When it comes to e-services delivery, Australian government agencies may want to take a page out of Canadian whole-of-government CIO Michelle d'Auray's e-government book. D'Auray is finding that a bit of intuition goes a long way in delivering online initiatives for citizens.
Intuition is not usually cited as an essential quality in the CIO's portfolio of skills and aptitudes, but Canadian whole-of-government CIO Michelle d'Auray finds herself exercising a lot of it lately. That's because intuition is proving the best - and possibly only - way to figure out what citizens demand as her government tries to cut across traditional organisational boundaries to create a truly citizen-centred interface.
It can be hard enough delivering on customer expectations when you know exactly what your customers want, d'Auray says. When untold hours of focus group testing, polling and consultations about citizens' expectations fail to yield sufficient clues to their real requirements, largely because they have no idea of those requirements themselves, putting yourself in the shoes of the citizen to fathom what they want seems the only possible approach.
"We're finding it is very difficult for citizens to imagine government being delivered in a different way because we've spent so much time getting them used to applying program by program, activity by activity. The concept of a government actually being able to provide some things in a single transaction, or a seamless [manner] . . . they can't even imagine it. When we ask them what they would like, it's hard for them to answer," d'Auray says.
"We have to become citizens and intuitively think our way through, based on what they tell us, what could be in fact a useful service. So one of the big challenges really is identifying what are the clusters or groups of services that it makes sense to pull together."
D'Auray says figuring out what citizens want is just one of the challenges her government is facing in achieving Government Online (GOL), its plan to put the government's information and services online by 2005. She was speaking during a visit to Australia earlier this year where she met National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) chief executive officer John Rimmer and Centrelink chief executive officer Sue Varden as well as speaking on the Canadian government experience at an e-government conference.
The visit proved a valuable learning experience. The Canadian and Australian experiences in terms of government online are quite alike, she says, and both governments seem to be heading in similar directions and facing similar challenges. But while the Australian Commonwealth government has focused on providing numbers of transactions and services within department and agency bases, the Canadian government has been focusing on providing a whole-of-government approach federally to primarily information services. It is now moving towards service delivery on a horizontal basis.
"Both remits have come to the same point but through different structural or governance mechanisms," d'Auray says. "Federally, I think there is a greater wealth of end-to-end transactions being able to be accomplished here in Australia, but they are more departmentally driven rather than integrated across departments. We have done a fair amount of work in Canada on integrating information and some transactions across departments and agencies, rather than digging deeper on a departmental base."
In its fullest potential, GOL is about renewing the public service and enriching the relationship between government and the citizens and businesses it serves.
D'Auray was named chief information officer for the government of Canada in September 2000. As CIO she is responsible for leading, coordinating and providing broad direction in the use of information technology and information management across federal organisations. Canada's December 10 budget, recently passed, accorded her area $C600 million (approximately $700 million) over four years. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US it also incorporated an $C8 billion (approximately $9.3 billion) package over four years for security. D'Auray says in many respects much of the investment on the security side, which is largely IT-based, will also help advance the GOL agenda.
The GOL program has three overarching goals:
- To strengthen the government's relationships with citizens by: l improving services (access, quality, responsiveness) l facilitating participation in policy making l enhancing accountability and transparency
- To support Canadian businesses in the adoption of electronic commerce by:l reducing the cost and burden of transacting with governmentl encouraging innovationl providing an enabling policy environment
- To renew the public service by: l updating internal processesl renewing the workforce.
Progress to date has been impressive. In February 2, 2001, the government launched the redesigned Canada Internet portal (www.canada.gc.ca). In April 2001 international consulting firm Accenture, in its report Rhetoric vs Reality - Closing the Gap, cited Canada for its citizen-centric approach to e-government. The report ranked Canada number one in the 22-nation study of e-government readiness (Australia came fifth), in large part due to the reorganised and redesigned Internet portal .
"While countries such as the United States, Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom have articulated similar citizen-focused philosophies, Canada has begun to turn the rhetoric into reality," the study reported.
