Canada tops list for e-government initiatives

Canadians want their online government services, they’re wishing for them, they’re waiting for them, but they are still being denied.

Gaylen Duncan estimated, through published public opinion polls, that 70 to 80 per cent of Canadians would prefer to do business online. The President of ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada) said that Canadians feel they would be better served online. Duncan said the government is probably only 10 per cent ready for an online initiative.

But, according to one survey, we’re getting closer. Accenture released a global study that looked at 22 countries and compared their e-government initiatives. Canada came out on top as an innovative leader. This group of three: Canada, the U.S. and Singapore (both of which placed higher than Canada previously) stand apart from other countries due to the high number of mature services offered, according to the report.

The study, eGovernment Leadership: Rhetoric vs. Reality – Closing the Gap, attributed to Canada’s leap over the U.S. and Singapore to commitment of the government to break open the “traditional departmental approach to online service delivery, and instead place the needs of citizens and businesses at the core.”

Duncan disagrees. He said Canadian governments are still so focused on how to deliver service, that they haven’t looked at what to deliver.

“We need to get rid of the term ‘e-government.’ It’s not an issue of how government is delivering the services, it’s how citizens want to work with the services,” he said.

“Stop thinking about the government and the programs they deliver and start thinking about citizens and what they want.”

He said an “e-anything” term will not work, and that there needs to be a different term to describe the relationship between citizens and government.

Duncan said Canada is definitely ahead of the States in terms of online government service initiatives, but guessed we were behind Norway and Sweden.

The Accenture study didn’t look at Sweden, but listed Norway as a “Visionary Follower,” which was defined as any of those countries that have exhibited the beginnings of strong growth based on a solid base of services online.

Oliver Kent, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ottawa, said the key factor of e-government is that it is progressing steadily in response to clear needs on a part of both the citizens and the government.

E-business was so hot for a time that it eclipsed e-government, which kept plodding along in the background and is now finally making more progress than the private sector, he said.

Kent noted the transaction aspects are taking longer to develop, but said he thinks people need to recognize that many of the transactions between the individual and the government are relatively infrequent.

“In fact, many of the more frequent transactions are between business and the government, and I think we have seen – and will continue to see – more rapid progress in terms of the interface between government and business as users of its services, as regulated entities and, slowly, as suppliers as well,” he said.

“Though that side is not advancing as quickly.”

The study also pointed to Canada’s government portal as an example for countries around the world to follow when thinking of offering online information and services to citizens.