Citing the very high levels of service breadth achieved in 12 months, Accenture has moved Australia into shared fourth place in its latest rankings of global e-government maturity, and singled out the Commonwealth's JobSearch and the Tax Agent Portal for special mention.
Yet Accenture warns that the Commonwealth's federated approach and the silo mentality that pervades agencies and departments are together conspiring to limit citizen use of e-government Web sites. It says Australia must remove both barriers between State and Federal government and barriers within solutions or risk watching its e-government progress stall.
"Australia has a mature online government program, with many rich and mature transactional services, but it may be that its federated approach has led to suboptimal use," the report says. "In fact, one of the key criticisms in the E-Government Benefits Study was that government agencies and departments need to lose their silo mentality and provide outcome focused services that transcend agency boundaries."
The main limitation on Australian use of the Internet to access government services, according to citizens polled, was the difficulty in locating the correct Web site. Accenture predicts that the recent merger between two whole-of-government online entry points, www.australia.gov.au and www.fed.gov.au which host the 19 portals currently comprising the government's customer-focused portals framework, should address the low take-up of its services.
But it warns citizens are also being hampered in their use of government Web sites by lack of a common identifier, limited integration across agencies, and the perceived inconvenience of digital certificates.
"Individuals typically conduct infrequent, lower-risk transactions that do not necessarily warrant a full digital certificate-based approach (until that approach is more effectively supported by commercial products)," the report says.
'While there is a challenge for Australia to enable transactions that traverse state and federal boundaries, perhaps a greater challenge is the removal of boundaries within solutions. Australia must turn more attention toward integrating the technologies with the operational process and business reform needed to truly drive value, both to government and to citizens, from having an electronic presence."
The report finds Australia has a strong e-government history, and is keenly focussed on getting value from its online investments. But Accenture warns by devolving responsibility to individual departments the Government has also created confusion for the user.
"The Government now has the challenge of building interoperability across these fragmented services to provide a meaningful experience for its customers. The stakes are high - Australia's Internet-savvy population holds tremendous potential for greater take-up - and hence, for the government to deliver an overall program of better service more cost-effectively."
Accenture credits the Government's Better Services, Better Government vision, with its emphasis on the need for agencies to establish business cases for investments with ensuring the value proposition of the Australian Tax Office's Tax Agent Portal, which now has 16,600 registrants conducting more than 20,000 log-ins and generating more than 745,000 page hits per week. And it says Australia's job-search application not only helps job seekers complete and file resumes online, but also offers automated job-matching facilities to help match jobs with job seekers based on their skills and interests.
Overall Accenture finds governments around the world are at a crossroads with their online programs, with most of their advances in e-government maturity having stalled and with existing strategies reaching the limits of their effectiveness.
"Governments now find themselves trying to drive high performance - better outcomes more cost-effectively - through e-government," the report says. "Some are gradually building more transactional capabilities into their programs; others have regrouped and developed more focused action plans that target maximum value from every investment.
"The leaders demonstrate the real value of e-government, not only through measurably improved customer service, but also through tangible savings in time, money and human resources to deliver the services. Yet even the most advanced countries still have work to do to derive greater value. e-government is far from reaching its maximum potential. Until the gap is bridged between what is offered and what is used, governments will never get all of the value possible out of their e-government investments."
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