18 Dec 2013 Public sector e-commerce – a great example of dynamic inactivity
The great American commentator and satirist Jim Boren (1925 – 2010) long ago coined the term ‘Dynamic Inactivity’ to describe a form of bureaucratic behaviour which we all recognise. Dynamic Inactivity is defined as the devitalisation of ideas by the promulgation of ‘viable concepts’ and ‘action plans’ which serve to mask the underlying formulation of ‘inaction concepts’. For Boren, Dynamic Inactivity means doing nothing, but doing it with consummate bureaucratic style.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment in public sector eCommerce in the last decade and a half has been dynamic inactivity. Lots has happened: millions of Euros have been spent on policy development, technical studies, conferences and analysis, economic analysis, standards setting, monitoring, recommending and blah, blah, blah. In reality, f*** all has actually happened of any significance.
My view is that all of this dynamic inactivity has actively hindered adoption of eCommerce and will continue to do so for as long as eCommerce is treated as an adjunct of either ICT or policy making. It is neither of these things – it is a business and commercial activity which takes place in the real world.
And industry bodies and policy makers are being left behind by SMEs and micro businesses who can send eInvoices from their iPhones which update their sales ledgers in the Cloud and a generation which is used to online shopping and electronic banking.
There are two ways of being successful in IT – giving customers what they already have and want more effectively and/or more cheaply, or leading them to desire something that they had not yet realised they wanted. Insisting they do something which they can already do perfectly well in a manner which means them changing processes and incurring costs is a doubtful strategy. And yet this is precisely what policy makers, egged on by the eCommerce solutions industry, seems intent on doing.
At some point towards the end of the eInvoicing roundtable event on 9 December someone said that the search was on as single ‘standard’ and for “one way forward”: this is like basing your retirement plans on the assumption of a lottery win and is a fool’s errand. In commerce as in agriculture investing in a uniform monoculture is a strategy for starvation.
It is far better to encourage the pragmatic acceptance of multiple channels in a market and, as Tim McGrath commented, let standards arise from use rather than mandate. The methods which work most acceptably will be the ones that gain traction and encourage activity.
And then policy makers could seek advice based on empirical evidence of what actually works and real businesses actually want to use. Otherwise they are condemned to a never ending routine of dynamic inactivity.
Ian Burdon can be found on twitter @IanBurdon