Like Australia, Canada is taking a phased approach to Government Online, d'Auray says. Behind the scenes, the work poses a host of challenges, several relating specifically to the task of cutting across traditional organisational boundaries to create a truly citizen-centred interface - that is, the integration of information and services behind the Internet portal.
"I think we've done a lot more work horizontally or across departments and agencies," d'Auray says. "What we need to do is start integrating a lot more transactions. We've done a fair bit on the business side, but we need to do more for services to individual Canadians. We also need to do a fair amount more integration or partnership if you will, across jurisdictions with our provincial governments. And we're starting to do so with services to business, but those are the two areas I think where we need to do a fair amount of work."
For governments, citizen-focused approaches are increasingly inevitable, d'Auray says. As citizens make increasing use of services on the Internet they develop high expectations for uncomplicated delivery of required services. The Canada site tries to meet those expectations by delivering a citizen-centred public interface that hides the functioning of separate departments and agencies.
Achieving that reality means transforming and grouping services according to citizen needs, rather than the needs of siloed departments, creating in the process new virtual organisations shifting from a vertical to a horizontal approach as part of the transformation, she says.
According to d'Auray, in its fullest potential Government Online is about renewing the public service and enriching the relationship between government and the citizens and businesses it serves.
In March 2001 the president of the Treasury Board, Lucienne Robillard, told an international forum: ". . . our commitment to Canadians to become the most connected country in the world and to offer our services and information online by 2004 is part of our overall vision of the Canadian government's role in our society. For us, this objective of getting government online by 2004 means much more than simply delivering government programs and services through the Internet. It entails a major transformation in how we serve Canadians by exploiting the full potential and power of information technologies and communications."
D'Auray concurs, saying while the concept of reinventing government was a much discussed concept in the 1990s when some believed it premature, these days, with its client-service model harnessed to today's Internet technology, the concept has come into its own. But it also comes with its own major policy challenges, she says. The more governments "join up" services, the more they run counter to the way in which government is organised.
"For example, in Canada we have quite a number of programs for the support of senior citizens, but each one of those programs has its own set of laws. So as we try to create a joining up of those services we are probably going to have to come at some point to some legislative change, because we can only go so far with the technology," d'Auray says.
But without those legislative changes she says e-government is already transforming the way the government acts and operates, as evidenced by the willingness of those managing the big gateways and developing the concepts for the next generations of services to work together across departments and agencies. That these people now think about working together rather than individually represents a huge cultural shift, d'Auray acknowledges.
The CIO's office had spent a "fair amount of time" in gaining cooperation and a view of "horizontal" governance, she says. For instance, each of the three gateways on the main Canada site - for services to Canadians; for services to business; and for services to non-Canadians - are managed by a consortium of departments and agencies which work together.
"It is quite phenomenal how much cooperation and cross-departmental activities take place, and they take place in a very collegial environment," she says. "Yes, there are the usual tensions across departments and agencies, but we've seen the end result in terms of the users and what the citizens are telling us and what the business users are telling us. And the success of that up until now has been sufficient to incent - if you will pardon that expression - the public servants who are managing these gateways to increasingly work together, because they're seeing the benefits. They're seeing the direct results of the benefits of that cooperation."
Changing the way government provides services to citizens is very much a people business, she says; it involves changing the way people within government consider their role, as well as government's relationship with the private sector and service providers. The government is also being transformed because it is expected to start providing mirrored services across different channels much faster than anticipated.
"For example, because of the wealth and depth of information that is now being provided online about government services and activities, when Canadians call our extensive network of government call centres they are now calling with a complexity of requests that we did not have before. They're calling a specific call centre, but to access information and services that go beyond that call centre's capacity," d'Auray says.
"In effect that's forcing us now to look at - again we knew we were going to have to do this, but this is coming a little faster than we expected - the ways in which we combine primarily telephony and Internet-based services; how we can actually start integrating the call centre with the Internet response centre."
In delivery to citizens, governments had a lot to learn from industry, d'Auray says. The Canadian government has a government online advisory panel comprising primarily representatives of the private sector as well as good representation from the voluntary non-profit sector.
