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Business intelligence and e-government

To citizens, contractors, taxpayers or civil servants the promise of e-government is to be able to search for information in a self-serve mode

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

Three years ago Shereen Remez, Alex Bennet and I co-edited a book on knowledge management in the public sector. Shereen at the time was Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) of the General Services Administration and Alex was CKO of the Department of the Navy. The title of the book was “Knowledge Management: Catalyst for Electronic Government.” This title introduced a very powerful idea that I would like to explore in this article: the relationship between business intelligence (BI) and e-government. 

When e-business started to emerge as a potent economic and technological force, it became important to address its role in the public sector. In other words, how would the Internet impact the business of government? The result gave rise to the concept of e-government, which in a clear but illustrative oversimplification has been also defined as “government on-line rather than waiting in line.”  

Once the e-government vision started to emerge, it became a movement, and therefore an opportunity to achieve new and better service levels from the public sector. The people were ready and the government machinery was set to start moving. In fact, the Panel on Transforming Government published as its principal findings in August of 2000, that: “First, major technological barriers prevent citizens from easily accessing government information resources that are vital to their well being. Today government information is often unavailable, inadequate, out of date, and needlessly complicated. Second, information technology can be used to increase organizational efficiency and save costs.” 

E-government in the federal government had its formal beginnings in a series of directives from the White House in 1999, during the Clinton Administration. First, a series of mandates were put forth in order to move the e-government ball forward. They included guidance to a large number of federal agencies to make things happen. These organizations were instructed to: remove barriers to investment and applications; explore partnerships with the private and public sectors and academia; foster innovation and discussion on its potential; consider other supportive policies and programs and; review the recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee. The recipient agencies mentioned in the White House memo went from large ones, such as the Justice and Treasury Departments, all the way down to the Smithsonian. 

In addition, the business of e-government started to be framed into several areas. Eventually it became clear that the principal thrusts were: dissemination of information to the citizen; business to business for government; information collection and program delivery. 

But as the top-down pressure started to be felt by the different agencies, and even as relevant legislation started to be enacted, the urgency to show progress often translated into building portals. The general thinking seemed to be that if e-government is government on-line, then show an on-line presence by building websites and portals. 

It was this mad rush to building portals that made it clear in my mind that business intelligence was essential to e-government. In many cases you had and still have, for that matter – many government portals that feature three clicks to a brick wall. A more descriptive URL for some of these could well have been A portal is nothing but a gateway into an enterprise’s data, but if the “data house” is not in order and the desired content cannot be accessed then the portal becomes a useless gateway, a locked door leading into an empty room. 

To citizens, contractors, taxpayers or civil servants the promise of e-government is to be able to search for information in a self-serve mode. The ability to find or retrieve relevant knowledge that enables us to take some appropriate action, maybe at a transaction level or in support of decision-making allows access to our government. The Council for Excellence in Government published the results of a pioneering survey some years back, where people had been asked what they wanted to obtain from government on-line. The top three responses had to do with the retrieval of information in support of decision-making: 80% indicated they wanted medical information, 77% wanted candidates’ voting records and 73% were after social security benefits information. Let me use this last item to illustrate the point. 

Today, you can go to the Social Security Administration’s website and access a virtual workbench of business intelligence tools. In a self-service mode a citizen can easily navigate the site to get help with their situation, whether it’s marriage, divorce, name changes, birth of a child, or a death in the family. Furthermore, you can access a series of on-line calculators (in both English and Spanish, by the way) that allow you to plan your retirement, estimate your benefits, determine whether you qualify, and then apply on-line.

And by clicking on “You disagree with our decision” you are even given help to an appeals process. 

It warms the heart of a BI maven. Business intelligence truly is a catalyst for e-government.

Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

Dr. Barquin is a member of the E-Gov (Electronic Government) Advisory Board, and chair of its knowledge management conference series; member of the Digital Government Institute Advisory Board; and has been the Program Chair for E-Government and Knowledge Management programs at the Brookings Institution. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. Dr. Barquin can be reached at [email protected].

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