The organizational transformation that is required for successful e-government projects demands the sort of highly structured relationship that public-private partnerships are known for. India’s National e-Governance Program—which takes a holistic view of e-government across the country, integrating departmental initiatives into a collective vision, a shared cause, and a massive countrywide infrastructure—is a proven model that other governments can adapt.

Innovative use of information and communications technology (ICT) has revolutionized business, but the pace of adoption in government remains slow as many struggle to keep up. It’s not for lack of desire: many officials fear that their administration will miss out on the fruits of the ICT revolution due to their inability to deliver on expectations from citizens and businesses. Policymakers worldwide, and especially in the developing world, are eager to “leapfrog” into the digital way of doing things.

But e-government projects that involve successful adoption of these complex and ever-changing technologies also require significant organizational transformation. It’s no wonder that e-government initiatives are often regarded as high risk, high return investments.

To procure or to partner? That is the question

  •  E-government projects require complex technology design and solution.
  • High level of obsolescence due to evolving technology trends make these projects risky.
  • Technical capabilities required for e-government project are diverse, high-cost, and are difficult to retain; they cannot be developed overnight.  
  • The failure rate of e-government projects is very high, so optimal sharing of risks between partners is critical.

Definition, please

The Gartner Group defines e-government as “the continuous optimization of service delivery, constituency participation, and governance by transforming internal and external relationships through technology, the Internet, and new media.”

India’s PPP Leadership

India leads the developing world in public-private partnerships (PPPs) for e-government projects and it has several successful initiatives that are useful models for others to follow (see example projects). Its National e-Governance Plan, supported by the World Bank, is a
national program which takes a holistic view of e-government across the country. It integrates departmental initiatives into a collective vision, a shared cause, and a massive countrywide infrastructure and has created the foundation for other successful projects. This program has strengthened the PPP approach in e-government through a clear set of policies on PPPs, a Guidance Note, and a model Request for Proposal.

This foundation is critical. Most government agencies do not have the capability and experience to manage the multi-dimensional risks resulting from complex technology adoption, and organizational change, or the technical expertise to effectively manage these investments. The challenge is not about procurement of these new ICT tools, but managing the risks and challenges during the entire project life cycle, which includes planning, acquisition/construction of the assets, and its efficient operation. This requires expert core capabilities within the organization. Too often, their absence results in failure of e-government investments.

Relationships Matter

Success is more likely when officials realize that e-government PPPs are not a standard replacement for the run-of-the-mill procurement approach for all of government’s ICT needs. It is not about procuring the best technical expertise from the private sector and dumping all the project risks on the private partner.

Instead, every successful PPP is a carefully crafted relationship that has been designed with care and understanding of realities on the ground. These models must be developed by a team of multi-disciplinary experts. They must be based on legitimate and well-established management concepts for developing customized solutions for risk management, capital optimization, and creation of project-specific governance structures in project financing. When these pieces are in place—as the examples here demonstrate—e-government can serve the people as well as the government, sealing the unofficial compact between the two to work together for the benefit of all.