Five years ago, Taylor would have considered technology to be the hardest part of e-government. Now she's convinced it's the easy bit. Not surprisingly, issues like security and privacy raise their heads, especially in the more personal types of transactions. However, the biggest challenge Taylor finds is getting government agencies to work together, to start thinking outside their silos and to focus on the customer as a customer of government as opposed to a customer of their agencies.
Local governments may not face the problems of fragmentation or silo mentality to such a degree as their state and federal counterparts, but it's also early days for them in terms of e-government (see"Six Stages of Success" page 17).
Nevertheless, there is progress. Wollongong City Council's Web site currently only publishes and disseminates information; however, the council plans to offer a full range of transaction-based services through the site, eventually enabling businesses and individuals to pay rates and lodge applications online, for example. To this end, the council has purchased mySAP.com Local Government Solution, a product developed by SAP Australia and Deloitte Consulting based on mySAP.com, and which SAP claims supports the full range of local government requirements.
"The city is a thriving and growing area; we are no longer a roads, rates and rubbish' council," says Rod Oxley, general manager, Wollongong City Council."We want to promote ourselves as 24x7, so to speak. We'll never get away from face-to-face contact altogether, but a lot of businesses these days operate at varying times and we want to be able to provide a service that allows them to do so."
Oxley anticipates a modest uptake of online transactions initially, and primarily among businesses. However, he believes the take-up rate will increase substantially, especially among the broader community, as people become familiar with the system and come to appreciate its virtues.
This in turn, he says, will have significant benefits in customer service and cost. Like Taylor in Tasmania, he plans to actively market the system and promote it to the community once it's up and running. However, he admits that the rapidly changing nature of technology and educating the community are hurdles the council has to overcome in the e-government process.
Victoria embarked on its e-government initiative with great gusto as far back as 1993-94 and throughout the 1990s was generally considered to be leading the pack in Australia. The then government of Jeff Kennett set as a priority the electronic delivery of all government services by 2001. According to Randall Straw, executive director, Multimedia Victoria, the state is 70 per cent there and still a model of e-government.
"Most governments have similar policies [to ours], but we got going and had a head start," Straw says."Every project waxes and wanes, but ours has certainly not stalled and Victoria is still the leading light in Australia."
Graeme Simsion, managing director of consultants Simsion Bowles & Associates, which has been involved in government Internet initiatives for several years, thinks that in the early stages of online delivery, in both the public and private sectors, not enough thought was given to the business case for online services.
This was especially true where governments' approach to online delivery was ideology-based. The correct reason for delivering services online is to make government more efficient, Simsion believes. Sadly, he says, it is, in fact, usually the lesser driving force behind the simple fervour of the Internet as a new channel and the desire to be seen as a modern, tech-savvy place that will attract investment.
Simsion also finds that governments are often unimaginative in that they seek to just put existing services online and automate"what is" rather than try and improve processes. Governments need to think more about what the Internet can enable them to do that they couldn't do before, he says.