E-Government Makes Global Progress

United States still lags behind Canada and Singapore, report says.

by / August 8, 2002
Despite the war on terrorism and a faltering economy that slashed many operating budgets, governments around the world have continued to pursue their e-government visions, according to a new study by Accenture.

Far from withdrawing from e-government initiatives, many national governments have demonstrated renewed determination "to harness the power of the information economy for the benefit of their private and corporate citizens, albeit at vastly different speeds and levels of sophistication," said the recent report.

In conducting its third annual survey of e-government leadership, Accenture set out to discover how the governments of the 23 most technologically advanced countries have progressed in their e-government programs. The aim of the study was not only to identify those nations leading in their e-government initiatives, but also to find which countries are now making the greatest progress and why. Additionally, the study highlights emerging trends in e-government, perhaps the most valuable aspect of such a report.

There is little doubt that e-government continues to present many challenges to even the most sophisticated nations. "The benefits are clear -- faster, cheaper, more personalized and efficient service delivery that citizens and businesses can access 24/7," wrote David Hunter, chief executive of Accenture's Government Operating Group, and Vivienne Jupp, managing partner of the firm's global e-government services.

"Realizing those benefits has, however, proven somewhat elusive. In moving government online, the challenges are complex; legal, administrative, regulatory, social and political forces combine to create a delicate mix of stakeholders that must be managed in the transition to online government."

In spite of the barriers, democratic governments have little choice but to continue to set e-government priorities. "Citizens' expectations of government have been permanently altered in recent years by forces such as: aging populations, increased service expectations, security concerns, a talent crunch, competition by the private sector and fiscal pressure that forces governments to find ways to do more with less," said Hunter. "End-to-end e-government transactions are emerging as one of the most promising tools for governments to use in achieving real transformation as they deliver public services in the 21st century."

The Accenture study examined a total of 169 national government services across nine major service sectors: human services, justice and public safety, revenue, defense, education, transportation and motor vehicles, regulation and democracy, procurement, and postal. But as the survey focused only on national government initiatives, where some of these services fell into the purview of lower tier regional or local governments, the study took this into account.

Rating the progress and maturity of services in these areas, the e-government leaders remain unchanged from last year's survey. Second-ranked Singapore closed the gap, but Canada maintained its position in first place, steadily advancing toward its stated goal of providing Canadians with electronic access to all federal programs and services by 2004.

Although the United States trailed both Canada and Singapore in the overall ratings, it still was one of the three countries to make the "Innovative Leaders" category -- those countries whose overall maturity scores exceeded 50 percent. All three countries have valuable lessons, which all governments can benefit from, even state and local governments.

Canadian Leadership

The strength of Canada's e-government initiatives is its focus on grouping online services around citizens' needs and priorities. The Canada site provides a single point of access for citizens, with information clustered around three audience-based gateways: Canadians, Canadian Business and Non-Canadians. The site provides access to 450 federal Web sites and offers e-mail responses within one business day.

Canadian online service delivery is based on extensive user research. In redesigning the main portal last year, for example, more than 50 focus groups in Canada and abroad were consulted. Canada also has launched an online citizens' panel to help officials gain more insight into citizens' perceptions and expectations for online government.

"Too often in the past, government services were designed from the inside out; they reflected the structures of government organizations rather than the needs and priorities of citizens," said Treasury Board Minister Lucienne Robillard, who centrally coordinates Canada's e-government initiatives. "This is changing ... we cannot stop until all Canadians can have seamless access to all government services quickly, simply and with a minimum of fuss."

Of 71 services examined in the Accenture study for which the Canadian Government is responsible, 64 are available online to some degree. In the last year, six of these services moved from the "publish" or "interact" level to the level of online transactions with citizens. Canadians from many areas of the country, for instance, can now apply for employment insurance over the Internet.

Another significant Canadian project is the testing of digital signature authentication, which soon will be rolled out across a variety of government services.

However, perhaps the most significant development in Canada is that the government has signed a contract with a consortium of private-sector companies to build a "secure channel" -- the common infrastructure needed to assure secure, private and seamless transactions across all areas of government.

Singapore's Leap Forward

When Lim Siong Guan, head of Singapore's civil service, declared, "Every service that can be delivered electronically shall be electronically available," he set into motion a concerted drive to achieve this as rapidly as possible. Singapore took the lead in 1998 as one of the first countries to enact an Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) to provide for legal recognition of electronic signatures through the use of digital certificates.

Of 136 services that the Singapore government could deliver online, 132 are available to some degree. Singapore also made considerable progress in the delivery of integrated services with the launch of the eCitizen Center, a single window to public services organized according to what the private or corporate citizen intends to do rather than by agency or department. Here, for instance, citizens now can renew their drivers' licenses online.

In 2001, the government introduced nine new services, and 19 existing services moved from a "publish" or "interact" level to the point where actual transactions could be completed online. Businesses can pay their income and sales taxes to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore via Internet banking services provided by private banks.

Research for further initiatives now has started to provide government services via wireless channels such as WAP phone, PDA or other mobile devices. Singapore 's e-government strategy stresses tapping into any new technology innovation and multiple channels of delivery.

Emerging Trends

Accenture found in the study that several distinct trends are identifiable in the year's e-government developments. Overall, the distance between e-government leaders and followers is widening. And it is those governments that adopted "customer relationship management" principles early in their e-government planning that are now improving at a much faster pace.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a familiar term in business circles, but the use of CRM techniques in e-government is still in its infancy, said Accenture. In 2001, there was little awareness of CRM in government. Significantly, by 2002, many e-government leaders were working to employ the approach.

