If you think of the long lines you have waited in over the years, chances are a good deal of those queues were in government offices: getting a new driver’s license, updating your health card, or applying for government benefits. If all goes as planned, those days will be over in the not-too-distant future.
Oracle Corp. outlined a plan designed to get more government services on-line, thereby reducing the amount of time citizens have to spend in line. The e-government leadership initiative seeks to help the public sector become efficient e-governments through the application of Internet technology.
Simply put, it is the “ability to use technology to a further degree to service and governance,” said Campbell Robertson, Ottawa-based national manager of e-business solutions for Oracle Canada.
Oracle has outlined four points on how government should move forward, according to Robertson. The first point is to actually get the government on-line, thus addressing the issue of access to services. The goal is to make all government services easily accessible in an effective and cost-saving manner.
To some extent, this is already available in certain cities, for certain services, but it is far from pervasive.
Mississauga, Ont., is one of Canada’s more on-line cities. According to Debbie Barrett, director of IT for the City of Mississauga, its goal is rather straightforward. “You shouldn’t have to come to City Hall unless you choose to,” she said. Today, Mississaugans can renew their library books, get a transit pass or sign their kid up for soccer using the Internet.
Though moving services on-line can save governments money, they have no choice but to keep the more traditional methods of interaction open. “You can [encourage citizens] to move to the more cost-effective channels but you always have to leave the choice open,” Barrett said. Until every citizen has a computer at home with Internet access, no government will be able to shut down other sectors. Oracle’s Robertson agreed. “Government, unlike business, has to maintain all of the channels of access open at all times; they can’t shut down fax or over the counter access.”
The second area where government can move forward, according to Oracle, is in on-line governance. Robertson said this deals with accountability and getting each government department to become more efficient. While the first example is likely to increase costs, for the time being at least, the second suggestion should help lower costs.
He said activities such as collective purchasing would put governments in a position to bargain with suppliers for better prices. Robertson added this would create more streamlined procurement.
Jim Andrew, executive director of information technology for the city of Toronto, agreed. “We see a huge potential savings in the e-business area as it relates to new ways of purchasing, and financial transactions being cheaper and faster,” he said.
But this portion of the initiative hasn’t converted everyone.
“The idea of exchanges frightens the regional and small industries,” said Gaylen Duncan, president and CEO of ITAC in Mississauga, Ont. “It means they are probably not going to be in the bidding.” But he does see other solutions that would allow smaller business to compete. He said on-line auctions would allow local players to compete because they could pass on savings due to lower distribution costs. Duncan added, “there not going to be a silver bullet” solution.
Oracle’s third point has to do with what Robertson calls transformation of services. Government is in an unusual position here. Unlike the world of business, where core decisions are made by few and always with both eyes firmly locked on the market, governments have to view a bigger picture.
Since citizens put governments in power, decisions are ultimately made by millions. “[Governments] have to provide the services involved and they have to adhere to the policies and legislation put forward, ” Robertson said. “The private sector will move ahead more quickly than public sector because there are a lot of different issues around protection, the citizen base and community,” he added.
Add to this the monolithic nature of most government, and it is not surprising why they don’t move more quickly. To their defence, Duncan added, “governments are becoming more efficient all the time, it is just that it is so incremental it is tough to see.”
privacy and security
The forth point to be addressed is the all too important issue of security, one that is slowing being addressed.
“We will have it legislated that privacy and security and protection in an electronic world will be a right for the Canadian citizen,” Robertson said, commenting on Bill C-6.
Mississauga’s Bartlett agreed this is a key area for government to address. “Our clients can be assured and guaranteed the government will respect the privacy of their information and insure that it is secure,” she said.