Lac Carling: Businesses’ expectations of gov’t get higher

NIAGARA ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – Government service has gone downhill in the eyes of Canadian business, and pushing them to e-mail and the Web may not be the best approach, based on the results of a survey released at the 15th annual Lac Carling Congress this week.

As part of a broader discussion of initiatives underway to respond to the needs of the private sector, the Institute for Citizen-Centred Services (ICCS) presented “Taking Care of Business 3,” a survey of more than 4,000 organizations across Canada that was conducted last year. The research examined overall perceptions of business towards government, the impact of regulation and preferred channels for accessing government information.

ICCS executive director Guy Gordon said in general terms, the overall impression of government by businesses has declined to 2003 levels after reaching a high point in 2007. This could be explained in part by their attitudes towards various costs governments impose, such as taxes and workers compensation premiums, versus what they get back from the government in terms of programs for attracting and training employees.

“There’s a feeling that governments are asking a lot of businesses and that government may have stepped away a little bit during the recent recession,” Gordon said. “We have flatlined next to the growing expectations that businesses have.”

On a more positive side, 53 per cent of respondents said they say government service improving in terms of dealing with errors, Gordon added, and while the survey looks across Canada, there are some parts of the country that are distinguishing themselves in terms of quality services to government.

While Canada’s public sector has prided itself in terms of providing “e-government” services to businesses, the ICCS study showed that businesses chose the telephone as their preferred channel for resolving a problem at 62 per cent, versus the Web at 14 per cent and e-mail at 13 per cent.

That doesn’t mean that governments aren’t working hard to improve the online experience for businesses, of course. Dan Batista, director of service innovation at Industry Canada, discussed the ongoing effort to revamp the Canada Business Web site, which companies can use to find information on government loans and financing, permits, licences and so on.

Until recently, Batista said, the Web site was burdened by a content management system which was not flexible enough to meet Industry Canada’s needs, and Canada Business was just one of 14 different Web sites that were serving a similar purposes. There was lots of duplicate content, including 26 different guides on how to start a business.

“The emphasis was on maintaining what we had rather than marketing effectively,” he said. “We wanted to recast the model for business users.”

The relaunched site, which will get further updates in the next year, is now based on an open source, self-aware content rendering system that allows customization. This, along with cutting down to a single Web site, should mean reduced costs, Batista said.

“We also got rid of 60 per cent of the content,” he said, and what’s left has been rewritten with Web users in mind.

Creating great Web sites isn’t the only issue, however, Gordon noted that the Taking Care of Business study showed 44 per cent of businesses perceive an increase in red tape, while 47 per cent said it has stayed the same, rather than improved.

“Service is getting better but the bar is being set higher,” he said. “Fiscal restraint is inevitable, but regulation is really perceived as an irritant to the SME.”

Lac Carling Congress, produced by IT World Canada, wraps up Tuesday.

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