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E-government won't fix flawed processes

By Arthur Goldstuck

Investing in technology is not a solution to poor customer service if nothing is done about the service itself.

When a large organisation makes a massive investment in new technology, you expect their business processes to improve. And when that investment is aimed at improving customer service, naturally, you expect their customer service to improve.

The truth, as we all discover quite quickly, is that technology cannot improve customer service. Only improved customer service can improve customer service. That may sound logical, but logic flies out of the window when you give someone a big enough IT budget.

Much was made of a recent announcement by the government that it was planning to embrace an e-government strategy. The Department of Public Service and Administration said it had adopted a concept document for a system that would provide a single gateway to all state information and services.

According to the department’s director general, Robinson Ramaite, both the Internet and existing trading kiosks would be used as portals for payments for services and as a way to disseminate information from the government. The system would evolve as a blueprint across Africa to streamline government services and efficiency, but would require a project implementation team with technical specialists. Among other, a toll-free call centre would be set up, with information available in all 11 languages.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Well, so does an all-you-can-eat diet. The problem is, to diet, you need to eat less. And to streamline processes, you need to streamline processes, not add more processes.

The problem with the government proposal is that the existing processes don’t work. The treatment of the public at most government outlets in urban areas is shameful. The queues that form at Home Affairs, Labour Department and Welfare Department offices are a blight on the government’s commitment to services delivery. The treatment of the most desperate members of society at some of these offices is nothing less than a national disgrace.

And now the government wants to transfer this mess onto the Internet and into call centres?

Here’s a piece of advice for free: if you want to use technology to streamline a process, you first make sure the process works. In the government’s case, it is obvious the processes don’t work. As much as it intends to invest in the new technology, it needs to invest in a change management strategy that will streamline not only the processes, but also the attitudes of the people responsible for administering the processes. They must understand that their role is to serve the public; that they are the gateway, not the gatekeepers to government.

The Internet, call centres and other technologies cannot change the way things are done on the ground, unless things are first changed on the ground.

Arthur Goldstuck is editor of The Big Change and managing director of World Wide Worx, the leading independent technology and telecommunications research house. He can be contacted on mailto:arthurg@internet.org.za.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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