The concept of electronic-government offers unique opportunities for revitalising some of the oldest ideals of government, but thorough coordination and collaboration are needed to make it a success. READ THIS STORY TO LEARN What some of the issues are in connecting local, state and federal governments How the citizen-customer is raising the bar on service delivery expectations What impact e-government might have on individuals and businesses The message for all tiers of government is clear: forces almost entirely beyond their control are forcing radical transformation of almost every aspect of their functions, structures and service delivery mechanisms. Yet while business is finding the move into the Internet-era formidable enough, for government - the biggest and most change-resistant business of all - the barriers are as enormous as the prospect of failure is unthinkable.
It's become common to label the reshaping of government by technology as e-government. However, as two new and satisfyingly synergistic new reports into e-government - one from IBM and the other from Deloitte Consulting - reveal, most definitions of e-government fall well short of implying the ground-shattering depths of the changes that are shaking governments at every level and in every nation-state. That's because most definitions - not to mention most government activity to date - have revolved around issues like the electronic delivery of citizen services, re-engineering via technology and procurement over the Internet.
That kind of limited focus doesn't tell the half of it.
"E-government is nothing short of a fundamental transformation of government and governance at a scale we have not witnessed since the beginning of the industrial era," says a report from IBM entitled E-Government: Making it Work, which focuses on Australian government at all levels. "Asking the question: What does it take to become an e-government?' would be like asking the question: What does it take to become an industrial state?' in the 1950s. The answer is not simple," the report says.
One thing it will take, according to Deloitte's more quantitative and globally-based report At the Dawn of E-Government: The Citizen as Customer, is the mutation of today's conventional organisational designs into hyper-efficient service models.
Like its IBM counterpart, the Deloitte report finds governments are facing a completely new paradigm in public service, one centred on the application of technology in ways that will make the citizen-government relationship more inclusive and more direct. It's a paradigm that goes beyond using the Internet and takes in every aspect of how an organisation delivers service to its public.
E-government is not just about e-business - it's about a multichannel approach focused on meeting customer demands while recognising that not every citizen is, or is likely soon to become, Net-savvy. These multichannels include adopting kiosks, e-mail and call centres, as well as the traditional person-to-person interaction. The challenge is to link these in such a way as to maximise benefit.
"It's not just technology; it is not just business processes; and it is not just human resources. It is all of these areas combined. At the heart of it all is the customer," the Deloitte report says. And it is customers - fed up with poor service and cumbersome procedures and with their expectations raised by the ease of access being delivered by business - who are pushing government inexorably towards true e-government.
"Community expectations are being driven by factors that are outside the control of government, particularly as people access services via the Internet for everyday purposes and rely on the Internet for entertainment," points out Mike Lisle-Williams, a partner with Deloitte Consulting. "Those growing community expectations are for access not only to information from government but also to government services online and for a degree of simplicity, so that they won't have to go to 17 government agencies to register for something or get information."
As The Economist observes: "Not many people enjoy dealing with their government: they do it because they have to. But that does not mean that the experience has to be as dismal as it usually turns out to be."
Changing people's perceptions about the experience of dealing with government will be a long and hard slog, one that must start with changes in the perceptions of bureaucrats them-selves. Historically speaking, governments are only just getting used to thinking of citizens as customers. To start thinking about customer value - the very heart of e-business - and branding (which IBM finds is increasingly occupying government departments in the way it does the private sector) requires a huge change in mindset.
But the public servants don't seem to have much choice. The better the private sector becomes at offering high levels of service carefully targeted at the individual, the more citizens start to look upon their governments with an increasingly jaded eye.
And there are big benefits to be had in bowing to the inevitable. While no government can assume all citizens will want or will use all government services online, there is the promise of a huge return to government from putting the citizen first. "Why would governments want to give top priority to the citizen?" the Deloitte report rhetorically asks. "Because it pays off. The results of our study show that the bottom line benefits of a customer-first approach are compelling."
For its study, Deloitte classified governments as either "customer-centric": those that make concerted efforts to leverage taxes to increase customer satisfaction; or "non-customer-centric": those that do not. It found customer-centric governments achieved much greater success in a number of critical performance areas, both within the government and in serving the public. "Overall, the customer-centric governments achieve nearly 50 per cent more success in providing easier customer access, increasing service volume, getting better information on operations, reducing employee complaints, reducing employee time spent on non-customer activities, and improving their own image."
However, the new-found focus on the customer is just one of the competing forces at play. With politicians increasingly talking market forces and contestability of both internally and externally provided government services, the private sector is being increasingly encouraged to elbow in on government service provision.
As IBM notes, when the user pays, service type, quality, volume and cost had all better be top notch. And "value for money", the normal expectation of a customer in a competitive market, in turn becomes a normal expectation for a community that has to interact with government services.
Woe betide the government that fails to take heed. Yet the IBM report finds "few Australian government departments and agencies have undertaken formal segmentation of their customers". Further, existing Internet-based initiative have been based largely on guesswork and intuition.
