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Finding Ways to Re-define Efficiency in E-government Services

By Mike Foley, Head of Information Services, Auckland Council


Mike Foley, Head of Information Services, Auckland Council

E-government is now a focus of public sector agencies globally as a means of improving services, boosting effectiveness and efficiency and, in effect, reducing the overall cost of service for residents.

To deliver e-government services,a change of operational practices needs to occur in order to improve processes within the organisation. Agencies have taken on various strategies to deliver e-government platforms, with the majority of cases being successful through a staged programme of transformation.

As digital platforms become more commonly used,especially through the uptake in smartphone technology, the expectations being placed on agencies is to present services based on the standard business consumer models. Agencies,though,have implemented the various maturity levels of e-government based on one of the following four levels of complexity:

  • Information Propagation:  This is a basic form of e-government where agencies post information on their websites. The presented information may include basic details about available public services, contracts and events. 
  • Two-way Interaction: At this level,residents communicate with agencies through the Internet and make simple requests for services. Usually, the information requested in not processed immediately online but sent to the requestor by mail or email. 
  • Transactional: This stage is more advanced than the previous two levels where residents can interact with agencies and carry out all transactions online. For Auckland Council, as an example,residents can request, confirm and pay for an annual dog licence online.
  • Integrated: This is the most mature level of e-government. At this level all government services provided from different departments / agencies are assimilated together and accessed a through single website portal.  

It is important to also realise that even in a digitally-driven world there are still many considerations to be made prior to the adoption of e-government.  People expect that the interaction must be open, transparent and integrated with information more readily available. They also expect that their related information must align withthe relevant privacylaws and held securely so that it is fully protected.

With technology and its usage over the last decade soaring, a significant amount of research has been done into the barriers for e-government adoption. These can be classified into several areas which affect both the resident and the agency. The barriers are defined as:

Resistance: Focussed mainly on the agencies themselves where a lack of co-ordination between agencies/departments exists, risk-averse cultures are prevalent, learning from good practice fails to be adopted and an overall resistance to change by officials may exist.

Privacy: One of the key areas for residents’ concerns relates to the perception of inadequate security and privacy safeguards which can undermine confidence in e-government.

Technical: The inability of agencies to transition old ‘back office’ systems into a digital customer interaction channel, the lack of interoperability between IT systems, lack of secure electronic identification and authentication.

Adoption: For residents the technology infrastructure may not be available, particularly in rural or lower socio-economic groups and a lack of computing skills limits their ability for computer use.

Design: Badly-designed user interfaces can seriously hinder the uptake and ongoing usage of systems. 

Cost: The costs of developing, implementing and maintaining digitally-enabled systems are a fundamental factor in the successful implementation of e-government projects.  E-government initiatives require long-term financial commitment in order to reap the benefits.

Usability: Those who are visually impaired or have accessibility barriers are often left behind in the development of such services.

Legal: Laws and regulations relating to interactions with residents unnecessarily complicate these services,which are feasible and logical from a technical, organisational, and resident’s point of view. Further, the legal restrictions on data-sharing pose difficulties for data integration between entities.  

As with any e-commerce adoption,the delivery of e-services may not work as equally well everywhere. The ability to address the impact of culture, risk and control is fundamental to the overall adoption process.

Successful implementation of e-government, in all its forms,is an important channel in order to engage residents and to assist agencies to cut costs, improve services, and become more responsive in real time. The key requirement for the successful delivery of e-government is the establishment of trust in the online services agencies are to provide or will be providing.  Over recent times, due to the rise of hacking events and data leakage through loss of devices and services, the trust of residents has been eroded. 

Meeting residents’ expectations of e-government encourages their participation in their city’s future. Understanding and taking these expectations into account when designing e-government services is important inclosing any gap between those expectations and reality.

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