B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 2    December/January 2005

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Special Section: E-Government

Architectures for Digital Government
by Allison Brueckner, Guest Editor

Allison Brueckner is a free-lancer and independent consultant in the greater Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor areas of Southeast Michigan ; she can be reached by email at allison.brueckner@comcast.net

Welcome to the first of two special sections of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology on e-government. The authors in this special section address various architecture issues, solutions and case studies for digital government. Each of the papers offers a unique perspective on identifying the importance for and development of accessible and usable architectures for digital government.

E-government is the combined service power of traditional government practices utilizing information and communication technology (ICT) to disseminate, retrieve and store information or services. It provides an opportunity to offer the community higher quality services more efficiently and at lower cost.

One of the most important features of the Internet is its ability to connect people with information and with one another. For many this means finding affordable housing, local jobs and dependable daycare. Increasingly, local government units are trying to use the Internet, especially the World Wide Web, to provide their citizens with valuable information to enhance the community’s quality of life and to increase civic participation.

In recent years, technology has increasingly delivered on its promise to provide citizens information about and access to government along with new modes of civic participation. If the Web is to improve citizens’ access to government information and services, local governments must establish a new model for its provision. Most likely, such improvement will come through inter-jurisdictional planning and deployment. Otherwise, small communities will fall increasingly behind their larger counterparts.

In short, larger communities have long since implemented Web-based services and are continually improving and augmenting their offerings while smaller jurisdictions in many cases have done nothing at all. Unfortunately, only in a few regions have the logical candidates for bridging this divide – county and state governments – taken on an active role in local technology planning and deployment.

The primary reason for the disparity is that many smaller local government units lack staff with the skills or training necessary to implement e-government. Often times the Webmaster is also the clerk, treasurer or even the township supervisor. Many of these individuals become Webmaster by chance and have a minimal knowledge about information architecture and the dissemination of Web-based information. Additionally, these smaller jurisdictions lack the resources to pay for the services of outside vendors. The result is that many smaller local governments implement e-government in an ad hoc manner, if at all.

Weary public servants can be excused for asking, “What's the point?” Legislative mandates, budgetary constraints and geopolitical threats make the hard work of doing the public's business all the more difficult. Real results in such an environment are harder to come by and require new approaches.

In this issue Eric Frederick, in his article “ Michigan : A Recipe for E-Government Development,” suggests a solution that can be used to connect both positive and negative aspects of Michigan ’s policy on technology infrastructures and the Michigan citizen’s attitude toward such policies. Many metaphors, such as the one used here, describe for us the formulaic approach we often times find ourselves taking when confronted with new policies and technology within the public sphere. It certainly can ease “digestion.”

Both Tom Brinck and Charles Kaylor, in their respective articles, address the importance of bridging this gap between the various tiers of government within the United States . Tom uses a case study from the development of a large-state portal (for competitive reasons, Tom was unable to provide screenshots or to name the particular state they worked with at the request of their client, who is a developer of state websites). Charles Kaylor illustrates for us how e-government has evolved in larger cities within the United States , identifying trends in service delivery and addresses some implications of these changes for all local governments (i.e., townships, villages, towns).

Citizens are asking for the same level of service from government that they get from private industry. Economic times are tough, especially in government. The media seems to dole out nothing but bad news. In this climate, what can be done to motivate staff and raise morale while keeping productivity high? Is government really at a disadvantage compared to private industry? And, finally, what about trust? How trustworthy is the government these days? The media certainly isn’t helping to build that trust and, though there are now a plethora of blogs to help us form opinions and beliefs, they can often times add to the confusion and mistrust.

Security is an especially important concern because interoperability by definition means a more open system. Although citizens are concerned about trusting government, conversely, they also want to see more information available. Citizens want open access; they want information readily available. And, on the other hand, they want privacy, security and trust. It is a fine line that our various governments need to address and address sensitively.

In the digital age, traditional concepts of privacy are becoming obsolete fast. The issues are further complicated by the demands of homeland security and the Freedom of Information Act for open records versus the pressures for confidentiality by HIPAA and similar initiatives. Failure to plan is planning to fail, and that especially applies to government because service continuity is critical.

The evolution from agency-specific to enterprise-wide IT planning is triggering new challenges from an architectural perspective. How do you determine the right architectural direction for the enterprise titled government? How do you maximize the interrelationships of systems and networks? How do you consolidate systems and data sources?

Challenging times call for more creativity in getting things accomplished. This is especially true in planning, launching and completing technology projects. It is no longer viable to reinvent the wheel, create stovepipes or work apart from other agencies and jurisdictions. Leveraging is the key, whether it is the creation of partnerships and alliances or simply leveraging on the successful ideas of others.

I hope you enjoy this special section on e-government and the one to follow in the February/March 2005 issue of the Bulletin, where we will have three contributing authors share best practices from local, national and international perspectives. 

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