Magazine article International Trade Forum

United States: What the Information Age Means to a TPO. (TPOs in a Turbulent New Business Environment)

Magazine article International Trade Forum

United States: What the Information Age Means to a TPO. (TPOs in a Turbulent New Business Environment)

Article excerpt

The Information Age means many things to people and organizations (for example, new business processes, more speed, more choice). Above all, it means the Internet. Companies and individuals can find information in many places on the Internet, but a surprisingly large number go to government for information they can trust. One-third of Internet users in the United States seek information from government web sites for business opportunities.

Today, everything seems to be moving to the Internet: information; business introductions; sales; government procurement; government permits and licences; job announcements and applications; "knowledge management"; and international trade promotion information and services. Change is rapid and constant. Organizations, including trade promotion organizations (TPOs), must adapt quickly or become irrelevant to the customers we serve.

Changing expectations

Information technology (IT), particularly the Internet, has accelerated the delivery of information by TPOs. It has also raised expectations of service quality by clients and employees. We want answers now or, at the latest, overnight.

Internet users don't have to rely on traditional suppliers or sources of information, since the Internet offers many alternatives. This forces the suppliers of information, products and services to ensure quality and objectivity on their web sites. Comparing your or my information with that of others reveals exaggerations and untruths.

Constraints on the use of the Internet begin with lack of trust, i.e. fear of the ability of hackers to steal secrets. Other constraints include authentication, intellectual property rights, bandwidth, basic business processes within organizations and employees' reluctance to adopt something new and different. Internet users must work around these fears and constraints, or wait for creative fixes.

Lessons learned

The United States Government stimulated the creation of the Internet per se, but it is a late entrant into e-commerce and e-government. We are learning from our own frustrations, our clients, the private sector and from other governments around the world. I want to share my perceptions of where we failed and where we are succeeding.


The United States Government spends huge sums annually on information technology (US$ 45 billion in 2002), but this investment has not produced gains in productivity comparable to those of the private sector. Here, IT investments contribute 40% of the increase in annual productivity growth.

Problems have stemmed from government agencies that developed IT systems without regard, until recently, for the need to share with other agencies. Financial, human resources, procurement and other systems are generally independent of one another. Sharing data or processes is either an electronic nightmare or impossible. Also, the Government tends to evaluate IT systems by the percentage of time they are working, not by the performance gain they deliver or by the work the agency is supposed to do. Agencies tend to use IT to automate pre-existing processes rather than create new and more efficient solutions. Bureaucrats sometimes perceive IT as a threat to their chains of command and ways of doing things, rather than as an opportunity to improve delivery to customers and performance.


* Opportunities for change. The United States Government has begun to improve its services to citizens, focusing on e-procurement, e-grants, e-regulation and e-signatures. Goals include

-- creating easy-to-find, single points of access to government services for individuals

-- reducing the reporting burden on businesses and individuals by enabling them to fill out one form one time for use by multiple agencies

-- sharing information more quickly among federal, state, local and foreign governments and institutions

-- automating internal processes to reduce costs; and

-- disseminating best practices, including use of digital signatures for transactions. …

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