Michigan imitates Canadian egovernment success

If you seek to create a consolidated egovernment service network, coveting your neighbours IT assets may be a good way to begin, according to one high profile American CIO.

Teresa Takai, CIO of the State of Michigan, said one way she keeps her network up to date is by “stealing [ideas] from others, especially the Canadians.”

During her keynote at Showcase Ontario 2006, Takai said Canadian federal, provincial and municipal governments are leaders in consolidating automated services.

“Canada is able to offer larger and broader access to its networks because officials [here] view services not as isolated offerings of separate governments, but as a consolidated asset that crosses boundaries,” she said.

Among Canada’s notable achievements, Takai included Nova Scotia’s secure services portal and Ontario’s increasing adoption of self-service kiosks.

She praised Nova Scotia’s initiative in offering its citizens a one-stop portal for information and access to government.

Ontario could be considered a leader in the use of self-service kiosks, Takai said, citing the success of kiosks located in malls that are used to update driver’s licenses and plates.

She also extolled what she called the “PayPal concept” of providing citizens a single online channel to pay for government services.

“Throughout the world, I see a movement towards consolidation of automated services, and I look to emulate some of the advances in Canada.”

Michigan launched its consolidation program in 2002 and Takai was recruited to head the initiative the following year.

She said the program, so far, has brought together 19 separate IT organizations under one umbrella and has shrunk the workforce by as much as 15 per cent.

“We were able to reduce staff with zero layoffs by offering early retirement options,” said Takai.

One of Takai’s greatest challenges was to explain to employees the rationale behind such an amalgamation.

“A lot of people were upset because they didn’t want to move out of their comfort zone,” she said. “They were used to providing services through multiple organizations and couldn’t see the need for consolidation.”

From an end user perspective seamless consolidation is just what the doctor ordered, according to another presenter.

While several layers of government may be involved in delivering a service, end users often want that fact to remain invisible, according to John Weigelt, national technology officer for Microsoft Canada Co. in Ottawa.

“When a person goes to a government Web site to get a birth certificate, he doesn’t want to know what level of government…he has to go to,” he said. “The person wants to know when he can get his certificate.”

While Takai believes a nationally consolidated service network is impossible in the U.S. because of disparate government IT systems in various states, Weigelt believes such a network is possible in Canada.

Canada is perceived as a leader in e-government, he said, noting that global consulting firm Accenture has ranked Canada number one in delivering citizen-centred services for several years.

“We have a great connectivity community,” Weigelt said. “We have to set up policy foundations that determine who manages the services, who is accountable, and who pays for it.”

Gary Cameron, president of Bell Security Solutions Inc. said features as single sign-on across the network are necessary to successfully consolidate e-government services, along with simple yet secure authentication.

Cameron said at the moment many government applications are not able to interoperate and correlate data.

In a separate session, journalist Rex Murphy highlighted the need for putting a “human face” to the services the government renders.

Murphy, host of the CBC’s “Cross Country Checkup” encouraged delegates at the 2006 Showcase empathize with the people they are serving.



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