23 March 2005

The Government's Role

Back in 2002, I wrote an essay entitled "Puerto Rico: Online or Flatline." In it I discussed Puerto Rico's need to aggressively move online to become a serious force in the global economy. Part of the essay has suggestions for roles to be played by government, education and private industry. Here's the excerpt on what the Government of Puerto Rico should be doing to move us online before the world leaves Us to flatline:

As much as I advocate a separation of State and Economy equal to that separating Church and State, the realistic approach in Puerto Rico is to allow for heavy government involvement in the local economy. The difference will be in the type of participation it will have. Government’s role in this transition to the knowledge economy is that of facilitating information flow.

By choosing this focus, the Government of Puerto Rico can take advantage of two characteristics:

1) The populace expects the Government to provide a large degree of support.

2) It allows the Government to focus on aspects within its control and outside of the corporate realm.

Although the other steps outlined within also include Government participation to varying degrees, the key element is the focus on improving information flow. The first and most obvious realm for that focus is to extend and fully establish the Government’s own intranet.

At present, the gobierno.pr intranet (though it is designed for and does offer public access, I use the term intranet to designate a full inter-agency network) has a widely-divergent level of quality, with some Agency sites close to making full use of the Internet’s interactive qualities and some sites being little more than electronic flyers. And then there are those institutions, such as the House of Representatives, that as of the date of this writing, have no website at all.

With a focus on improving information flow and beginning with its own agencies, the Government will gain needed experience about the power and potential of knowledge economy infrastructure as well as establish the basis for a full-fledged e-government initiative for all Puerto Ricans. The obvious benefits of an intranet—such as, reduced operational costs, increased data mining and enhanced information management—will pave the way for a new level of citizen-level and corporate-level services.

To carry out this series of tasks and retain focus, I suggest the creation of a Cabinet position along the lines of Great Britain’s “E-Envoy”. This position, reporting directly to the Office of the Prime Minister, has the goal of spearheading England’s governmental efforts to not only improve its own electronic infrastructure, but to educate Her Majesty’s officials in its nuances and help mold the country into a global e-commerce powerhouse. This Office of E-Envoy was established in 1999 and is well on its way to achieving its stated goals. (Note: It surpassed its goals for 2005 in early 2004.)

In Puerto Rico, such an office would also consolidate the many different efforts, but one key condition must be observed: With the possible exception of the Envoy himself or herself, all other personnel must be drawn from within the Government. The level of acceptance and overall change is greatly reduced if effort is perceived as an “outsider’s” imposition and there really should be no problem in having all agencies provide one or more senior-level employees to help coordinate integration.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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