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It Research, Innovation, and E-Government

Over the past few years, the basic outline of an e-government vision has emerged, and government has taken promising steps to deploy e-government services. Much remains to be done, however, both in implementing e-government services and in developing new technologies and concepts, if the e-government vision is to be broadly realized. A recent study by the National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board [2] examines several aspects of this challenge. It identifies areas where government is a demand leader for IT, explores the roles of IT researchers in risk-managed e-government innovation, and discusses approaches that can help accelerate innovation and foster the transition of innovative technologies from the lab to operational systems.
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The study process began with a close examination of two important domains of government IT, crisis management, and federal statistics. Workshops brought together domain experts with IT researchers. A number of research opportunities were identified in each area, and a number of challenges were identified relating to processes of innovation and deployment [1, 3]. The study committee then built on these results to develop more comprehensive recommendations for realizing the e-government vision, including both technical and nontechnical aspects.

A principal conclusion of the study is that government, for the most part, can best serve its immediate interests by following the private sector. The study committee recognized, however, there are perils in following this recommendation without qualification. In particular, there are many areas of challenge where government is a demand leader—areas where it has requirements that may not be unique, but that nonetheless exceed those of the private sector. These areas include, for example, ubiquity of service, trustworthiness, information access, and confidentiality. In these areas, government should make focused research investments in order to stimulate its IT supply chain to respond to the needs.

Also, there are significant IT areas where government research investment will have an impact on the creation of advanced e-government capability in the long-term. Most of these areas have broad leverage beyond e-government, in both government and industry applications. Nonetheless, government’s demand leadership, coupled with the nonappropriable nature of many of the key research results, necessitate involvement. The areas include information management, software technology, network infrastructure, human-computer interaction, middleware, security, organizational and social issues, models and simulation, and large-scale systems.

Government also experiences significant nontechnical challenges relating to acquisition and innovation. Government acquisition processes are now adapting to the rapid rate of change in requirements, operating environment, and the underlying technology base, but this remains an area of challenge. The committee made two principal recommendations to foster e-government innovation. First, most agencies have limited capability or mandate to manage IT research programs, and often lack incentives to innovate or build cross-agency capabilities. Consideration should be given, therefore, to explicit support for cross-agency collaboration, such as alliances with agencies that do have IT research programs. Second, concrete incentive mechanisms should be adopted, such as an IT innovation fund that can help buy down the risk for government organizations undertaking innovative IT projects.

Government, for the most part, can best serve its immediate interests by following the private sector…[but] there are perils in following this recommendation without qualification.

With respect to the relationship between e-government innovation and IT research, the committee made a number of observations and recommendations:

  • There is a mutual reinforcement between government’s role in investing in long-term research with broad socioeconomic impact, and acting as a farsighted customer addressing its own long-term technology needs. Government continues to play a critical role in IT research, particularly where the benefits are nonappropriable and, consequently, the private sector may not be able to justify investment.
  • Government benefits from collaboration between government users and IT researchers in developing e-government capability, despite the fact these two groups are at opposite ends of an extensive IT supply chain that also includes system integrators, vertical suppliers, and component vendors. Although researchers and government agencies may appear to be unlikely allies, they have a shared interest in innovation and meeting future needs. Researchers gain direct understanding of the real challenges, as well as access to relevant data and artifacts. Agencies gain understanding of emerging and future technologies, as well as an opportunity to influence the trajectory of these technologies. This does not mean government should necessarily short-circuit the supply chain or be an early adopter. Rather, the overall risk of innovation in acquisition can be reduced when these two groups work together.
  • Success in achieving transitions from the laboratory through the IT supply chain to operational systems greatly depends on research management strategy. Research program managers must be cognizant of the complexities and aware of the range of models and strategies that could be employed. The report presents two sets of models that can help program managers formulate strategy to identify points of leverage for achieving innovation and impact. The IT innovation supply chain focuses on identifying the pathways from the lab to operational practice. The dimensions of risk model focuses on identification of critical barriers and issues and the means by which they can be addressed at various points in execution of an innovation strategy.

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    1. Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council (CSTB, NRC) Summary of a Workshop on Information Technology Research for Crisis Management. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999;

    2. CSTB, NRC. Information Technology Research, Innovation, and E-Government. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2002;

    3. CSTB, NRC. Summary of a Workshop on Information Technology Research for Federal Statistics. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000;

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