WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Improving citizen satisfaction, not saving money, is the key factor driving the development of online government services, according to a study released last week.

The study, "eGovernment Leadership: Engaging the Customer," is Accenture's fourth annual global study on electronic government. As part of the study, Accenture researchers said they interviewed more than 140 senior executives in government agencies across North America, Europe and Asia and conducted additional research to assess the breadth and depth of e-government practices in 22 countries.

When asked to select factors "driving development" of online government services for citizens, 93 percent of the government executives surveyed selected "improving citizen satisfaction;" 83 percent selected "customer demands for new and better services;" and 77 percent selected the need to meet "government performance targets."

Only 51 percent selected "pressure to reduce costs."

"The mantra we increasingly hear from government executives is, 'Give the people what they want,'" said Steve Rohleder, global chief executive of Accenture's government practice. "As government executives focus on tailoring online services to meet the needs of specific customer segments, just as businesses do, their e-government programs will be more successful and deliver greater returns on the investments."

As part of the study, Accenture also ranked each of the 22 countries in terms of the sophistication of their online services. This analysis considered a variety of factors, including how well each government's services incorporate customer relationship management (CRM) practices, as well as the level of "maturity" with which each government delivers electronic services -- or the breadth and sophistication of the online services offered, depending on whether the services involved only publication of information, offered some electronic interaction capability or provided full capabilities for online transactions.

Accenture then placed each government in one of five "plateaus" of online maturity. The first plateau is the lowest overall maturity, which basically entails little more than having an online presence. The fifth, and highest, plateau is overall service transformation.

For the third year in a row, Canada topped the list in terms of overall e-government maturity, the study found, and Canada was the only country to reach the fifth plateau this year.

According to the study's authors, Canada's e-government initiative is differentiated by its customer-service vision; methods for measuring success of services; broad, integrated approach to offering government services through multiple service-delivery channels; and a cross-agency approach to online services.

Singapore, the United States, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and France all ranked on the fourth plateau of mature electronic service delivery.

These governments have established customer service objectives, and their portals offer valuable, convenient online services to their customers, the study said.

Countries on the third plateau of service availability -- including The Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Norway, Italy and Malaysia -- had basic portals, built with the goal of making as many services available online as quickly as possible. These countries had broad electronic service adoption targets; some sophisticated transaction capabilities; and were somewhat focused on their customers, with individual agencies taking initial steps to work collaboratively to offer online services, the study said.

"The most important driver for government transformation strategies usually is and should be improving citizen service," said John Kost, vice president for government research worldwide at Gartner, a leading technology research and advisory firm. "In the short term, it will likely not save money. But, in the long term, effective e-government strategies will improve citizen self-sufficiency and reduce the overall cost of government."

Accenture said its research found that e-government maturity follows a cyclical pattern, with periods of rapid development followed by slow-downs in progress as governments reach another plateau. Moving from plateau to plateau to reach a higher level of maturity required a country to reevaluate its objectives and results and then modify its approach.

Accenture