Civil service career: Highlights

Providing advice on e-government strategy & technology

Providing services to lots of beautiful womenIn the late nineties of the 20th century, "e-government" promised to deliver better, more efficient public services and improve the relationship between citizens, enterprises and their governments. The initial enthousiasm has quieted down a lot however, now that governments have realized that it's going to take many years and many billions of Euros to truly deliver on that promise.

During my first four years in the Flemish civil service, I spent most of my time providing strategic advice to the Flemish e-government team. Unfortunately, this team achieved little or no major e-government results, and in 2004 was almost entirely fired by the Flemish government. At the beginning of 2005, a small but dedicated new e-government team was set up, the Co-ordination Cell Flemish E-government. I was asked by the new e-government project leader to join this team, as a senior advisor e-government strategy & technology and effectively his right-hand man. He realised I was the only person remaining who had been actively involved in the Flemish e-government programme from the very start, and who had played a key role in defining the vision and the strategy behind this programme. I briefly hesitated before I accepted his offer, since I was well aware that getting the Flemish e-government programme back on track would be a major challenge, but as the saying goes "when the going gets tough, the tough get going".

E-government strategy

In early 2005, the first challenge in getting the Flemish e-government programma back on track was to redefine the original vision and strategy behind this programme, taking into account the mistakes that had been made in the past four years. After a careful examination of what Flemish e-government had(n't) achieved, I formulated 5 new guiding principles for the future of Flemish e-government: accessible, user-centered, simplified, integrated, secure. The key strategic choice I also made was that we should now focus all our efforts on constructing the back-office of e-government: deploying a service-oriented architecture for application integration and data exchange, setting up a federated identity management infrastructure based on the use of Belgium's electronic identity card, ...

Sample slide of presentation
Vlaamse e-government strategie
2005-2009
[PDF 1.6 MB]
 

Flemish e-government representative to the EU

As the Flemish representative in the Belgian delegation at the TAC (Telematics between Administration Committee) meetings of the European Commission's IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrations) e-government programme, I was involved in brainstorming about the next phase for the Your Europe portal (initially called the "pan-European Mobility Portal"). This is a portal of the EU administration, funded by IDA, aimed at providing e-government information and services to assist Europe's citizens and enterprises to carry out cross-border activities. After the launch of the portal in 2004, the challenge for the future evolution of the portal is to find a sustainable model for managing its content selection, content harmonisation, content ownership, and multilingual aspects. I suggested building a portal supporting "task-oriented access", based on the use of "user-specific landing pages" at the web sites of participating member states. As a result of this study, I was invited to join the eEurope eGovernment Subgroup, a group of leaders and representatives of national e-government initiatives from 30 European countries. On 27 September 2004, I participated in a scenario planning day at the CoBrA Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam ("eGovernment beyond 2005 - scenario session report" [PDF 721 KB]) that the next day resulted in a set of recommendations for modernizing and stimulating innovation in public administrations towards 2010 ("CoBrA Recommendations for eGovernment beyond 2005" [PDF 117 KB]).

Sample slide of presentation
Next steps for the
pan-European Mobility Portal
[PDF 1 MB]
 

In order to make clear the impact of this IDA programme (and other similar EU e-government programmes) I wrote a widely read report on the impact of the different EU e-government initiatives on the Flemish e-government programme ("Impact van de Europese Unie op het Vlaamse e-government" [PDF 163 KB]). I have now become the Flemish representative in the Belgian delegation at the PEGSCO (Pan-European eGovernment Services Committee) meetings of the European Commission's IDAbc (Interoperable Delivery of pan-European e-Government Services to Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) e-government programme, the successor to the IDA programme.

Providing strategic advice on e-government and IT

The Flemish e-government programme was launched in 2000, with a clear vision of where it wanted to go and what it wanted to achieve, but not quite clear how it was going to get there. From the moment the (previous) e-government team got finally started in late 2001, I became a (part-time) senior strategic advisor to the team, providing crucial advice on the major technological and organisational decisions that had to be made.

E-government strategy development

In 2002, I created two key presentations: one that introduced for the first time the "Flemish e-model" for e-government (with a so-called "e-government service desk", made possible by an "e-government service gateway", providing integrated access to a set of government services), and one that suggested the use of an intention-based navigation mechanism for the new Flemish government portal, made possible by the use of a government-wide taxonomy for web sites. These two visions for the first time gave the e-government team a clear idea of what was technologically achievable, but they never succeeded in actually building it (and spent a lot of money trying ...).

