Initiating e-govt vision through leadership
Text of speech by Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga at
the eGov track of eAsia 2009 on “Leadership: The most critical success
factor of eGovernment”.
e- Government is a diffused neologism used to refer to the use of
information and communication technology to provide and improve
Government services, transactions and interactions with citizens,
business and other arms of Government.
e-Government therefore is all about improving the quality of delivery
of Government services to the public, to business and within the whole
of Government. ICT is only a tool.
Without the will to change or transform, eGovernment does not become
a reality. Also, improving services brings in creativity and innovation.
Rather than accepting a given process as the best, e Government
essentially demands that questions are consistently asked until we are
satisfied that we have got the best.
e-Government without the slightest doubt improves efficiency in
whatever we do. e Government helps improve efficiency in mass processing
tasks and public administration operations.
In Sri Lanka, when we first embarked on this component, we renamed
this and called it ‘Re-engineering Government’ because that was the crux
of the whole exercise. Before ICT could be introduced into Government
processes, we believed that processes had to be revamped or
re-engineered. In other words, we wanted to ensure even without using
ICT, the process had no inefficiencies built into it.
e-Asia 2009 promotion bus. Picture by Wimal Karunathilake
Say, you are applying for a driver’s licence. The form that you get
is lengthy, the information sought doesn’t seem to be relevant and the
questions that are asked are unclear. Now if that form were to be
digitized, and available on a website that one can fill online yet those
inefficiencies would have been included.
The first thing that we should have done is to ask ourselves about
the application form. Is it necessary to seek all that information from
an applicant? Can the least information be sought? Unnecessary and
unclear questions can be deleted. That’s reengineering. Thereafter to
use any ICT applications would be the most prudent thing to do.
All this needs high quality leadership. It is leadership in an
organization that will set the stage for change and innovation. If a
leader does not promote innovation and change, then e Government
whatever technology you may have, will become a non starter.
I want to relate the story behind one of our showpieces and great
successes in the eGov track in Sri Lanka. It is the Government
Information Centre (GIC) with the 1919 short code dial facility.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2004 asked me how we could help citizens
in obtaining Government information.
He said in his long political career he has seen citizens trekking
long distances purely to find out from a Government office how to obtain
a particular service. We had to think hard and that is how the GIC was
born. Today, it has won a global award for best egov initiatives.
What I wanted to emphasize was importance of the leader setting a
direction. It is the leadership that defined the boundaries of the
project. However much there was technology, had there not been leader’s
vision, there would not have been a GIC.
Once the vision was clear, we had to give leadership to the whole of
Government to map the processes. For example, a citizen would want to
get a passport. The information we have to provide has to be pretty
clear. There cannot be any doubt left in the mind of the citizen seeking
To do that we provided leadership to obtain accurate information and
in that process, many ministries and departments thought through their
processes and made every effort to refine so that clear authentic
information could be provided through the GIC.
Let me also talk about various models of e-government and see how
leadership at the highest level impacts on the success of these
a. The shared responsibility model, in which each ministry or
department develops and implements its own strategy;
b. The policy coordination model, in which a policy coordination body
in the office of the head of state provides policy guidance and
c. The lead ministry model, in which one ministry develops plans;
d. The ICT (or e-Government) agency in civil service model, in which
a special purpose agency is created outside of any ministry;
e. The ICT (or e-Government) agency as PPP (public-private
Whatever the model followed, the leadership has the following
a. Developing strategy and defining objectives.
b. Overseeing design, management and monitoring and evaluation.
c. Ensuring coordination.
d. Advocating for the enabling legal, regulatory and policy
e. Promoting digital inclusion: connectivity, e-Literacy, Mobilizing
When we modeled our eGov track, known as re-engineering government
component, we also created a new concept. In organizations, one would
come across a CIO, known as the Chief Information Officer, but we
thought differently. We wanted a CIO, but we wanted him or her to be the
Chief Innovation Officer.
What we wanted that person to do was to provide innovative leadership
to the re-engineering process. Without a leader, without someone taking
ownership, re-engineering will not become a reality. Someone must run
around with a passion to achieve a defined result. Then only it happens.
Senior management attention is a scarce resource, and IT projects are
often regarded as low-priority technical issues rather than essential to
the success of the overall business plan. It is in this backdrop that we
wanted our CIO to be a fairly senior officer so that his or her
authority would not be questioned. Ideally, we wanted the CIO to be at
the Additional Secretary level.
Sustained leadership is important at all levels of the e-government
cycle. At the early stages of e-government implementation, leadership
can articulate and promote acceptance of vision and strategy, and set
frameworks to facilitate electronic service delivery and structure
As more complex transactional services are developed, leadership and
support are needed to sustain momentum, particularly as benefits may
take time to emerge. Leadership can broaden the support for a compelling
vision of integrated services and more fundamental service
transformation. Yet the roles and responsibilities of these leaders
differ, and even the role of an individual leader changes as
Co-ordination among agencies:
One of the main conclusions of the e-Government imperative is that
leadership is an indispensable tool to promote co-ordination within
individual agencies, as well as across government. Managers can exercise
leadership to avoid duplication, produce savings and increase efficiency
through joined-up services.
Across government, the increasing use of common systems, common
applications and outsourcing means that managers can help build a shared
understanding of its potential to transform service delivery.
How leaders can make this change?
Leaders are well placed to make the case for e-government and to
articulate such benefits to other stakeholders. Leaders drive
e-government planning by setting a broad vision.
At the same time, specific objectives can motivate action, but only
if used carefully.
Leaders are in a strong position to articulate the value of
e-Government processes to other Government organizations, employees and
the public at large.
They can also make sure that broader policy and service delivery
goals, broader public management reform processes and information
society activities are integrated under a common e-government strategy.
All leaders (not only e-government project leaders) can help maximize
the benefits of IT by integrating e-government into their own strategic
Leaders are key initiators and supporters of an e-government vision.
Political leadership serves to diffuse the vision and to give it added
value. While a vision statement is needed, it is not enough. Leaders can
help disperse the vision, the rationale and the validation for reform
throughout the bureaucracy.
Next step for eGovernment leaders
As e-Government advances, the role of the e-government leader
continues to change. Leaders are beginning to appreciate that
e-Government is more about modernization and reform than about
technology, and advanced e-government countries have suggested that the
next step is “to start taking the ‘e’ out of e-government”.
Rather than focusing on technology in itself, e-government leaders
recognize the importance of using technology as a strategic tool to
modernize the structures, processes and overall culture of public
However, this has a profound impact on the role of the e-Government
leader, as the next question is to what extent e-Government leaders
could in fact become reform leaders or facilitators.
Another challenge involves the re-orientation of government to make
it more customer-focused. e-Government leaders should be aware of the
importance of restructuring organizations and processes to maximize
value to the user, but must overcome considerable internal resistance
when implementing change.
While governments have different approaches, leaders should agree on
the importance of incentives to ensure co-ordination and to promote a
sense of ownership and accountability for decentralized initiatives.
Other challenges included looking beyond electronic service delivery
to ensure links with other service delivery channels, with overall
public sector modernization efforts and with the legislative and
regulatory frameworks in which e-government changes are taking place.