Government offline

The Economist has published an interesting article on “Why business succeeds on the web and government mostly fails”:

Why is government unable to reap the same benefits as business, which uses technology to lower costs, please customers and raise profits? The three main reasons are lack of competitive pressure, a tendency to reinvent the wheel and a focus on technology rather than organisation.

That reflects another problem. In the private sector, tight budgets for information technology spark innovation. But bureaucrats are suckers for overpriced, overpromised and overengineered systems. The contrast is all the sharper given some of the successes shown by those using open-source software: the District of Columbia, for example, has junked its servers and proprietary software in favour of the standard package of applications offered and hosted by Google.

Hmmm. Thanks to John Naughton for the tip.

2 thoughts on “Government offline”

  1. I worked for a Local Authority for two years on a project designed to show their data on a map.

    On many occasions I found ways to do it for a lot less money, for instance using cheap servers on the Internet instead of in house machines (£50000 for a unix server !) and using MySQL instead of Oracle. The locals at the LA looked baffled at the idea of even bothering to try to do it for less money. The usual answer was “somebody else will spend it if we don’t”.

    Within the Authority several teams fought with each other and battled to control the maps and data. If the ‘business’ had had an owner he would have banged heads together to stop wasting his money, but the whole disfunctional mess was very very stable and is still in place today.

    If the public only knew.

  2. And of course these days you could use Google Maps and it’d be even easier and cheaper.

    Cost is an interesting issue, of course, because whilst open source alternatives are cheaper and quicker to deploy than the bespoke solutions that government seem to be so keen on, you do need to find someone to support it for you, whether in house or bought-in. I think this is one of the real barriers to a wider take-up of more innovative IT solutions.

    The other is for all of government, whether central or local government, health, police, fire etc etc to start working together, sharing what works and what doesn’t.

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