It's a situation that can't last. E-government is based around custo-mer need. Since all customers have different needs, the traditional "one size fits all" approach to government service delivery won't wash in e-government. Instead, governments will increasingly have to move towards "single unit market segmentation", with every citizen recognised as an individual with different needs.
That's something the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is heading towards, notes the IBM report. The ATO knows its ability to shape the tax system, and to collect the appropriate tax from taxpayers is vital to its success. Since treating people as customers is a central part of that, the ATO has been drawing on help from IBM for the last year as it seeks to improve the way it conducts its fieldwork. This means understanding the marketplaces in which corporate customers work, understanding their needs and the pressures on them, and tailoring approaches accordingly.
"Unless we understand our custo-mers' business, we will find it hard to talk to them about their problems," comments Jim Killaly, deputy commissioner of taxation. "Responding to those problems in an appropriate way enables us to discharge our responsibility to the community."
As the ATO initiative suggests, e-government means basing policy, procedure and process on customer demand rather than the whim of the policy maker. "E-government enables an active link between customer demand and policy outcome," the IBM report says. "Process that supports policy needs to be flexible and not just convenient to the administrator."
However, if the people to which government must service and respond constitute the driver for change, it is also people - those within the bureaucracy - that present the greatest barrier to that change. Governments looking to transform themselves have to find suitably skilled people to carry the transformation through. They have to find ways to permanently and painlessly change the attitudes of public servants with rigid ideas acquired over many years about the way things should be done. They have to learn how to manage an increasingly empowered workforce in the context of continuous change.
In the long term, they must do even more. Eventually governments of all persuasions will have to find ways to break down the inter- and intra-governmental silos that make dealing with the public sector such a headache for constituents. That won't be easy.
"E-government is about transformation; it's not just about automating an existing process," points out Trevor Moore, principal e-government practice with Asia Pacific IBM. "For instance, citizen-sponsored demands for better service from government can't be satisfied by simple initiatives like the automation of the rates payment system at the local government level. What's needed is the radical transformation of numerous different processes across all tiers of governments."
Take the example of a potential café owner in a local environment who plans to set up a new business. The process requires him to deal with many government departments at state, local and federal level. That person wants to be able to interact in a seamless way with all levels of government without necessarily being aware of running across departments.
"Breaking down those barriers is something which is very challenging," Moore says, although there is a hint in IBM's report that some of the challenges are as much mental as physical. "Most participants see working across traditional silos as a challenge. This is less, however, because of a lack of willingness than a fear the other party will not cooperate," the IBM report says.
But as the Deloitte research highlights, the reward systems and organisational structure of governments also make it difficult to foster inter-agency, value-adding relationships. Agencies need to implement sweeping organisational change if they hope to realise the benefits of shared services. New task forces must be mobilised to overcome organisational barriers. Governments in Australia, like their counterparts around the world, are making moves in that direction. On the other hand, Moore says, it is fair to say that the pace of governmental moves in that direction worldwide has been far slower than publicity might suggest. "This is, after all, really difficult stuff," Moore says. "The private sector has the same challenge."
What the private sector doesn't have is the same degree of legacy systems, skills, cultures, behaviours and organisational arrangements that make the transition to integrated, multichannel access such a challenge for government. Nor is the private sector held to the same high degree of public accountability as governments, a far more onerous responsibility than shareholder accountability. The private sector can usually get away with lesser levels of security and privacy protection. As the IBM report points out, governments hold some of the most sensitive information there is about people, while usually being constrained by legislative barriers from combining different bits of information about people to create new information.
Such barriers make it easier to understand why local and state governments are moving far more swiftly to e-government than federal ones - the barriers are nowhere near so formidable.
In the US, Deloitte Consulting has been working with the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the most comprehensive state-wide re-engineering project ever undertaken in the country. Deloitte Consulting professionals worked with more than 250 members of the Commonwealth's staff to re-engineer more than 20 different processes in such areas as families and children, finance and administration, health services, natural resources and environmental protection, personnel, revenue, agriculture, transportation and more.
The aims were twin. First, to help improve the ways citizens access jobs and benefits. Second, to improve the way Kentucky manages its finances; grows revenues; licenses, inspects and regulates business; registers motor vehicles; and purchases basic goods and services - all while saving enough to reinvest $US50 million a year educating the state's citizens.
With the barriers so great and the levels of inertia so high, such an ambitious project might prove entirely beyond the Australian Commonwealth government in the short or even medium term.
"What will government look like in five years?" asks Lisle-Williams. "It's much easier to imagine what a state government like Victoria or even Tasmania might look like, how it might operate, than the Common-wealth, where I think both the resour-ces and the barriers are greater."vForging the Page to E-GovernmentAccording to Deloitte Consulting's At the Dawn of E-Government: the Citizen as Customer, e-government is a continuum, with six dynamic stages through which governments will pass as electronic service delivery evolves.
Stage 1: Information Publishing - Dissemination Individual governmental departments set up their own Web sites that provide the public with information about them, the state/province, the range of services available and contacts for further assistance. At this stage, governments establish an electronic encyclopedia that reduces the number of phone calls customers need to make to reach the appropriate employee who can fulfil their service requests.
