Photo: Ottawa, Canada

Why is integrated service delivery, leveraged by technology, so hard to do? It's not a problem with the IT, any CIO will tell you. Rather, the trouble lies in the political challenge of rewiring a range of public-sector programs delivered by different levels of government -- often with different qualification requirements -- for citizens. Adding to the complexity is the fact that an increasing number of these services are delivered on behalf of government by a network of private and nonprofit organizations around a common mission, such as reducing poverty, improving education or helping teens find jobs.

In 2004, Stephen Goldsmith and William D. Eggers detailed this trend in their book, Governing by Network. Now, two more writers have taken a closer look at the government-by-network model and have come up with some best practices, just emerging when Goldsmith and Eggers published their work, but now better formed.

Integrating Service Delivery Across Levels of Government: Case Studies of Canada and Other Countries, written by Jeffrey Roy and John Langford and published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, points out that the network model for service delivery has evolved because traditional hierarchical government has failed to figure out how individual agencies can interconnect and deliver services that successfully deal with the complex and tough social and economic challenges facing societies.

Networked service delivery also "avoids the inefficiencies inherent in earlier efforts to reorganize government agencies into single large units. Instead it focuses on engaging existing agencies in joint problem solving without wasting time on reorganization or re-establishment of formal authorities."

Oh, Canada

When it comes to best practices, it turns out Canadians have been integrating service delivery longer than most governments, and they do it quite well, according to the authors. Starting in the mid-1990s with Government On-Line, which evolved into Service Canada by 2005, the Canadians have a system that provide a true, one-stop point of access for Canadians "for a wide range of federal programs and services."

Service Canada is no threadbare operation. It has a staff of 20,000 working in 600 locations around the country. In addition to online service delivery, it has a hotline that provides "immediate assistance or redirection to any public inquiry on any matter of federal jurisdiction." Each of Canada's 10 provinces also offer similar integrated service programs modeled after Service Canada.

The authors looked at four other countries and found varying degrees of success with the integrated service delivery model. Belgium, in a desire to simplify government administration across all levels of the public sector, has focused on creating standards for identity management and interoperability. The United Kingdom is experimenting with integrated service delivery involving Scotland and one of the country's counties. Denmark is working on a developing a sound service architecture for online delivery across layers of government, while Australia has something called Centrelink, which provides a range of direct federal-to-local partnerships.

Political Equation

In researching Canada's experience with a networked service delivery model, Roy and Langford realized that federated governments face a real challenge when it comes to building a collaborative network for delivering services across layers of government. While professional administrators in Canada's federal and provincial governments have forged a high degree of interdependence, that level of coordination alone cannot pull it off. Strong political leadership is necessary to ensure success.

"Greater political engagement will allow the eventual formation of new and more collaborative political mechanisms that are necessary in order to underpin the formation of shared and more

Tod Newcombe, Editor  |  Editor, Public CIO