E-government is getting better

There’s a wealth of information on the government Web sites. A lot of it is actually useful, which is an improvement over the standard look-how-good-we-are political stuff that you might expect.

Admittedly, there’s still a lot of that sort of thing, but if you look at the links, you can quickly bypass the politics and get into the information or transactions. The federal government has done a good job of making information available. Health Canada has more information than I really want to know about all the things that could affect my health. The Health Travel Advisories are interesting, including a brief article about gastrointestinal illness while travelling and links to an associated study.

It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, but it reminded me that a little more care than normal is a good idea. Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic were singled out for notice, which probably isn’t fair. I include myself in the list of folks who have had stomach problems in various “safe” places in North America.

Statistics Canada is worth a browse if you’re interested in the latest numbers and their interpretation of everything from the economy to the number of homicides in Canada – 536 in 1999. Unfortunately the numbers for this year aren’t there yet. Mind you, if driving from downtown Vancouver to Surrey were considered attempted homicide, the numbers would be badly skewed.

Strategis is the catchy name of the Industry Canada site that has some useful information for businesses. Probably the most interesting segment is devoted to programs and services. There’s lots of information there for small businesses trying to start up, or looking for information about product lines.

The online business registration site is one of the best I’ve seen. Instead of the typical paper converted to online form, the applicant fills out sections about their proposed business on a series of Web pages and then confirms each page and moves on. At the end of the exercise, the registration number is displayed on a type of certificate which can be printed out, and which is verified, or confirmed by real mail later. It’s the first government or private site I’ve run into that provided privacy and security instructions in detail – including instructions on cleaning up the cache after registration. That idea is worth duplicating.

The provinces are a bit more variable. British Columbia and Ontario both have substantial amounts of information and the ability to do business with departments on line. Unfortunately, a lot of the transactions are an electronic version of a paper form, which may or may not work very well depending on both your computer and the operating system version.

This is a good example of needing resources to maintain Web sites and needing some way of knowing when it is not functioning properly. Waiting for the customer to complain is not necessarily a good strategy. For every customer that comments or makes suggestions about a Web site, there are 100 that won’t bother, and won’t come back, as I found out when doing my Christmas shopping online. It holds true for businesses as well as government.

BC Connects has been given a certain amount of publicity as being the B.C. government’s interface with the people. It is certainly a good start and has a wealth of business information of the regulatory variety. It has links to other information and statistics and some parts of it are still under construction. On a lighter side, in 25 years time, there will be a surplus of people in B.C. named Joshua, Matthew, Sarah and Emily. Ryan and Hannah are up there as well. Those were the most popular names for babies born in 2000 according to the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Space doesn’t permit a review of municipalities, but it’s worth looking for your city or town. The larger cities are there, but so are some of the smaller communities. It’s amazing what you can find out about Canada and about the relative importance of information in different parts of the country. The important part is that governments appear to be genuinely trying to be more accessible and much more informative.

Horner is a partner at Sierra Systems Group Inc. in Vancouver. He can be reached at alhorner@sierrasystems.com.