Most electronic service delivery projects are still in their infancy and, as such, it’s too early to assess their full benefits, but to better appreciate the potential impact of e-government, it is worth revisiting some of the pioneering G2C technology solutions.
In 1994, the province of New Brunswick established an Information Highway Secretariat, one of the first agencies of its kind anywhere in the world. In the same year, the province’s Department of Natural Resources and Energy (DNRE) gave its hunters the ability to apply for a moose license electronically using an interactive voice response (IVR) telephone system. Later, they were given a further option to apply over the Internet.
Each year between 50,000 and 60,000 New Brunswickers apply for about 4,500 licenses to hunt moose. Because the demand outstrips availability, hunters enter a lottery for the right to buy a license. Traditionally, people would write their name on a card that would go into a large barrel. It would take two days to draw all the successful applications. Now, instead of hand picking paper cards, a computer randomly selects so many identity numbers from all the applicants.
The digital system was introduced because the paperwork and cost of the draw were becoming too much of a burden. Three staff members were needed to handle and sort the cards, and six more employees were required for the draw itself. Plus there were hidden costs such as secretaries’ time to answer queries and make photocopies.
Today, 98 per cent of New Brunswick moose hunters enter the draw electronically rather than apply in person at a wildlife office. Building on this success, computerized lotteries have been established, or are being established, for deer, bear, bobcat and non-resident moose licenses. Just one staff member handles all these draws.
So automating the hunting license process achieved its initial aim but sort of like Columbus who set off for China and found America, the computerized moose draw has tossed up some ultimately pleasant surprises.
Since its introduction, the New Brunswick moose herd has doubled in size from 15,000 to 30,000. Some of that is due to natural growth but more efficient management has also been a factor.
Before, there was unregulated harvesting. Now the province targets specific areas where moose can and cannot be hunted, with quotas based on a system of 27 wildlife management zones. Anywhere from 50 to 500 moose may be allocated to a zone, and in certain years wildlife officials might decide to close a zone to hunting. People apply to hunt in only one zone. Previously, such a procedure would have been too cumbersome; they would have had to refill the barrel 27 times.
The improved wildlife management techniques have generally resulted in the allocation of a greater number of licenses, giving more New Brunswickers the opportunity to hunt moose.
Under the old paper card system, the DNRE did not know anything about the demographics of the people who entered the moose draw. There was a general assumption that the same 50,000 hunters applied every year. But with an electronic file now available on all moose hunters dating back to when the computerized draw started, government officials can analyse patterns in the data.
“We’re seeing a whole lot of things that we didn’t believe were out there,” says Arnold Boer, the DNRE’s executive director of fish and wildlife. “There’s actually a relatively small number who apply every year, so their chances of being drawn are very good – about 50 per cent. The people complaining are those who try for a couple years, drop out for three or four, then try again for one.”
In 2001, to encourage people to enter the draw regularly, the DNRE created two pools, giving those who had applied unsuccessfully for five of the last six years an additional chance of being drawn. “We couldn’t have done that before we had these data files – the information wasn’t known to us,” says Boer. “The electronic files have allowed us to become innovative in the way we allocate licenses. We can sort simply, manipulate, change and do all these wonderful things. We can do customer satisfaction surveys and interact with clients to better serve their needs. We can look at the demographics of our customers, see changes to the client base and patterns that develop, helping us to make more informed decisions.”
As governments become more focused on customers and start taking a more business-like approach to even areas like fish and wildlife management, applications such as the electronic moose draw will allow them to act more proactively.
Soon the DNRE will be able to start sorting its applications a few days before the closing date for the moose draw, and make comparisons with previous years. Says Boer: “We will be able to see that Joe Blow is missing, that he has applied four of the last five years but he hasn’t this year. So we can send him a voice mail message – not bother him by ringing his phone – and say, ‘Joe, did you realize the moose draw closes on the 8 th of June?’ That makes us more interactive with our clients, and it makes our clients think that somebody in the government cares about them.”
*Article extracted from ‘eGov: e-Business Strategies for Government’ by Douglas Holmes, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, ISBN: 1-85788-278-4, US $29.95. To order, email:[email protected].