E-government has meant more than service delivery to citizens and businesses in New Brunswick, according to IDC Canada Ltd.
It’s also changed the cultural landscape of the province.
“Our study was to identify and measure the benefits of e-government on a jurisdiction,” said Denis Vance, IDC’s group vice-president of consulting. “To our own surprise, we ended up reporting on the transformation of a society.”
Vance, who recently released his findings in a report entitled From Vision to Benefit: The New Brunswick e-Government Study, said New Brunswick was known 20 years ago for shipbuilding and pulp and paper. But since Service New Brunswick (SNB) was launched in 1989, the province has become “very much a player in the new economy.”
The IDC study – commissioned by IT services firm CGI Group Inc. and Microsoft Canada – followed the e-government initiatives of provincially owned SNB, which aims to allow citizens to complete all government transactions from one organization and to make all government forms and instructions available online.
SNB was launched with four key objectives, Vance said, but sought above all to significantly improve customer service – a goal that has been met.
In the early days of e-government, the customer satisfaction rating of the New Brunswick government had nowhere to go but up. Officials told IDC that customer satisfaction was in the 45 to 55 per cent range in 1988.
“No matter how you look at it – it was abysmal,” Vance said.
However, as SNB has progressed, satisfaction levels have increased. The government reported a satisfaction rating of 93 per cent last year – a figure supported by IDC’s, which found an approval rating of 92 per cent.
The high satisfaction rate is probably due in part to time saved by utilizing multi-channel services. A total of 18 per cent of citizens surveyed by IDC said they saved at least two hours of time each year by using SNB. That translates into citizen productivity savings of $58 million annually.
“It’s not surprising that the number one objective was customer satisfaction,” Vance said. “Any politician will tell you that customer satisfaction is good politics.”
Another key objective of Service New Brunswick was to create a more technically intelligent jurisdiction. According to the study, through its e-government initiatives, the province has become the customer call centre capital of Eastern Canada, with 95 centres operating in 2002.
“These are, in many cases, significant call centres,” Vance said. “For example, IBM has one of their worldwide customer technical support centres in New Brunswick. We’re not talking about menial call centre jobs. We’re talking about highly sophisticated support jobs within call centres in New Brunswick.”
The drive to become a leader in technology was also fuelled by early and ongoing involvement from private sector collaborators.
“Sometimes (New Brunswick) would outsource the operational management of a system or they would work with private sector firms to develop a particular application,” Vance said. “Service New Brunswick always retained responsibility for the business plan, technical architecture and business processes.
“The big payoff here was that when the service was ready to go it could be ready sooner because they may not have had to go out and acquire the infrastructure to do it, or they may not have had to recruit the people to create it.”
And sometimes SNB paved the way to realize long-term gains. For example, SNB and the IT services firm CGI built a template to create e-government applications from existing services. The product, known as gBIZ, is now licensed by CGI, with a licensing fee to SNB with every sale.
Vance said the evolution of New Brunswick as a technological centre is reflected in the number of companies that have set up shop there. According to Statistics Canada, there were 228 multimedia and software development companies in New Brunswick in 2001 and companies including CGI, IBM and Unisys have established offices, departments and divisions in the province. In addition, New Brunswick recently welcomed the National Research Council’s Institute for Information Technology e-Business which opened its doors this summer.
“We look at this as the… seal of approval,” Vance said.
Cost Savings Through Efficiencies
IDC also wanted to show that SNB had succeeded in reducing service delivery costs through increased efficiencies, but the hard data to support these findings was not available, Vance said.
“We were inundated with data, but the problem was to find appropriate data,” he said. “We found ourselves trying to compare an apple – not with an orange – but with a watermelon. Having said that, IDC believes that this objective has almost certainly been achieved.”
Vance noted that SNB is self-financing, the corporation was able to return 10 per cent of its operating budget to the province in its first year of operation, and corporation has been able to close 1,564 government offices and replace them with only 36 multi-service regional centres.
The Recipe for Success
The study concluded that there are a number of reasons for SNB’s early and ongoing success, among them strong political leadership; a clear focus on serving the citizen rather than on technology, and the involvement of private sector collaborators.
In addition, Vance said, SNB was expected and allowed to operate as a business.
“The key is that they have the ability to plan,” he said. “They can put together a three-year plan, or a five-year plan, with the confidence that they can run it. They don’t have to get into a race at the end of every government fiscal year to find out if they’re going to have funding in the next fiscal.”
So, with all that said, what is the IDC perspective on e-government in the province?
“In IDC’s view, e-government initiatives in New Brunswick unquestionably have helped to serve in the transformation of the province,” Vance said. “They’re very much playing now in the new economy. We believe the study shows the e-government initiatives have provided citizens and corporations with time saved (and) unprecedented levels of satisfaction. There is also a real opportunity for the citizens to be much more fully engaged in the economy. That’s all good news.
“While New Brunswick is a small jurisdiction, we also believe that the lessons learned, the approaches taken, can provide very positive results if they’re applied to bigger provinces, smaller jurisdictions (and) nationally.”
– with files from Lindsay Bruce
For more information visit:
– Service New Brunswick at www.gnb.ca/snb
– IDC Canada at www.idc.ca
– CGI at www.cgi.com