"These members have a wealth of experience," she says. "The financial institutions have a good resonance with us because of the similarities of the structure, the observances. They're also highly regulated. They have privacy and security legislation that applies to them as well, so we can learn a lot from their experiences. Governments aren't often the leaders in this area. We can, though, be very useful and good fast followers, when they share with us their experiences. We spend a fair amount of time with companies in the financial sector but also large IT service companies because they, too, have had to undertake a lot of transitions, and like us, they have a multiplicity of systems, legacy and otherwise, that they are now increasingly having to integrate.
"In turn we've been able to teach them how complex government is, and people who come with a view to providing the silver bullet or the magic solution that will solve everything, quickly understand that that is not the case."
D'Auray says she will know that she has succeeded in her role when a higher percentage of people have taken up the services, and when she has achieved an increasing cooperation and horizontal governance across the government of Canada.
Other service delivery challenges include service transformation, service integration, providing as many services as possible in a single transaction, and ensuring services that involve interaction with each of the respective departments still show the citizen a unique or single face. "I think the number of those services we can put online to complete end-to-end, that would also be a measure of success," she says.
"Like [in] Australia, the Canadian government has made significant investments in developing the information and knowledge-based economy in Canada. We've connected all the schools and public libraries now for some time. We have community access points to the Internet across the country. We've invested significantly in generating research-based networks both infrastructure-based as well as networks of researchers. So in a sense, looking to the next component was looking at government and making sure that government was as active in the e-transformation, if you will, as other parts of the economy."
D'Auray is determined to see it happen. FFollow the LeaderOnce again, Canadians are on the top of the worldFor the second consecutive year, Canada ranked number one in Accenture's annual report on e-government maturity, E-government Leadership: Realising the Vision. The survey ranked 23 countries on the basis of two key measures: service maturity (the breadth and depth of services offered online) and customer relationship management, or CRM (the value citizens get from their interactions with government). These two measures were then combined to derive an overall maturity score.
Whether Canada can maintain its position in light of serious competition from other innovative leaders Singapore and the US and strong visionary challengers (Australia, Britain and Ireland) will largely be a question of how well it continues to focus its online approach on what is best for its constituent base. As service breadth approaches 100 per cent around the world (simply having some online aspect of each service offered by a given government is enough), and as service depth increases and matures, CRM will play a greater role in distinguishing world leaders from followers.
Citizens at the Centre. Canada is well positioned for future success since Canada's vision of Government Online has been developed with the citizen squarely at its centre: the stated goal is that Canada will be known around the world by 2005 as the government most connected to its citizens, with Canadians able to access all government information and services online, at the time and place of their choosing.
The key to Canada's success is its dedication to deploying services that are attuned to its users. Canada's online service is based on extensive user research, which helps ensure that innovations reflect user needs. More than 50 focus groups in Canada and abroad supported the redesign of the Canada Site before it was relaunched early last year. The government has also initiated an online citizens' panel to gain more insights into citizens' perceptions and expectations for Government Online. Extensive public opinion research is planned to ensure that the program continues to meet expectations.
Staying on Top. Clearly, Canada is doing many things right. But if Canada wants to hold on to its leadership position, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels. According to the Accenture survey, Canada ranked below average - 15th of 23 - in terms of per cent overall improvement over last year.
That result is not surprising. Canada started from a number one position last year; given its commanding lead in e-government, and diminishing opportunities to increase service maturity, Canada understandably did not make the same great strides as other countries that started further back in the pack. At the same time, little progress was made in the introduction of new services or improving existing services.
So what can Canada do to continue to improve? First, Canada can learn from the innovations of others. France, for example, is well placed to gain ground in the CRM arena with its new initiative mon.service-public.fr, which will provide each French citizen with a personalised portal. Private sector experience is particularly relevant for implementing CRM programs, given that the concept of customer relationship management sprang from the business community. By tapping into private sector expertise, creating advisory boards or appointing special advisers, governments can marry the knowledge of government practices with private sector experience and innovation.
