Use IT to remove barriers, Cisco exec says

Government agencies should look for ways to use information technology to break down barriers to services and to continue an evolution that is underway in the government's use of IT to serve constituents, a Cisco Systems executive said yesterday at the E-Gov conference.

Federal, state and local governments are at various stages in implementing IT and internet-based projects aimed at the public, said Susan Bostrom, senior vice president of Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group. Some offer only "vanity" sites, consisting of static information, others involve online transactions such as paying a parking ticket. Finally, at the top of the evolutionary ladder are government internet sites that integrate "constituent care", she said.

No matter where an agency is in the evolutionary progress, its leaders should be looking for more opportunities in the way citizens want to interact with government and to think about it from a constituent's viewpoint, Bostrom said.

She also encouraged agencies to assess their readiness before deploying a given technology and to plan to review it at least quarterly, holding managers accountable for its success.

Government agencies should be aware that there will be increasing demand from citizens for government programs that use the internet and other technologies, especially as the number of people who have access to the internet grows along with mass-scale deployment of broadband networks.

"Expectations are high," she said. "People will be asking, 'Why do I have to go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) or file paper taxes?' They will be holding the public sector accountable for having IT."

Cisco's internal use of IT was cited by Bostrom as an example of how an organisation can change things. For example, 90 per cent of the orders that the company receives arrive electronically, enabling Cisco to save millions of dollars.

"Instead of needing 900 order-entry clerks, we have 300, and what's great about those 300 is the nature of their jobs has changed dramatically," she said. "Instead of them just answering the standard questions . . . they are doing more intricate problem-solving which makes their jobs more interesting and makes them happier and more effective employees of Cisco."

Government agencies will have a more difficult time either laying off employees or retraining those made redundant by technology, but government has to brace for those changes because it is inevitable that certain jobs will be eliminated, she said.

She further encouraged agencies to develop intranet applications, including simple things like an employee directory, because they can build a sense of "e-culture" within an organisation.

"It creates an environment where employees feel like they are empowered and enabled to make the right decision at the right point in time," she said.

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