No. 1 with a but

Canada is No. 1 again – but in a new game, with new rules. Accenture’s annual survey of e-government operations around the world has ranked Canada first in each of the past four years. Those reviews, however, were conducted against a benchmark restricted to e-government – just one component of a fully functioning, citizen-centred administration.

This time, in an attempt to shift the focus to the customer, or citizen, the standard became electronic service delivery.

Accenture researchers changed their methodology because e-government has become common around the world; 20 out of the 22 countries surveyed have at least 80 per cent of the services we measure online. But, like a good customer – or citizen – service delivery is harder to find.

The results were the same, however: Canada topped a list of 22 countries which are committed to electronic service delivery. Still, there is room for improvement everywhere – even for Canada. The overall average customer service maturity score in 2005 was only 38 per cent; only Canada has a score of more than 50 per cent.

e-Government: Maturing, but is it delivering?

e-Government has hit its teen years; most governments now have a broader service delivery agenda. A number of countries are broadening their customer service agenda in ways that will position them for future leadership. Governments are putting the foundations in place for multi-channel, inter-connected government and they are starting to adopt many leading-edge customer service capabilities.

The main challenge confronting many of them is the set of critical building blocks they need — but do not yet have – to move forward toward the next generation of service delivery.

Citizens want more from government. They want more services, available at their convenience. And they want better service, in every transaction with government. Those governments that take the time to form a clear picture of citizens’ government delivery preferences and usage patterns will significantly expand their ability to generate real value.

Canada – opportunities ahead

Canada leads the world because it understands that service transformation implies a radical change in the way government as a whole is managed. It has articulated a service vision to redesign services, service delivery and the public service itself to achieve dramatic improvements in client satisfaction, cost savings and efficiencies, policy outcomes and accountability and transparency.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings in our study this year is that Canadians are willing to give up elements of their privacy for better service from the government. Unlike other market reports, the Accenture study shows that if a government communicates its security and protection measures for citizen data effectively, it will have a bigger customer service opportunity – the ability to share data. Despite citizen willingness, however, governments do not appear ready to match their enthusiasm with an ability to deliver.

Canada is proactively investigating options for reorganizing service delivery to the customer, for example, identifying Service Canada as a new pan-government agency to deliver citizen-centred services and benefits to Canadians through integrated channels. Service Canada is a significant undertaking and will need to be managed accordingly to deliver on citizen expectations in a timely manner.

Canada has also placed significant effort in marketing its innovative offerings to Canadians. The Canada Business Service Centres (CBSCs), Canada’s gateway to government information for business, market and promote multi-channel services through a “click-call-visit” approach. Citizens can click on a web site, call for information or visit for advice and specific assistance. There are activities to move people to the web through a “talk-to-us” hybrid channel, where they can connect with an information officer online. Marketing and promotion of the CBSCs is done at the regional and local levels through trade show visits, outreach seminars and promotions by community partners.

From a practical perspective, Government On-Line and Canada’s Service Improvement Initiative are both scheduled to conclude as separate initiatives this year, to be replaced with a whole-of-government service transformation agenda.

Three service visions — for citizens, for businesses and for international clients — roll up to one comprehensive vision for government as a whole: “Next Generation Public Services.” This points to a multi-channel approach and personalized, two-way relationships. It also means governing service delivery at the enterprise level; having a common view of government business lines and clients; and standardizing business processes and information. This vision focuses on outcomes in terms of client satisfaction, cost savings and efficiencies, policy outcomes and compliance, and accountability and transparency. Working horizontally and vertically will also be a key element of implementation, as will partnerships across government and with the private sector, non-governmental organizations and volunteer groups.

With these new initiatives, Canada is still playing catch-up to it citizen’s expectations. But as a trendsetter for the rest of the world, Canada is demonstrating that it is determined to respond to these demands. What do they want? This year Accenture expanded its citizen research survey and explored trends in how citizens in 22 countries communicate and interact with their governments, their experiences of cross-government collaboration and information sharing and the triggers and barriers to their future interactions with government. Three points became clear:

1. Effective multi-channel strategies are critical.

Despite relative Internet savvy and familiarity with online government in advanced countries, the telephone continues to be the predominant means citizens use to communicate with government – even though they consistently rank it as the most difficult form of communication. Not one country, including Canada, ranked the Internet as the favoured method for either contacting government or receiving communications from government. Governments cannot afford to invest all of their effort and resources in developing the online channel alone.

2. Governments’ service delivery to individual citizens is disjointed.

In our citizen survey, only 41 per cent of Canadians felt that government services and departments were effective at working together. In other words, Canadians expect the government to be able to note that they she recently placed a request on the portal as well as made a phone call. They expect the best in private sector customer service in the public sector.

3. Citizens express willingness to share personal information for better service, but the right assurances need to be in place.

Sharing personal information was a trend not just in Canada but around the world. For government departments to work efficiently together, they need to be able to share citizens’ information. The prospect of sharing personal information generates differing responses from citizens. Across all countries, most citizens have little difficulty with the sharing of standard information such as name, address, nationality and marital status. In fact, in most countries including Canada, citizens tend to be reasonably comfortable with all aspects of data sharing, with the exception of medical records and, to a lesser extent, tax details.

To build greater trust, governments could begin by sharing less contentious information and then progress to more sensitive data once people are assured of the benefits and security of shared information. They also need to be highly conscious of security strategies and communicate security policies to build confidence in the way they are using this information.

Where are we headed next?

What we have not seen yet is the radical reinvention of service delivery in the government sector, using new practices, processes and technology as enablers. The agenda now is to move from driving the development of e-government for its own sake, to driving public sector value through transformed service delivery – giving citizens better service.

Overall, the new vision of the government aligns customer with service. That is the challenge, one Accenture will watch closely as governments reinvent themselves.

Alden Cuddihey ([email protected]) is a partner in Accenture’s Canadian government operating group.

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