E-government: one size doesn’t fit all but its cheaper

Written by Andrew Rens on January 29th, 2008

Microsoft’s well publicised release of its “Citizen Service Platform” claims to introduce easy e-government. The basis of that claim is the use “templates”.

Templates are standard programs which assume that all governments are the same, and that they all operate in similar cultural, legal and technological environments. Thats a useful assumption if you want to write one program and sell it to many different people, but how useful is it you are a citizen, unfamiliar with technology, in an unequal power relationship with a bureaucracy? Who will suffer the consequences of a poor fit? Will it be the local government IT head who thinks he has solved e-government with a single purchase? Or will it be those who are most marginalised in society, the illiterate and semi-literate, the homeless, unemployed, pensioners and others who depend on state services for their survival?
Amongst the touted features of the Platform are the ability to send SMS from the desktop, case management systems, video streaming capability and document management. Exactly how much of this is already freely available on the Internet? How much value does packaging what is freely available elsewhere add when its not accompanied by ensuring that local government personnel get the skills to use the tools?

There is no indication that the Platform will run on any operating system other than Microsoft. Like other Microsoft Products the source code is closed, the software is proprietary. That means that only Microsoft can customise and only Microsoft can fix critical government functions. Which government want to be at the mercy of a foreign company for delivering basic services?
The CSP may appear to be a simple, quick e-government fix for local governments but it comes with hidden price tags, imposition of solutions devised without recognition of local context, which cannot be customised by the government itself. When the fix fails local governments will already be locked in, their records and central processes already tied to a proprietary format, unintelligible outside a proprietary template.


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