Next, Canada can carefully monitor the programs it already has in place. The key performance indicators that must accompany an e-government program are becoming clearer. Open and transparent status reporting, as well as benchmarks, are imperative. Canada's performance will be further strengthened by its commitment to implementing common metrics that will enable whole-of-government comparisons in the use of clusters and gateways.
As Canada continues to build its Government Online program, it faces the significant costs involved in building an electronic service delivery channel and ongoing operating costs after that capacity has been installed. The government should explore incentives to encourage the use of online services. Accenture's study revealed that, globally, many e-government initiatives have been based on a philosophy of "build it and they will come". While Canada has shown great foresight in building a program centred around the user, it should incorporate marketing as a core component of its e-government activities to encourage the uptake of online services.
Taking Privacy and Security into Account. Canada has also shown leadership in marketing the Canada portal and its 1-800 number (1-800-O-Canada). While incorporating marketing as a core component of its e-government initiatives, Canada must be aware of the flip side of enhanced marketing initiatives. The ability to segment and target specific constituents requires knowing and understanding them as individuals. To do so, unique identification becomes critical, raising controversial questions of security and privacy. To deliver secure services online, government must have proof of identification. Furthermore, integrating government services depends upon data sharing between agencies and across levels of government. However, the data government manages is typically personal, confidential or sensitive, or even all three. The government needs to find the balance between unique identification of its customers on one hand and privacy and security on the other.
Clearly, further advances in Canada's e-government program depend on citizens' confidence that expectations for protection of privacy are met. This issue has become more important in the wake of the events of last September 11, raising questions about the trade-off between data privacy and the extent to which government can enhance its ability to protect its citizens through better collection and management of information. While a loss of privacy is tangible and measurable, there are no guarantees that the promised increase in personal security can be delivered as a result. At the same time, pragmatism is required. The level of security must be appropriate to the service concerned, as not all transactions require the same level of security. It's a delicate balance.
Preparing for the Next Wave. There are other factors affecting the e-government leadership issue. Even if Canada succeeds in its e-government funding, marketing, security and privacy programs, they alone will not be able to ensure that Canada holds on to its number one position. To do so, the next wave of e-government initiatives must be dominated by ubiquitous universal forms of commerce, known as "u-commerce". New u-commerce programs are emerging that will transform the e-government landscape over the next few years, by allowing the public to access government services from anywhere at any time - without the traditional constraints of telephone or power lines.
U-Commerce is expected to have a greater impact in the public and private sectors than "traditional" e-commerce. Technologies such as handheld wireless devices, voice, television and silent commerce will offer new opportunities for government to deliver services to almost every household and business. However, u-commerce will require governments to invest in cross-channel management or integration, to allow for seamless customer service delivery hand-offs across phone, Internet and in-person channels.
The Canadian government will also need to develop an enterprise-wide architecture to allow for u-commerce across government. Government executives are aware of the opportunity this represents; in a recent Accenture study, The Unexpected eEurope, 90 per cent of public sector executives agreed that emerging u-commerce technologies will provide more opportunities than traditional e-commerce over the next three years. Governments that take the lead in traditional e-commerce will be best placed to exploit u-commerce opportunities, because they have already invested in technology, begun to coordinate different agencies and introduced their citizens to different service channels. While governments have largely followed the private sector in establishing online services, emerging u-commerce technologies will provide governments with an important opportunity to take the lead by making their services accessible via new channels.
Conclusions. Canada's e-government performance to date, especially in delivering services that embody best practice customer relationship management, demonstrates what can be achieved when the principles of leadership and user-driven research inform government's actions. To continue as the world's leading e-government, however, will require constant attention to the principle of citizen-centric government service. As society evolves-as technology evolves - the principle is not static. There are new frontiers to explore, new possibilities to exploit and new complexities to master. So far, Canada has proven itself more than up to the challenges.
- Graeme Gordon is a partner in Accenture's government practice in Canada. Accenture's Canadian home page is http://www.accenture.ca
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