Rohleder: E-gov progresses, but more work is ahead

Federal and state governments have made substantial progress with online services for citizens, but they must now enter the next technology wave and build more complex and interoperable technology platforms to improve delivery of their services, the head of Accenture's government group said today.

Previous federal, state and local e-government initiatives, such as electronic procurement and tax-filing systems, along with mandates that government agencies use common technology platforms for interoperability and data sharing, have paved the road for more comprehensive projects, said Stephen Rohleder, chief executive of the government operating group at Accenture Ltd. of Hamilton, Bermuda.

He made his comments after a presentation at the FOSE trade show, produced by PostNewsweek Tech Media, publisher of Washington Technology.

"If you fast-forward two or three years from now, there will be more exploitation of technology to solve some of the business issues that government is dealing with," Rohleder said. "That's a strong message that government [needs] to continue to invest in technologies, which translates into opportunities for systems integrators and any other businesses that want to work with government."

Several federal agencies are in the early stages of developing the next level of service-oriented technology platforms. Among them are the Defense Logistics Agency, the Education Department, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service, Rohleder said.

For example, the Postal Service started a program this year to monitor its automated barcode system, which allows bulk mailers to track their outgoing and incoming envelopes through the system. The Postal Service has added in its own marked pieces of mail to identify bottlenecks and other hiccups in the system, then correct them to deliver better service.

"Federal government is actually getting more and more sensitive to that customer-centric, citizen-centric focus," Rohleder said.

State governments have made headway as well. North Carolina created a statewide, Internet-based procurement system for 130 government entities. It serves more than 7,000 users and has processed orders worth a cumulative $1.9 million to date.

But a few barriers still block the road to the next wave of technology developments. According to Accenture's own e-government surveys, 20 percent of regular Internet users in countries such as the United States that have well-developed e-government programs have never logged onto a government Web site. Citizens used to dealing with bureaucrats face to face may be reluctant to leap online, Rohleder said.

Partisan politics also act as a roadblock to implementing major technology changes. "As long as there are two political parties fighting for leadership, there's always going to be criticism of change," he said.

Furthermore, government agencies must have a desire to share information for common databases ? a tough pill to swallow since "everybody wants to protect their own turf, and there isn't [any] incentive" to share information, Rohleder said.

Shrinking budgets, however, won't stand in the way of such projects. If the federal government redirected some of its IT budget to a broader modernization project and focused on accountability for results, it would have enough funding in its current resources, he said.

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