Sample slide of presentation         Sample slide of presentation
Waar naar toe met
het Vlaamse e-government?
[PDF 1.9 MB]
 
        Technische basis voor
het Vlaamse e-government
[PDF 513 KB]
 

In 2003, I was asked to help formulate a long-term strategy (2004-2008) for the Flemish e-government programme, in which the focus had to be on increasing the uptake of e-government services by citizens and enterprises and on making sure that new IT technologies would be used to fundamentally rethink and re-engineer existing government processes. In order to make this strategy succeed, the e-government team was fused with the Vlaamse Infolijn (the successful existing call-center of the Flemish administration) to become a new "Contactpunt Vlaanderen", i.e. a single point of (electronic) contact with the Flemish administration. I was again asked to formulate a vision and a strategy on how this Contactpunt Vlaanderen could be set up to support the development of an "integrated service delivery" by the Flemish administration. During 2004 it became painfully clear that the Flemish government portal was a failure, since it used a number of overlapping and contradictory navigation mechanisms that made the average user abandon his search far too quickly. After an extensive study of successful foreign e-government portals, I proposed a new, facet-based classification approach that could support task-oriented browsing and search.

Sample slide of presentation         Sample slide of presentation
Classificatie voor navigeren en zoeken
op de Vlaamse portaal
[PDF 1.5 MB]
 
        Doel en werking van
het Contactpunt Vlaanderen
[PDF 248 KB]
 
Sample slide of presentation         Sample slide of presentation
E-government in Vlaanderen
einde 2003
[PDF 738 KB]
 
        Vlaamse e-government strategie
2004-2008
[PDF 2.4 MB]
 

IT management advice

Government is the ultimate "information processing" industry, so it's the place where you can be almost certain to make the biggest gains in efficiency and productivity by introducing IT solutions. This is also one of the major goals of e-government, but experience has shown that it's far easier said then done. Government bureaucracy has its own internal logic, its own way of doing things, that has evolved in response to legal restrictions and political decisions. As a strategic advisor, I advised top-level civil servants and IT managers on how to introduce advanced IT solutions into the existing structures and processes of the Flemish administration. I helped define the IT strategy that is now being followed in order to achieve the goals of the Flemish e-government programme, and I was actively involved in clarifying the IT challenges that need to be addressed in order to build a future "integrated electronic government".

Sample slide of presentation         Sample slide of presentation
Geïntegreerde elektronische
dienstverlening
[PDF 194 KB]
 
        Strategisch ICT plan
Vlaamse e-government
[PDF 1 MB]
 

Starting up the Cell Media-innovation

I was still enjoying my success as an XML evangelist when in early 2001 I heard about the plans to set up a special group of technical experts to stimulate the development of the information society & knowledge economy in Flanders. It was with some hesitation that I joined the Flemish civil service, but I knew this was going to be a unique opportunity to use my business experience and scientific background to benefit (Flemish) society. Especially after the bursting of the great Internet bubble of the nineteen nineties, when so many people and so many companies had started to doubt the lasting impact of the Internet on the economy and our society. As a member of the Cell Media-Innovation, I've worked hard to convince Flemish citizens, companies and organisations to make more and smarter use of the Internet and new IT technologies. As far as the impact on government itself is concerned, I've seen there's a lot that can be changed for the better in government using IT, and there's a great willingness to adapt and change (contrary to popular belief), but it's going to be a pretty long and slow process.

Knowledge management

My main task as a chief knowledge officer at the Cell Media-Innovation was to manage a knowledge center with data and background information on e-government projects and information society initiatives in Flanders and abroad. The goal of this knowledge center was primarily to support the Strategic Digital Forum (an independent think-tank that was responsible for settting the strategic objectives for the eFl@nders - Digital Action Plan for Flanders), but my team also performed surveys, collected independent data and wrote reports for other interested parties inside and outside the Flemish government. In order to make some of this information more easily available I set up the eFl@nders web site in 2002. I also took the initiative in 2003 to launch a monthly e-mail newsletter "Kenniswijzer" ("Knowledgepointer"), in which I presented best practice case studies of e-government and information society projects (samples of these case studies can be found on the page Downloads: Documents). In 2004 my team began the selection and implementation of a knowledge management platform that is now still being used by groups of users inside and outside government to create and share knowledge and discuss major government policy issues.

Screen shot of web page         Screen shot of web page
eFl@nders web site
 
        "Kenniswijzer" newsletter
 
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