Dangerous Enthusiams. E‐government, Computer Failure and Information System Development

Jenni Viitanen (School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 3 October 2008



Viitanen, J. (2008), "Dangerous Enthusiams. E‐government, Computer Failure and Information System Development", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 813-814. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513550810909258



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As suggested by the title, Dangerous Enthusiasms offers a somewhat dystopian account on e‐government investment and project delivery focusing on four case studies drawing on large‐scale public sector ICT initiatives in New Zealand. Primarily aimed at practitioners, the book illustrates in detail the workings of misguided information system procurement and project management. It might also be of interest to students of (public) management, software development and related disciplines or those researching project management or government modernisation by means of technology, particularly in the health sector.

The inspiration for this book stems from contemporary governments' unreserved enthusiasm and the associated expenditure on erroneous large‐scale information system modernisation projects which tend to end up in either partial or total failure. Gauld and Goldfinch tackle this area, which admittedly suffers from chronic bad press, with such lavish pessimism that a word of warning ought to be issued to any practitioner or politician who might find this book by their bedside table: idolisation, lomanism, managerial faddism and technophilia are put forward in a model of four “pathological enthusiasms” leading to near‐certain project failure in the field of ICT/information system development (ISD) in the public sector. Public servants, politicians, “computer geeks”, IT consultants/salespeople and managers all have an incriminating role to play in a “vicious circle” that leads into spectacular failures and a waste of taxpayers' money.

Chapter 2, a more generic account, offers a definition of e‐government and a broad summary of academic writing on e‐government. A useful at a glance review of international developments in e‐government policy follows. Interestingly, the authors draw parallels between the “four enthusiasms” and the inclination towards the new public management paradigm in New Zealand administration.

Chapters 3 and 4 illustrate the case context with a specific focus on the Kiwi health sector: two out of four case studies are examples of disastrous health care ICT procurement. Chapters 5 and 6 introduce the other two case studies on the Police Force and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), only the latter offering a modest glimpse of hope in ISD. The authors argue that LINZ represents a case of (only) partial failure or a qualified success and probably an example of “as good as it gets”.

The concluding Chapter 7 recaps the major fault lines in ICT projects analysing aspects of contract management, monitoring, control and accountability problems relating to ministers and senior management as well as user acceptance. The by now familiar four dangerous enthusiasms are further discussed in light of the case studies. True to its nature, the book finishes with a clear message to anyone who might be involved in making a decision about venturing ISD: “Above all, be pessimistic about information technology”.

In summary, the book's merits are firmly rooted in its detailed critique of large‐scale e‐government projects. From an academic point of view, it focuses narrowly on the delivery of government ICT projects, barely touching upon longstanding debates about the digital divide, wider implications for citizens and the potential for e‐democracy. This is not to detract from its value in offering an insightful account of real life projects and in doing so it ought to be read by decision makers and modernisers in the public sector whose expectations might still be naïve and influenced by the four enthusiasms – not exclusively in the field of e‐government. Whilst recommending this book particularly to practitioners and students in relevant fields, one should proceed with caution. Dangerous Enthusiasms might justify Dangerous Apathy among those who resist reform in the public sector by providing ammunition to freeze public investment in technology and innovation.

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