Government Technology

Renewing Old Portals Part II: Governance

Upgrading Portals

January 14, 2008 By

Governance is the cornerstone of the portal's foundation on which every other component rests. Even a top-notch crew -- including a project management office and well-trained and experienced personnel -- cannot make up for failures of governance. Many states have solid governance structures for information technology, performance and quality monitoring programs, or other cross-cutting initiatives.

Colorado created the Statewide Internet Portal Authority (SIPA) to oversee the official portal and grow it into a comprehensive and consolidated self-service delivery channel across agency and jurisdictional lines. The SIPA board includes representation from the legislature, the judiciary, local government and the private sector, plus the governor's office and the active participation of cabinet members from the departments of revenue, employment and regulatory affairs. This broadly-based ownership group resolves and reconciles competing needs for modifications and additions before issuing change orders to the crew on the ground.

In terms of governance makeup, Arkansas and Kansas have also taken a broad view and included representation from constituencies that tend to be underrepresented in governance models. Kansas and Arkansas have purposefully included private sector representatives from key user groups to ensure that the interests of external users are pursued.

The other key characteristic here is setting priorities -- clarifying that government operates in an environment in which resources are always finite and governance is needed to prioritize how resources are used to identify, develop, test, and market the solutions used to expand and enhance the portal. One of the benefits of a solid governance model is that quick, decisive action can be implemented without having to navigate the typical bureaucratic process of state government. If a governance board has the capability to set priorities, then this approach takes advantage of quick implementation without sacrificing government oversight of the project.

Colorado, Arkansas, Kansas and other states have learned by doing that governance is a lot easier to implement with a single-purpose transactional service than with one that relies on a network of service delivery. Yet it is in the context of complex networked service delivery where governance matters most, providing the formalized and institutionalized rules that help keep the foundation level and the walls plumb while matching the interdependent components with the structural capacity needed to operate consistently and sustainably.

While individual tradespersons focus on the intricacies of their craft, governance is the one place where you can see to the edges of the whole project -- see synergies and resolve conflicts among the trades and ensure that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. So it is with government modernization where -- like other sectors -- new value in extended capacity relies on getting an enterprise view of data. The ability to share data across organizational lines is a key factor in solving modern societal crises whether they are pandemics, terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Yet we do not have to wait for new social forms of networked organizations to break out of traditional bureaucratic structures to begin sharing data today. Creative organizations can rely upon standard "tools of the trade" that are ingrained into government organizations today, instead of waiting for the next new thing (or technology) to make it all possible.

The tools of governance -- such as contracts, memoranda of understanding, service-level agreements, statutes, executive orders, an issue prioritization, escalation and resolution process, including rules and policies for quick decisions on project approvals and oversight -- bring proven old-school disciplines to the important task of formalizing the work that formerly discrete organizations or entities do together while bolstering an effective governance structure.

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Much construction industry education from master builder associations and other such groups still echoes the caution "Caveat emptor" -- Latin for "Let the buyer beware" -- which, prior to statutory law, was the property law doctrine

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