E-Government takes hold, but still a long way to go

With the advent of e-government, the world is witnessing a remarkable transformation of government. From Ottawa to Oslo, Hong Kong to Helsinki, online service delivery has never been higher on the political agenda than it is today.

Governments are talking about the significant benefits that can be realized through e-government. They understand these services must be customer-focused, cost-effective, easy-to-use and value-added for citizens, businesses and governments.

Government leaders are not only talking about e-government, they are walking the talk and moving reality closer to the rhetoric, as is detailed in a comprehensive research report, Rhetoric Versus Reality – Closing the Gap, produced by Accenture.

In the report, the governments of Canada, the United States and Singapore surfaced as “Innovative Leaders.” These countries demonstrated the political will to move online with formal policy programs directed at better customer service and improved government efficiencies.

Still, these Innovative Leaders have a long road ahead on their journey toward more mature online government service delivery. Even though they led the 19 other countries surveyed, they have only traveled about 50 per cent of the way toward reaching the goal of full online service delivery.

As governments become more aggressive in their development of online services, the Innovative Leaders are demonstrating increasingly sophisticated delivery maturity. The governments of Canada, Singapore and the United States are launching portals – online one-stop shops for government services.

Portals enable seamless delivery of government services across agencies and departments, and tailor services to citizen segments using customer relationship management (CRM) techniques – already in use by the private sector – to provide quality service.

Although governments made good progress, must be done to develop fully mature online service delivery that enables citizens to complete end-to-end, electronic transactions with their government.

While private companies have viewed Web sites as essential business tools, the priority of governments has, out of necessity, been identifying the optimal way to move services online, and still retain current standards that ensure citizens and businesses have unfettered access to services. With cross-agency e-government visions charted in the countries studied, the e-government landscape will change rapidly as government officials move to execute the ambitious plans they’ve set for creating e-government.

Research shows that without these ‘big picture visions,’ agency-initiated e-government proposals had hit a wall of implementation barriers, emphasizing the gaps between agencies and underscoring the necessity of creating a central CIO or e-Minister to coordinate and guide development of e-government.

The so-called “digital divide” creates an additional challenge for government. Yet, Accenture’s study finds some countries using creative solutions to address the issue. For instance, in countries where the majority of citizens lack access to the Internet, governments are experimenting with multiple access channels, such as kiosks and public libraries.

Canada emerged as the leader among the 22 countries surveyed this year. Canada secured its leading position as a result of the federal government’s launch of its portal and adoption of a cross-agency approach to e-government, making it easier for citizens and businesses to interact electronically with government.

The key to retaining its position over the next 12 months and to reaching its online potential will be the continuation of the development of its Whole of Government initiatives, and to remain focused on customer relationship management best practices.

The governments Accenture surveyed are experimenting with a range of political and administrative structures to provide leadership for, and build momentum in, their e-government programs. The fundamental challenge for these governments will be creating a model that provides a framework within which all agencies can operate, outlines achievable goals, and specifies deliverables to which all departments and agencies can commit.

Graeme Gordon is an Ottawa-based partner with Accenture’s Government Market Unit