase in the coming years.

This is because the US moves to a more integrated healthcare environment. Moreover, it seems appropriate to introduce Agile technologies on a larger scale, which is necessary in order to continuously support the cooperation of agencies in the joint provision of digital services to citizens within the traditional organizational structure of the government in a turbulent internal and external environment. The Agile methodology enables rapid reorientation, adjustment, and modifications of the existing and planned processes and units in the ‘real time,’ according to changes in the environment conditions and requirements.

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