Technological Innovation in Public Organizations through Digital Government

Technological Innovation in Public Organizations through Digital Government

C. C. Hinnant (U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Center for Technology and Information Policy (CTIP), Syracuse University, USA) and S. B. Sawyer (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch231
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Abstract

The rapid adoption of computer networks, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW), within various segments of society has spurred an increased interest in using such technologies to enhance the performance of organizations in both the public and private sectors. While private sector organizations now commonly employ electronic commerce, or e-commerce, strategies to either augment existing business activities or cultivate new groups of customers, organizations at all levels of government have also begun to pay renewed attention to the prospects of using new forms of information and communication technology (ICT) in order to improve the production and delivery of services. As with many technologies, the increased use of ICT by government was in response not only to the increased use of ICT by government stakeholders, such as citizens or businesses, but also in response to a growing call for governmental reform during the 1990s. As public organizations at the federal, state, and even local level began to initiate organizational reforms that sought to bring private sector norms to government, they often sought to employ ICT as means to increase efficiencies and organizational coordination (Gore, 1998; Osborne & Gaebler, 1993). Such attempts to reform the operations of public organizations were a key factor in promoting an increased interest in use of new forms of ICT (Fountain, 2001). This growing focus on the broader use of ICT by public organizations came to be known as digital government. The term, digital government, grew to mean the development, adoption, and use of ICT within a public organization’s internal information systems, as well as the use of ICT to enhance an organization’s interaction with external stakeholders such as private-sector vendors, interest groups, or individual citizens. Some scholars more specifically characterize this broader use of ICT by public organizations according to its intended purpose. Electronic government, or e-government, has often been used to describe the use of ICT by public organizations to provide programmatic information or services to citizens and other stakeholders (Watson & Mundy, 2001). For example, providing an online method through which citizens could conduct financial transactions, such as tax or license payments, would be a typical e-government activity. Other uses of ICT include the promotion of various types of political activity and are often described as electronic politics, or e-politics. These types of ICT-based activities are often characterized as those that may influence citizens’ knowledge of, or participation in, the political processes. For instance, the ability of an elected body of government, such as a state legislature, to put information about proposed legislation online for public comment or to actually allow citizens to contact members of the legislature directly would be a simple example of e-politics. However, ICT is not a panacea for every organizational challenge. ICT can introduce additional challenges to the organization. For example, the increased attention on employing ICT to achieve agency goals has also brought to the forefront the potential difficulty in successfully developing large-scale ICT systems within U.S. government agencies. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) recent announcement that it may have to scrap its project to develop a Virtual Case File system that was estimated to cost $170 million (Freiden, 2005). The adoption of new ICT is often marked by setbacks or failures to meet expected project goals, and this characteristic is certainly not limited to public organizations. However, adherence to public sector norms of openness and transparency often means that when significant problems do occur, they happen within view of the public. More significantly, such examples highlight the difficulty of managing the development and adoption of large-scale ICT systems within the public sector. However conceptualized or defined, the development, adoption, and use of ICT by public organizations is a phenomena oriented around the use of technology with the intended purpose of initiating change in an organization’s technical and social structure. Since the development and adoption of new ICT, or new ways of employing existing ICT, are necessarily concerned with employing new technologies or social practices to accomplish an organizational goal, they meet the basic definition of technological innovations (Rogers, 1995; Tornatsky & Fleischer, 1990). If public organizations are to improve their ability to adopt and implement new ICT, they should better understand the lessons and issues highlighted by a broader literature concerning technological innovation.

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