Canada leads in e-gov

The Canadian government is on top when it comes to developing e-government services, according to a recent study conducted by Accenture.

The study, e-Government Leadership: Engaging the Customer, was released in April and explores the status of 22 e-governments across the globe, from Canada and the U.S. to Singapore and Australia. This is the third year in a row Canada has assumed the number one position, placing ahead of both Singapore and the U.S.

Graeme Gordon, Accenture Canada’s e-government partner in Ottawa, says he isn’t surprised to see Canada leading the survey.

“E-government isn’t just about offering services online, which a lot of countries still focus on,” Gordon said. “E-government is more about transforming government services to provide more effective and more efficient services and also coming to the realization that those services have to be customer-centric.”

Not only has the Canadian government accomplished this through such online services as e-file with Revenue Canada and major benefits programs such as pension plans and old age security, but Gordon says Canada’s Government online strategy (GOL) understands that e-government is more than just an Internet channel.

In a nutshell, the reason Canada is ranked number one is because it has recognized the need for making services available to Canadians, he said.

The study ranked each of the 22 countries by researching the sophistication of the online services being offered. Various researchers conducted online tests of the government Web sites to survey the services being offered. Such factors as publication of information, electronic interaction and transaction quality between the government and customers were all considered as part of the overall Web site. Accenture also conducted interviews with 143 executive representatives within governments.

Once the research was complete, each GOL was categorized into a plateau, or level of online maturity. The first plateau is the lowest overall maturity, which means the government has a little more than just an online presence. Canada’s GOL just moved into the fifth and highest plateau, which is overall service transformation.

Last year, Canada was one plateau lower at the mature electronic service delivery, but an increased focus on services that are important to Canadians has propelled Canada into the highest plateau. Also, the fact that Canada reorganized internally and focused on the big picture of the government online, also moved the Web site up a notch, Gordon noted.

“Canada is starting to multi-channel and also has funding initiatives that go across departments,” he said.

Some countries currently in the mature service delivery stage are Singapore, Denmark, Australia and the U.S. Countries in the third plateau, or service availability with basic portals built with the goal of making services available online quickly, include Spain, Japan and Norway.

Citizen satisfaction is a driving force behind e-government, Gordon says, as it’s the focus and understanding on service delivery improvement and service delivery transformation.

The Canadian GOL is also finding ways to cross boundaries by clustering departments that are related. For example, tax, business startup and financing, are just a few examples of services that have been united online. It’s similar to one-stop shopping. A customer can go to one place to have all questions answered on a specific topic.

“A lot of work is going on within departments to try to better understand what customers want,” Gordon said. Using surveys and focus groups, Canada is identifying customers and organizing Web services to reach their requirements.

For the customer, it means simpler access and service. “It’s easier and better to be online versus waiting in line,” Gordon said.

Money also makes a difference, and so far the Canadian government’s investment has been significant, Gordon says, with a lot of work being done on the common infrastructure, which has helped position Canada well.

Three years ago the government started to inject $880 million into e-government. The program will continue until 2005. The cash has helped to create a good working governance model and has created a focus across Canada’s departments on customer satisfaction and how to increase that satisfaction.

Toronto-based James Sharp, IDC Canada’s director of vertical markets and customer segments, said Canada’s GOL has done a pretty good job of putting a Web front end on its existing business.

“They’ve started to move towards single-window delivery by clustering services online,” Sharp said. While he hadn’t seen the survey, Sharp agreed that the Canadian government has started to change GOL from an information-only portal to an integrated service.

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