Stage 2: "Official" Two-Way Transactions With the help of legally valid digital signatures and secure Web sites, customers are able to submit personal information to - and conduct monetary transactions with - individual departments. At this stage, customers must be convinced of the department's ability to keep their information private and free from piracy. For example, the local government of Lewisham, UK, lets citizens claim income support and housing benefits using an electronic form.
Stage 3: Multi-Purpose Portals
This is the point at which customer-centric governments make a big breakthrough in service delivery. Based on the fact that customer needs can cut across departmental boundaries, a portal allows customers to use a single point of entry to send and receive information and to process monetary transactions across multiple departments. In essence, governments expand the concept of one-stop delivery to meet the broader array of customer needs both within and outside government services. In addition to acting as a gateway to its agencies and related governments, the South Australian government portal (www.sa.gov.au) features a link for citizens to pay bills (utilities, automotive), manage bank accounts and conduct personal stockbrokering. South Australia is currently developing a linked portal tailored to the needs of businesses that will offer a range of services from financing to licensing to industry information.
Stage 4: Portal Personalisation
Through Stage 3, customers can access a variety of services at a single Web site. In Stage 4, government puts even more power into customers' hands by allowing them to customise portals with their desired features. To accomplish this, governments will need much more sophisticated Web programming that allows interfaces to be user-manipulated. The added benefit of portal personalisation is that governments will get a more accurate read on customer preference for electronic versus non-electronic service options.
Stage 5: Clustering of Common Services
Stage 5 is where real transformation of government structure takes shape. As customers now view once-disparate services as a unified package through the portal, their perception of departments as distinct entities will begin to blur. They will recognise groups of transactions rather than groups of agencies. To make it happen, governments will cluster services along common lines to accelerate the delivery of shared services. Long-standing territories and funding streams will constitute just a subset of the barriers to creating a new organisational model.
Stage 6: Full Integration and Enterprise Transformation What started as a digital encyclopedia is now a full-service centre, personalised to each customer's needs and preferences. At this stage, old walls defining silos of services have been torn down and technology is integrated across the new enterprise to bridge the shortened gap between the front and back office. In some countries, new departments will have formed from the remains of predecessors. Others will have the same names, but their interiors will look nothing like they did before e-government. - S BushellIdentifying a PathWith business time now moving at Internet speed, things are moving too quickly for agencies to have the luxury of taking time to develop a strategy. The IBM report, E-Government: Making it Work, says that the pace of change means identifying the approach to getting going can't take longer than a month and must be linked to business objectives.
It says agencies should start by defining a set of outcomes and reviewing the opportunities for improvement. Once this is done, the killer opportunities can be identified and defined. These will need to be described in terms of process change, organisational impact and IT requirements. The next step is drawing up a business case that takes account of risk. If the risk is too high, consider scaling back the opportunity: what you want is runs on the board. Finally, prioritise what you have. IBM suggests that you select not more than five initiatives - the fewer the better.
An e-government plan should be simple and describe at least five areas:
Customer selection and value proposition Value capture Scope Strategic control Organisational systems The initiative will need a steering committee and a project team. If it is a multi-agency initiative it will need appropriate representation from all business areas. Members should be delegated to act and should not need to take advice on any but the highest matters of policy. The plan should describe how this is to happen.
The project team should contain the best people available to do the job. There is no need to allocate one person from each area - what is important is that funding is properly sorted out and the best people are allocated. - S BushellThe Aussie PerspectiveIBM's E-Government: Making it Work says most government jurisdictions at all levels within Australia have e-government - or at least online electronic service delivery (ESD) - commitment statements, while noting it is generally hard to find exactly what the commitment is by a particular government to e-government - or just to ESD. At the federal level, on 8 December 1997, the Prime Minister released his "Investing for Growth" policy statement, which included a commitment to deliver all appropriate Commonwealth services online by 2001. In particular, by this year, electronic payment will be the normal means for Commonwealth payments.
The ACT government's policy is for most of the government-business transactions to be available online by 2001.
The NT government recognised the need for e-government in its "Foundations For Our Future". Foundation Five specifically establishes the agenda to "provide electronic delivery of an extensive range of government services online within the next three to five years".
The NSW government has developed its "Information Management and Technology Blueprint - A Well-connected Future". This lists strategies to implement the government's vision for the use of information technology to improve government service delivery.
The Queensland government "recognises the value of the Internet as a public communications and business tool". It is encouraging its departments and agencies to share information and offer services to the community.
The South Australian government has set up the Information Economy Policy Office to ensure South Australia is well placed to embrace the information economy.
The Tasmanian government has created Service Tasmania to put all government services in one place. In Victoria, it is a "key government objective" to conduct all suitable government business online. The Victorian government makes special mention of, and sets aggressive targets for, purchasing by electronic means. In addition, Multimedia Victoria has a "whole of government" role in encouraging government agencies to work better by delivering government services electronically and re-engineering government.
In Western Australia, the Office of Information and Communications has been formed to "propel Western Australia smoothly into the information age". Encouraging business is a part of this process, in particular, by creating opportunities to help business. - S Bushell