"The primary drivers for implementing CRM in the private sector -- customer retention and increased profit per customer -- are absent in the public sector," the report notes. "However the principles of CRM hold intriguing possibilities for government, given that governments are the largest service providers in the world, provide a wide variety of services and have much to gain from a better understanding of their customers."

CRM has the potential to help streamline government processes, improve inter-agency data sharing and provide more self-service options to the public.o has launched an online citizens' panel to help officials gain more insight into citizens' perceptions and expectations for online government.

"Too often in the past, government services were designed from the inside out; they reflected the structures of government organizations rather than the needs and priorities of citizens," said Treasury Board Minister Lucienne Robillard, who centrally coordinates Canada's e-government initiatives. "This is changing ... we cannot stop until all Canadians can have seamless access to all government services quickly, simply and with a minimum of fuss."

Of 71 services examined in the Accenture study for which the Canadian Government is responsible, 64 are available online to some degree. In the last year, six of these services moved from the "publish" or "interact" level to the level of online transactions with citizens. Canadians from many areas of the country, for instance, can now apply for employment insurance over the Internet.

Another significant Canadian project is the testing of digital signature authentication, which soon will be rolled out across a variety of government services.

However, perhaps the most significant development in Canada is that the government has signed a contract with a consortium of private-sector companies to build a "secure channel" -- the common infrastructure needed to assure secure, private and seamless transactions across all areas of government.

Singapore's Leap Forward

When Lim Siong Guan, head of Singapore's civil service, declared, "Every service that can be delivered electronically shall be electronically available," he set into motion a concerted drive to achieve this as rapidly as possible. Singapore took the lead in 1998 as one of the first countries to enact an Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) to provide for legal recognition of electronic signatures through the use of digital certificates.

Of 136 services that the Singapore government could deliver online, 132 are available to some degree. Singapore also made considerable progress in the delivery of integrated services with the launch of the eCitizen Center, a single window to public services organized according to what the private or corporate citizen intends to do rather than by agency or department. Here, for instance, citizens now can renew their drivers' licenses online.

In 2001, the government introduced nine new services, and 19 existing services moved from a "publish" or "interact" level to the point where actual transactions could be completed online. Businesses can pay their income and sales taxes to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore via Internet banking services provided by private banks.

Research for further initiatives now has started to provide government services via wireless channels such as WAP phone, PDA or other mobile devices. Singapore 's e-government strategy stresses tapping into any new technology innovation and multiple channels of delivery.

Emerging Trends

Accenture found in the study that several distinct trends are identifiable in the year's e-government developments. Overall, the distance between e-government leaders and followers is widening. And it is those governments that adopted "customer relationship management" principles early in their e-government planning that are now improving at a much faster pace.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a familiar term in business circles, but the use of CRM techniques in e-government is still in its infancy, said Accenture. In 2001, there was little awareness of CRM in government. Significantly, by 2002, many e-government leaders were working to employ the approach.

"The primary drivers for implementing CRM in the private sector -- customer retention and increased profit per customer -- are absent in the public sector," the report notes. "However the principles of CRM hold intriguing possibilities for government, given that governments are the largest service providers in the world, provide a wide variety of services and have much to gain from a better understanding of their customers."

CRM has the potential to help streamline government processes, improve inter-agency data sharing and provide more self-service options to the public.

The report also notes that portals are becoming far more prevalent, but their true potential continues to be unrealized due to the barriers to cross-agency cooperation.

"In the early phases of e-government, progress in many countries was hindered by a governance structure that was largely powerless to overcome well-entrenched bureaucratic divisions," the report stated. "While a whole-of-government approach is the key to success, securing cross-agency cooperation proved very difficult."

However, there is growing evidence that these barriers are now starting to break down and that governments are recognizing the high cost of fragmented systems and processes that duplicate information gathering.

The United States has the goal, for example, of scrutinizing all federal IT investments to ensure they maximize interoperability and minimize redundancy. Cross-agency cooperation now is seen in many countries as one way to reduce the cost of government, but current funding practices, where appropriations are made on an agency-by-agency basis, still tend to discourage the reduction of redundancies.

According to Accenture, the next wave for e-government is what they have dubbed "uCommerce" -- the extension of the e-commerce business model through the application of a range of emerging technologies, such as wireless, television, voice and silent commerce. The firm expects uCommerce to have a greater impact in both the public and private sector than "traditional " e-commerce.

"By extending e-commerce to every telephone and television set, governments will be able to deliver services to almost every household and business," the report stressed. "This will be particularly valuable in those countries where few homes have personal computer access. By providing services through, for example, interactive digital television, governments can not only reduce the cost of delivering services, but also encourage the broader take up of interactive television."

However, perhaps the most notable trend is one that might easily be overlooked -- the fact that e-government initiatives continue to unfold despite other tumultuous events that have shaken the world in the last year. The vision of better, cheaper service to the citizen through e-government is not only alive and well, but is actually flourishing through real progress and accomplishments.

Hunt and Jupp sum it up. "The path to e-government is gradually becoming clearer, as early movers learn from their mistakes, as governments begin to appreciate the complexity of the e-government landscape and as the collective mindset changes toward citizen-centered service delivery."

For further information, the full Accenture study can be found online.
Blake Harris Contributing Editor