e-administration and Business Process Re-engineering

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Last Friday, UNDP Delhi sent me a message indicating that the RC will be participating in the 17th National e-governance meeting in Kochi, Kerala (see  http://www.nceg.gov.in/. I also recieved a copy of the draft agenda and was informed that the RC will be speaking about e-governance and business process re-engineering  -and not on e-participation which is indeed a topic  more close to the work UNDP does in this area. Anyways, below are the talking points I sent to the CO.

  • e-administration is the second largest UNDP e-governance category when it comes to project expenditures (65 million USD for 2012 alone) comprising 82 projects or close to 40% of total UNDP e-governance projects.
  • e-administration, defined as public ICTs investments to improve the efficacy and efficiency of public institutions is the locus for any public efforts to design and implement business process re-engineering (BPR) in the state.
  • e-administration is a key cornerstone for current and future efforts to increase the capacity of public institutions and their scope of work. We must thus take the long-term view when we think about it. BPR is part and parcel of most e-administration efforts. It is thus essential not to lose sight of the overall goal of these efforts. Evidence shows that a short-term approach is not conducive of real change and innovation in the public sector. On the contrary, it can actually create a backlash against any change initiatives within public institutions.
  • From a developing country perspective, it is essential to link any and all e-administration efforts to broader public sector reform and state modernization plans and strategies that most governments already have in place. More often than not, such link is not made at all for a variety of reasons that range from political will to budget and capacity considerations. Linking the two will ensure not only long term sustainability and impact but also a far better use of new technologies, BPR and and change management processes.
  • But this is also a two way street: there are actually plenty of public sector modernization efforts out there that do not make effective use of new ICTs and thus cannot deliver an effective transformation of the public sector -even if they do coherent BPR. A 21st century state that does not harness the potential benefits of new ICTs will fall short in its attempt to effectively respond to the demand of people in terms of service delivery, access to information and increased transparency and accountability.
  • It is also important to highlight that public sector reform and state modernization are, in essence, efforts to strength public institutions in order for them to be able to effectively operate within a democratic governance context. We should then not confuse this with state downsizing and other similar initiatives. In this light, the final aim of BPR is not to weaken or downsize the state per se. On the contrary.
  • E-administration and BPR processes should not be ICT-led nor are they prone to a pure technological solution. On the other hand. BPR processes that ignore ICT innovations and solutions will not be successful.
  • Successful implementation of BPR processes as part of e-administration programmes linked to national state modernization plans require that the following steps are taken:
    1. Ensure that the mandates of the various public institutions involved in the process are clearly delineated and do not overlap with each other. If some do, measures should be taken by central government to clarify mandates and make them mutually exclusive.

2. Ensure that policies and laws that prescribe and demand the simplification of government processes and procedures in place and have been enacted in all public institutions. This will give legal and institutional grounding to any BRP and e-administration project or initiative.

3. Secure support from the top management (political will to change) within each institution as well as of middle managers (for project implementation). Having one or more champions within the institution secures ownership while making staff part of the process from the very beginning. Ownership and participation increases the probability of success.

4. As most public institutions have multiple business operations and processes, it is necessary to prioritize which ones should be first changed. In principle, it is ideal to select at least one that is purely internal to the institution (finance, accounting, etc.) and at least one that provides a service to the public. The process used to make this decision is also important as it should involve staff from the institution in addition to external experts and advisors.

5. Undertake a mapping of the business processes under the radar screen which have been prioritized by the institution. Most institutions do no have such maps readily available. And many are more than surprised when the see their own business processes map into a number of steps and processes that can be mind-boggling for some. Using a graphical tool to present mapping results increases the level of impact on all staff within the institution. The mapping should also include staff associated to the business process and reflect on the division of labour within the institution.

6. With the mapping in hand, the BPR process per se can be started. A key step here is to rationalize the business process and identify redundancies and bottlenecks that can be eliminated. Identification of ICT solutions that help address them is key here. A BPR process that does not seek ICT innovations and solutions will not maximize bang for the buck. Involving staff here can further increase ownership of the process.

7. Redesigned and refurbished business process should be completed with and approved by top managers with the participation of civil servants, especially those who are part of the old business process. Implementation of BPR should only be started once this is completed. Benchmarks and indicators of progress and success should also be part of the process.

8. Not all BPR processes demand reduction of staff in public institutions. More usually than not, new business process demand a new set if skills, skills that existing civil servant either have or can acquire in the short term. A training and retraining programme for civil servants should be part of ant BPR process. Needless to say, new set of skills will need to be obtained from the local labour market.

9. BPR for internal processes might be more difficult to measure in terms of success, in contrast to that associated to public service provision. The latter will be visible to the public and all institutional clients who can provide feedback on improvements or lack thereof. Crowd-sourcing of new refurbished services is also possible. Needless to say, many external services directly depend on internal processes.

  • In the end, the ultimate measure of any successful BPR is the strengthening of institutional capacities that can better respond to the people, be more efficient and effective and foster more transparency and accountability – all good indicators of democratic governance.

Cheers, Raúl

PS: Here is the final speech as edited by the CO.

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